What Environments Nurture Addiction?
There’s a saying in the recovery community that recovering drug addicts and alcoholics need to change major things in their lives including “people, places and things.” Based on my experience, there’s a great deal of truth in that statement.
Addiction is a disease that centers in the mind. Those in active addiction warp their minds in dramatic ways, completely disrupting the natural chemistry of the brain. As the suffering addict grows more desperate for their substance or substances of choice, the environments they place themselves in become very unhealthy.
These unhealthy environments can be a variety of places. For the suffering alcoholic, it might be the bar, the club or their living room. For the suffering drug addict, it might be a crack house or drug den. Or, if the person has been somehow able function, it might be their place of work where alcohol and drug use is prevalent and other employees are also consuming these substances.
By Charles Robinson, Clinical Educator, Clean Recovery Centers
Regardless, these environments are extremely unhealthy and can be lethal to the suffering addict. Addiction is nurtured in these environments.
Everyone has mental triggers of some kind. Perhaps the smell of a rose brings back memories of their first girlfriend or boyfriend. Maybe they experienced some trauma and certain circumstances bring back memories of that trauma.
In the unhealthy environments that most suffering alcoholics and drug addicts find themselves, unhealthy triggers can develop towards the continued use of alcohol or drugs. For example, simply seeing someone drinking may instill a craving within an alcoholic, or the mere sight of a needle may trigger a craving in the IV drug user.
Typically, the more negative an unhealthy environment, the more conducive it is to continued use of substances by the suffering addict. If everyone in the environment is using heroin, there are likely to be needles, spoons and lighters strewn throughout the room. The more the suffering addict is exposed to these negative elements, the worse their addiction will become.
Stuck in quick sand
It is the same for the alcoholic. If the suffering person is spending every waking hour in a bar, there will be alcohol everywhere, and virtually everyone will be drinking. These environments become like quick sand from which it is very difficult, if not impossible for the suffering to escape without help.
To those who do not suffer from addiction, these environments are not overly attractive and can be downright scary. They would never dream of hanging out where people are shooting substances into their bodies or passing out all over the place.
In addition, most would find a drunken bar room scene very unappealing. People who do not have this disease generally hang out in reasonably healthy environments, which help to program their brains in healthy ways. Conversely, for the suffering addict, these unhealthy environments further exacerbate their disease. In fact, they literally nurture it.
Change is critical
Recovery from addiction requires a complete preprogramming of the mind. This is what a strong recovery program focuses on. People change what they do, say, read, who they hang around with and where they hang out. It is not possible to reprogram the mind without doing these things. It is how our brain works.
Changing environments is critical. Ideally, the environment is ripe for recovery and as healthy as it can possibly be.