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What does it feel like to have a drug or alcohol addiction? Unless a person actually has the disease, it is virtually impossible to describe the feeling in words. I am a long-term recovered person and have had the good fortune to work with hundreds of addicts over the past 17 years; many recovered and are still in recovery.

by Nick Cuneo, President and Founder of Clean Recovery Centers


Most people struggling with addiction wonder if they will ever get well. They wonder why they can’t stop. They wonder why they keep doing the same things over and over with ever more devastating results to themselves and others each time they use.

When a person is at the very depths of their addiction they often feel a sense of impending doom. This feeling is very real. They feel completely hopeless and unable to function. Their ability to think rationally is lost. Their ability to feel good about anything is lost. Many addicts describe this feeling as a “living hell.”

This is exactly how I felt 17 years ago. I had lost my professional career, my marriage, my finances, close relationships and many other things. Perhaps most importantly, I had lost all sense of self-esteem. I did not think it was possible to feel so devastated and still be alive.

Addiction was not prevalent in my family to any extent. This was the hand I was dealt. Others in my family were dealt different hands. Though my family and friends were still supportive, no one truly understood how I was feeling nor did they understand the disease of addiction. Having never been into any type of treatment and with little if any knowledge of recovery programs, I felt doomed. I felt desperately alone, even around friends and family.

To a great number of addicts, they seem to have been born with the disease or at least the traits that are conducive to becoming addicted. Many of us felt restless, irritable, and discontented from the time of our earliest memories. We felt like we just didn’t fit in. When we discovered drugs/alcohol many of us thought we had found the answer. Others felt this way only after they starting using. Regardless, the feelings of restlessness, irritability, and discontent become so intense that it drives addicts to what they see is a solution.

Prior to becoming ill with addiction, or in addiction, or in “dry spells,” there are a number of common characteristics in the way addicts or potential addicts think. We tend to feel that everyone is thinking about us, almost like we are the center of the universe. Of course most people are not thinking about us, and we most certainly are not the center of the universe.

Second, our minds seemingly run a million miles an hour. The racing mind becomes virtually unbearable. Third, our anxiety and/or depression levels are typically off the chart, sometimes with very wild and erratic mood swings. Fourth, we have an inability to live in the present moment, continuously projecting into the future or the past.

There are many other characteristics that we share but these seem to be the most common. In this state of mind and without treatment, it is perhaps not surprising that the addict seeks for a sense of ease and comfort. Untreated addiction almost always results in the addict either continuing or resuming the use of drugs/alcohol in ever-larger quantities.

There are multiple pathways to recovery. In short, most programs aim to “reprogram” the manner in which we think. Through willingness, effort, and repetition, new neuropathways are carved into the brain, the old addictive thought patterns shrink, and a new life ultimately begins. As a result:

  • The restlessness, irritability, and discontent largely go away. When these feelings crop up, we now have the tools to reduce these feelings.
  • We no longer believe everyone is thinking about us or that we are the center of the universe.
  • Instead of thinking about ourselves almost obsessively, we are learning to think of others’ needs ahead of our own.
  • Our minds slow down dramatically, and we are able to live in the present moment. Many of us go on to enjoy lives much more fulfilling, rewarding, and happy than prior to active addiction.

To learn more about Clean Recovery Centers and our program, please visit our home page.