When someone is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, there are a range of factors that can fuel their habit, including lifestyle preferences, past trauma, genetic disposition, co-occurring mental issues, and thought patterns. While you need to hold addicts accountable for their actions, it also isn’t fair to blame them—or anyone—for the addiction itself.
Addiction is a complex, chronic condition caused by a combination of factors that can be grouped under:
- Biological factors (genetics, family history, etc.)
- Social factors (home environment, friends, education, etc.)
- Environmental factors (accessibility, cost, location, etc.)
- Psychological factors (past trauma, anxiety, thought patterns, etc.)
In this post, we’re going to focus on understanding the psychological factors and the mental state of an individual struggling with addiction. Understanding the mindset and mental struggles of someone dealing with drug or alcohol addiction is one of the first steps you can take to help that person.
While genetic disposition, social exposure, and environment contribute to the onset of addiction, repeated use leading to addiction is also driven by psychological factors. One study found that past traumatic events and psychological function make up two of the four most effective risk factors for explaining repeated substance use.
A history of psychological issues, particularly trauma and anxiety, increases the risk of developing an alcohol or substance addiction. Individuals struggling with these issues commonly self-medicate by using drugs or alcohol to avoid unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or memories.
With regular use over several years, drugs and alcohol can change the way the brain works by altering the parts responsible for reward, motivation, memory, impulse control, and judgment. When addiction takes a foothold, cravings increase drastically and ultimately impair an individual’s ability to control impulses, even when they know the consequences of continued use.
When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, their decision-making abilities become so clouded that they aren’t able to look out for their own well-being. They may clearly see the impact addiction has on their life and be aware of the consequences if they continue to use, but that isn’t always enough to stop them from using.
They may be determined to stop but then continue using. What’s important to understand is that when someone is struggling with addiction, they aren’t necessarily choosing to continue using or drinking. They may want to stop, only to find that they can’t simply because their brain isn’t working the way it did before the onset of addiction.
Just as addiction doesn’t take hold in a day, addiction recovery doesn’t happen overnight, and even relapse can be part of a successful recovery journey. With deep-seated addiction, the brain is no longer working the way it once did. It needs to be retrained to again put the individual’s well-being above drugs or alcohol, and the process takes time.
When someone is addicted, their drive to use becomes the most important thing in their life, not necessarily because they want it to be but because of the nature of addiction itself. An addict can’t imagine life without their drug or drink of choice; it becomes as essential to survival as food or water. Addiction reorients a person’s priorities in life so that nothing matters more than their next fix.
It’s also important to remember that individuals in the throes of addiction can’t always control what their brain is telling them. They can’t stop the cravings, impulses, and thoughts pushing them to continue the cycle of addiction, but they can strive to better manage them. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get an addict to understand their addiction is controlling them. Some addicts have to experience the consequences of their addiction to realize they have a problem and admit they need help.
If you still have questions about drug addiction psychology or want to learn more about addiction, take a look at our recovery resources. If you don’t find what you’re looking for there, reach out to our team, and we’ll help you find answers to your questions about your unique situation.