What it Feels Like to Have an Addiction
For those who don’t suffer from drug and alcohol addiction, it is very hard to understand this disease. I have almost 20 years in recovery and sometimes it still baffles me.
During the past three and a half years, we have helped hundreds of people recover. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. That said, it can also be a frustrating process for both the addict and the people trying to help.
By Nick Cuneo, President
Tough to handle
The behaviors of someone in active addiction and early recovery can be very difficult to witness and deal with. Most of these people will present with numerous additional conditions such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, chronic depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder and other conditions.
Small wonder that loved ones become so angry and even disgusted with those of us in active addiction.
The fact is that almost no one is prepared to deal with these conditions unless they are a highly trained professional addiction specialist. For this reason, it critical to do whatever you can to help your loved one get into treatment. If they refuse, it is often best to cut them off entirely to prevent the enabling that is commonplace.
What is the addict feeling?
I find it often helps the loved ones of the suffering addict to understand what that person is feeling – to understand they are not doing these things on purpose; to realize they are doing these things because their brains are dysfunctional and incapable of any sound judgment.
At this point, the primitive areas of the brain are running the show. Suffering addicts will do almost anything to keep feeding the addiction with the substance or substances they are addicted to.
Why is this?
First, it is important to understand that addiction is a chronic brain disease, not a personal shortcoming or a matter of will power. Second, the feeling of being addicted is so intense that simply quitting is virtually impossible.
Think of a mosquito bite
What does it feel like? Words can hardly describe it, it’s that bad. Imagine having a very itchy mosquito bite and being unable to scratch it. We have all experienced this somewhat mild compulsion. Now imagine that compulsion multiplied by one million. That is the intensity.
Unlike a mosquito bite, the emotional anguish that comes from being in active addiction is unbearable. The chemicals necessary for a person to feel “okay” are depleted. The person feels an impending sense of doom continuously unless they can consume more of the substance or substances.
Feelings of loneliness and despair are at incomprehensible levels. All sense of hope vanishes. Without more of the drug or drugs, the physical pain of withdrawal is so intense most wish they could simply die, and it would be all over.
This is not to make excuses for the addict’s behavior. It’s okay to have addiction. It is not okay to have addiction and refuse to do anything about it.
Having a sense of what the suffering addict feels often helps people at least understand what is happening a bit more and maintain compassion. But compassion is not enabling, it’s a sense of caring enough to try to help the person. But you must stand your ground. If the suffering addict is unwilling to seek help, it is best to back away completely to prevent more needless suffering for yourself and others.
Compassion means loving the suffering addict who refuses help enough to not enable them to destroy themselves. Compassion is also offering support but only if they are truly willing to get the help they need.