Consequences of Your Substance Addiction

If you are new to substances, you might not believe in the claim that addiction is a downward spiral. You might think you have the ability to quit whenever you want. For now, substance use is just another form of entertainment, with no signs of harm. Drug use in the early phase can indeed give people pleasure and soothe the mind. However, you need to understand how its addictive effects gradually take hold in the brain to rationally assess its long-term harm.

Why Would Something 'Bad' Give You Pleasure?

Most people use drugs for their psychological benefits — the feeling of "getting high" — which is why many claim that drug use is just another leisure activity because it promises a certain degree of pleasure. Some researchers even came up with a model of addiction to show that drug use does not undermine the autonomy of the user and qualifies as a pleasure-oriented activity.

Indeed, in the beginning, a nonaddicted brain does get "pleasure" from chemicals in the substances. However, as time goes on, repeated substance use can gradually change the brain's reward system, making the same pleasure possible only by taking more frequent and higher doses of the same substance. This is when pleasure gives way to dependence and addictive habits. By then, the teaser effects of pleasure gradually wear off, revealing the addictive power of a substance in controlling a user's life.

Substance Use Messes With Your Brain

Just as substance use in the early stage can boost your mood so that you feel "pleasure," in the addictive phase, substance use continues to alter your mood by changing the brain chemicals and structures. Neuroscience has helped us understand more about how substance addiction harms the brain, one of the most important human organs.

Two specific areas of the human brain undergo changes due to substance addiction: the reward circuit and the stress response system. The power of addiction lies exactly in how substances hijack and even rewire brain circuits. Normally, a healthy brain experiences pleasure when doing healthy things, such as eating good food, being physically active, or spending time with family and friends. When these healthy activities activate the brain's reward circuit, it releases neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, to send positive messages of pleasure and enjoyment.

When addictive substances flood the brain, they cause a sharp rise in dopamine levels. They stimulate the brain's reward circuits in a way that normal and healthy activities cannot immediately do. However, when the brain is repeatedly exposed to the same high-intensity reward, it stops responding to the normal "reward" activities. The brain no longer finds other things pleasurable, even regarding the same dose of substances. What happens is the brain's decrease in the ability to feel pleasure.

After pleasure is hijacked by substances, the brain no longer enjoys a good meal, connecting with a friend, or watching natural sceneries as before. There is an emotional bluntness to all of these activities. Relationships also feel not enjoyable. At the same time, the brain tends to see an increase in emotional stress when the drug wears off, which is why most people with substance addiction have mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

These negative effects happen because the brain's stress-response circuit has also been changed because substances are chemicals that make the brain stressful, especially with the increasing frequency and dosing. Tragically, when these two processes happen (intense pleasure and increased stress), people tend to rely more on the soothing effects of substances, which places them in a vicious cycle.

Substances' Harmful Effects on Relationships

By the time the parts of the brain responsible for self-control and healthy decision-making are less effective, a person's behaviors will also have changed. This is why people who struggle with substance addiction and mental health issues inevitably experience tension and conflicts in their relationships — whether at home, in the workplace, or on social occasions. Their actions can become compulsive. They succumb to mood swings and increased irritability.

To access more drugs, some lie to their employers and family members. Deception alone will break many relationships. Some people gradually grow into a group of new friends who use substances or avoid socialization altogether, choosing to live just with drugs and alcohol.

This bleak picture should not make you lose hope because addiction is a treatable disease. Since science has helped us know more about its working mechanisms, health professionals have come up with proven ways to combat addiction. Holistic treatment addresses the brain's emotional and behavioral levels. 

Early intervention is key given how substance addiction can harm the essential human organs over time. 

Do you know that substance addiction can lead to lasting damage to the body and the mind? Addiction can negatively impact your major organs. Your brain structures are changed so dramatically that many mental health conditions are likely to occur. Many people who use substances tend to deny these effects, thinking that they can quit at any time, but science does not back this notion. Substance addiction is powerful, and few people can quit by mere willpower. You need to work with a professional interventionist as early as possible. At South Florida Intervention, our professionally trained interventionists have helped many young people and professionals heal from substance dependency. Apart from recovery coaching and parent coaching, we offer detailed case management. We can also provide a sober escort service for people who are in early sobriety. Early intervention is key; make the decision to quit today. Call us at (202) 390-2273.