When thinking of drug addiction, the obvious problem that comes to mind is drugs. Addiction is often thought of as a chemical response to repeated exposure to substances that can cause physical dependence. But could the real problem behind drug addiction be the individual, not the drugs?
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is defined as “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.” By this definition, addiction is not something that is just limited to biologically addictive chemicals. This reality is all too familiar to individuals who have struggled with gambling addiction, sexual addiction, or even internet and video-game addiction. All of these addictions center around activities that stimulate the brain’s dopamine pathways (the reward system), but none of them include the stereotypical substances that have to be ingested to develop physical addictions.
So addiction then, is a set of behaviors driven by an underlying need to feel good, whatever the cost. Family, friends, careers, finances, responsibilities and anything else that could potentially detract from the time and energy dedicated to pursuing an addiction are often shortchanged or cut out entirely. For anyone who has experienced addiction in themselves or a loved one, the pain and devastation that it causes is often a highly traumatic event. This goes for drug addiction as well as ‘process addictions’ (the addictions centered around behaviors but without the component of an outside substance).
So What IS The Problem?
With that concept of addiction in mind, imagine taking the drugs out of the picture. What would happen to the life of the individual struggling with drug addiction? While there would be initial relief from the immediately detrimental health consequences of drug abuse, eventually something else would take its place – if that need to feel good whatever the cost, was not changed.
Understanding this is important, because it challenges the age old idea that when dealing with drug addiction, drugs are the problem. If drugs were the root of the problem, helping someone get into and stay in long term recovery would be as simple as removing drugs and alcohol from their system for a period of time and then going back to business as usual. Unfortunately, the rate of addicts that relapse even after going through rehab, proves that this is not the case. Another powerful example can be found in the jail and prison system. If drug addiction was caused by drugs, one would only need to keep an inmate away from drugs until they were released to prevent them from ever returning to active addiction. Again, this rarely happens.
So if the problem is not drugs, then what is it? The common denominator in all of these different examples of relapse, is that the individual themselves have not changed. The problem in drug addiction, is centered internally in the addict, not in the substance that they abuse.
More Than Removing The Drugs
When drug addiction starts to be viewed as an internal problem, rather than something that is wholly influenced by outside circumstances, a few things begin to happen. First of all, it brings a level of accountability to the addict. No longer are their troubles and issues dependent on things outside of themselves, which make it easy to maintain the perspective of being a victim. Once the idea takes hold that much more than simple abstinence is needed for real recovery, there is a possibility for change. Second, it empowers the addict. This is because while remaining in the mindset of a victim, everything that one feels or experiences is outside of their control. When there is an honest recognition that a problem begins within, someone has the ability to do something about it. Finally, the delusion that everything will just be magically fixed when the drugs are removed goes away, which can be a strong motivator to stay active in healthier pursuits.
Recovery From Drug Addiction
Drug addiction can be beaten, but it is not as simple as just removing the drugs and the alcohol. If the drugs were the real problem, getting sober would not take much effort. In order for sustained recovery to take place, there has to be an internal change that coincides with the abstinence from drugs and alcohol. If that change doesn’t take place, something else will always replace the drugs, or drugs will always re-enter the picture. In order for that character change to happen though, there has to be an acknowledgement that the real problem lies within, and that is where the change must begin.