How Addiction Works

Addiction is a cruel disease, and it is capable of tearing apart entire families. And when you have a loved one dealing with an addiction, we may have had to deal with actions that have hurt you and others in your circle. There may be behaviors that are very, very hard to forgive. For people who don’t have an addiction problem, or any major mental health issues, it can be hard to see it as a “disease.” This can make it hard to support your loved one as he or she tries to overcome the problem.

We can’t wave a magic wand and make you forget the hurts, but we can do two things: we can explain the workings of addiction in order to help you better understand it as a disease, and we can tell you how to seek help in dealing with your anger and resentment.

Let’s begin with addiction, which is often misunderstood. Addiction is defined as a mental disease. This is meant very literally: we are talking about brain chemistry. In the case of psychologically addicting substances, here, in general terms, is how it all works:

The brain chemistry changed

The substance your loved one craves got its first foothold when he or she tried it for the first time. It affected the chemistry of his brain somehow: perhaps it encouraged receptors in the brain to open or close, or perhaps it directly triggered receptors, tricking your the brain into thinking it was getting a surge of dopamine or another feel-good chemical. Whatever happened, it felt good.

But your your loved one’s brain took note. It reacted to the excess somehow: maybe it closed or opened receptors itself in order to rebalance things, or maybe it stopped producing as much dopamine. Sober, your friend or family member would feel worse than they would feel if they  had never taken the substance. The substance could help the person feel normal again. It could also make them feel high again–but, this time, it would take more. And chasing that high would only affect the brain more and more, making the substance more and more essential. A “switch flipped,” and using the substance was no longer a choice. To get sober would then require weathering withdrawal symptoms, researchers say. That’s best done at rehab, practitioners at an IV spa Florida say, or at least with the help of a professional. Addicts on their own will often go to great lengths to avoid withdrawal and life without the substance–and this is often the context of their most unforgivable actions.

They lost control

When under the influence of such substances, your loved one was not in control. When relatively sober, their disease incentivized them so strongly to seek access to the substance that they cannot rightly be said to have been in control then, either. Addiction is a disease, and your loved one is victim.

You have the right to feel resentful

But you can be a victim, too, and understanding addiction as a disease doesn’t necessarily make it easy to forget what addicts have done. You are not wrong to feel how you do! Your desire to let things to go is admirable, and it’s clear that you care about your loved one’s chances at recovery and want to be a part of their support structure. But you need to take care of yourself, too. The best way to do both is to seek support from a professional. If you are dealing with such feelings, we strongly recommend you consider therapy and mental get proactive about your mental health. You can find support through volunteer resources or can visit a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. You may be able to support your loved one, but you deserve support, too.