Imagine your friends innocently pulling you into a candy store when you are trying to lose weight. There are delicious treats at every corner and the sales people are more than willing to sell you the candy that your mouth is now watering over. Your friends are encouraging you to cheat on your diet, and your brain is processing more justifications to eat the candy than you can manage.
Now, imagine that one gummy bear could send you spiraling into a life that you have desperately tried to avoid, but all you can think about is when you can get back to the candy store. That one gummy bear has cost you complete control over your own life. Sounds ridiculous, right?
To an addict, this is a cruel reality.
Everywhere You Turn
Those who have never struggled with addiction often fail to realize how many temptations the world has to offer. Addiction makes people see the world from a different perspective. Everything surrounding an addict can be a trigger that could induce the craving for drugs and/or alcohol. Life is suddenly an endless maze of constant reminders of why you did drugs, and addiction is the guy in the mask chasing you with the chainsaw.
Many of you know an addict or a recovering addict whether you realize it or not. When an addict decides to start living a sober lifestyle there are more components involved in the transformation than just quitting. An addict’s entire dynamic has to change if he or she wants their recovery to be a successful one. However, no matter how many life changes the addict makes to improve their way of life, they can never escape their memories. Now that you have a good idea of an addict’s external perspectives, allow me to make the neuroscience of addiction more relatable for those who have never experienced it.
A Taste Test
Think of the best meal that you have ever had from an expensive restaurant. Try to remember the way that it looked on the plate, the smell of the food, every distinct flavor that hit your tongue, and the way it made you feel when you were eating it. You were feeling satisfied and very happy, no doubt. Now imagine that you are home and hungry yet again—scouring through the kitchen cabinets only to realize that there is nothing that will come close to making you feel the way the food from the restaurant did.
The only way to satisfy your craving is to go back to the restaurant and spend more money to satisfy that craving. Your brain has developed such an attachment to that meal that the food from the restaurant is all you think about. You can try to forget about the meal and the restaurant, but it’s impossible. Regardless of where you go there will be constant reminders of the atmosphere in the restaurant and the food you ate. These images are now associated with extreme happiness and forever etched in the reward circuitry of your brain.
At this point in physiological addiction, your brain has rewritten your memory to make that initial experience seem better than it was. Every experience after that will never compare to that initial moment. The reward circuitry in your brain has now been hijacked and your behavior changes to meet the demands of it. You are no longer you. Welcome to the world of addiction.
Bridging the Gap
As the number of drug users continue to rise it is becoming increasingly important for those who have never been addicted to be educated how it feels to be addicted. No one wants to feel like they are out of control of their own lives and, unfortunately, unless you are an addict or a recovering addict, it’s difficult to understand the many layers of addiction.
Every person has a physiological need to be accepted and understood for who they are. This form of empathy-based education can be used to help those around you who are recovering addicts and can promote abstinence from drugs and alcohol.