10 common questions about addiction answered
In this article we answer the most common questions asked about addiction and recovery using fact-based information.
1. Common questions about addiction - Why do some people become addicted and others don’t?
There are several factors that increase the likelihood of becoming addicted. Lets look at a few of them.
The drugs that you take
Some drugs are far more addictive than others. While you can still become addicted to drugs like cannabis and ecstasy, you can get addicted to drugs like crack cocaine and heroin much faster, and the addiction may have more serious negative consequences in a shorter space of time.
Having a mental health problem like PTSD, anxiety or depression makes you far more susceptible to substance use disorders. The reason for this is that some people try to self-medicate their mental health symptoms with substances and end up falling into addiction.
Of course, these underlying mental health problems remain, which also makes it more difficult for people with dual diagnosis to stop abusing substances.
Even if you have not been diagnosed with a mental illness like PTSD, having trauma can contribute towards the addiction drive. Trauma also changes the way the brain works. This make a person who has suffered more susceptible to developing an addiction.
Chronic pain also increases the likelihood that you will develop addiction problems. This is because people with chronic pain use opioid-based painkillers like codeine, opium and heroin to reduce the pain that they feel. They find that they cannot stop taking these drugs without the pain coming back. Opiod-based pain killers are also incredibly addictive and hard to withdraw from
As we mention below, having certain genes that code for sensitivity can cause you to seek something that will help you to not feel so sensitive and to numb you from strong feelings.
2. Common questions about addiction - Is addiction just a habit?
In a word: No. Habits are behaviors that get harder to give up the longer they go on. While this is also true of addiction, addiction is far more powerful. While people can give up on a habit if it starts to seriously affect them, this is not true of addiction.
People with addiction find it very difficult to quit, regardless of the consequences. Even when they have lost things like relationships, jobs, money or even their home, they may be unable to stop.
Some people with addiction problems go through rehab many times and are still unable to stop using substances or certain behaviours. Those with addiction are also prone to relapse due to the way they feel without substances and the compulsive nature of the disease.
3. Common questions about addiction - Does addiction run in families?
You may have noticed that often, when someone has one or two parents who suffer from addiction, their children often face similar issues. The fact is, addiction clearly does run in families.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is a genetic reason. While there has never been a gene found that relates specifically to addiction, there ARE a set of genes that can lead to addiction. These genes code for sensitivity.
The more of these genes that you have, the more sensitive you are. This can be great if you are in an environment that is conducive to your well-being, as you may feel more of a positive lift than most people.
On the other hand, if you are in an environment that is not healthy, you might feel the negative effects of this more than your average person.
The other way that addiction is passed through family is through the environment. A child’s surroundings are crucial to their development when they are growing up. If they are in a supportive environment where the people around them are living responsible lives and are emotionally sober, the child is likely to grow up with these qualities.
If the people around the child are not supportive, are engaging in substance abuse or addictive behaviours or are mentally unwell, the chance of the child having addiction problems when they get older are far higher.
4. Common questions about addiction - Why do people in recovery sometimes relapse?
There are plenty of reasons why someone in recovery relapses. When a person comes into recovery, stopping taking substances is only the beginning. Everything has to change. In order for a person to avoid relapse in addiction, the root causes that drove it must be unearthed and healed.
Healing is very much of an ongoing process. There are many different components to effective addiction treatment. All aspects of an individual will require treatment. Physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual elements must all be addressed.
People in addiction recovery can relapse due to:
Unfortunately, for some, withdrawal is so unpleasant that they cannot go through it. Nausea, pain, anxiety, depression, restless legs and lack of sleep are some of the reasons why withdrawal is so challenging to get past.
Withdrawal is often particularly difficult for people who have been using large amounts of substances for a long time. This is the reason why it is recommended that long-time heavy users get professional support when attempting to quit. Rehabs have staff who are trained to conduct medical detoxes. Patients at rehabs are gradually weaned off the drugs they have been using. Clinically, this is the safest way to stop drugs and alcohol
There are high degrees of correlation between mental health problems and substance abuse. Around half of people with severe mental health problems also have substance abuse issues.
If you have bipolar, anxiety disorder, PTSD or any other mental health problem, it may be far more difficult for you to get and stay sober. These illnesses are known as co-occurring disorders. They can regularly get so bad that people relapse. It is important to begin treating the co-occuring disorder as soon as you get clean and sober.
Note that often people use alcohol or drugs to treat an underlying mental illness without realising this is what they are doing. While they are doing this, the mental illness may not be noticeable. It is only when they get clean that it becomes apparent that they have mental health problems.
Mixing with people who are still using substances
One of the most common ways that people relapse is by continuing to hang around with their drinking or using buddies. You may be able to do this for a short time, but it is not long before doing this can cause you to fall back into old behaviours and substance abuse.
Once you get clean, it is time to meet new sober friends. These new friends can be supportive of your recovery. Sober people can show you how to have fun without using drugs or alcohol.
After years of not looking after yourself while in active addiction, recovery is a time to begin practicing self-care. This means getting regular exercise, expressing yourself, eating healthily and having good sleep hygiene.
Not doing these things will cause you to feel rubbish, and may eventually lead to a relapse. Looking after your physical, mental and emotional health is vital in recovery.
People in early recovery often attempt to fill the void in their lives and their hearts with a relationship. This hardly ever works out, which is one of the reasons why it is recommended to not get into a relationship in the first year of recovery. The first year should ideally be spend solidifying your recovery and working on your internal issues.
If you are new to recovery (or even not so new!) and you feel like you have got everything sussed out and there is NO chance that you will relapse, you may be on thin ice. While building healthy confidence is a key part of recovery, too much can lead to an inflated ego.
Continuing to grow in your addiction recovery is crucial to staying grounded and remaining passionate about being in recovery. If you are overconfident, you are unlikely to do this.
We cannot provide the answer to these common questions about addiction without mentioning isolation. Active addiction can cause you to be isolated. Even in recovery, many people who had substance abuse problems find that they have a tendency to isolate. This is dangerous for a couple of reasons.
Being isolated means you may lose some of your support, which is vital when things get tough. Being isolated also means that you might get stuck in your own head, with repetitive thoughts that might lead to relapse. In recovery, make sure that you stay connected with people. After all, the opposite of addiction is connection. Thankfully there are many recovery communities you can join, including our own here at Recoverlution.
Becoming bored in recovery can lead to relapse, particularly in early recovery. The answer to this is making sure that your recovery is as fun as possible, so boredom cannot set in. Plan activities throughout the week that you enjoy, so that you have an enjoyable recovery. Mix with like-minded others who understand you and set yourself challenges for personal growth.
5. Common questions about addiction - What is the worst addiction?
You may believe that there is one addiction that is worse than all the others. Maybe you believe that it is heroin addiction, due to the severity of the withdrawal. You might believe that alcoholism is the worst addiction, because withdrawal from it can kill you. Maybe you believe that gambling addiction is the worst, as you can lose all of your money in a very short amount of time.
The truth is that any addiction, no matter how seemingly benign to you, can utterly destroy a person’s life. Gaming addictions can cause people to become completely disconnected with their family and friends. Cigarette addictions have resulted in millions of deaths from lung cancer. Food addictions create misery and extreme health problems for the people trapped in them. All addictions can lead to excruciating emotional pain. Usually, it is this pain that breaks people and those around them.
6. Can you get addicted to drugs if you take them once?
Absolutely. If you are already primed for addiction, you may take a drug once and become completely hooked on it. There are lots of people who took a drug for the first time, and continued taking this drug for decades afterwards, with no pause apart from due to running out of money or being in jail.
Most people think that taking a drug once won't lead them to an addiction. However, you may only find that you are predisposed to addiction when it is too late!
7. Common questions about addiction - Is substance addiction treatable?
There is no cure for addiction, but it is treatable. The first stage of recovering from addiction is detoxification. Detoxification is a process whereby the body and brain go through withdrawal and then recalibrate to functioning without substances.
After this, addiction is treated by getting to the root of whatever was causing the person to take substances. They might have a mental health problem, or chronic pain, or trauma, or a set of beliefs that were incorrect and caused them suffering.
The most common ways for addiction to be addressed is through counselling or through a 12 step program. Usually accessing both provides the best outcome. Counselling and 12 step programmes are tried and tested, they have high efficacy.
8. Can drugs and alcohol cause mental health problems?
Substance abuse can both be caused by mental health problems, and in turn cause mental health problems. All substances can cause these issues, though some are known for causing more profound changes faster.
If you already have a pre-existing mental health condition, prolonged drug and alcohol use will only worsen it over time.
9. Common questions about addiction - Is weed addictive?
Any substance can be addictive, and cannabis is no different. Plenty of people who start smoking cannabis recreationally become addicted to it. There are even support groups like Marijuana Anonymous (MA), where people go to get help for their cannabis problems.
10. How long does recovery from addiction take?
This is a common question about addiction and recovery that is often asked by those new to recovery and their families.
As addiction is an incurable brain disorder and recovery needs to be ongoing. This means applying recovery on a daily basis to remain abstinent. It also means that you can never safely take drugs and alcohol again. For many people new to recovery this can be difficult to process. Hence why those in recovery are encouraged to take it “a day at a time”.
- Gabor Mate on healing and trauma in addiction - https://www.mindspacewellbeing.com/episode-31-dr-gabor-mate-on-trauma-addiction-and-healing/
- Does addiction run in families? - https://skywoodrecovery.com/how-does-addiction-run-in-families/
- 10 most common reasons for relapse in recovery - https://www.familyaddictionspecialist.com/blog/10-most-common-reasons-for-addiction-relapse
- 10 most common questions about addiction - https://www.familyaddictionspecialist.com/blog/the-10-most-common-questions-about-addiction
- Substance abuse and mental health - https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/substance-abuse-and-mental-health.htm
- The connection between substance use disorders and mental illness - https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness