The cycle of addiction for
all types of drugs - heroin, cocaine, crack, amphetamines, barbiturates, alcohol and cannabis/marijuana is essentially the same
and based upon nature and nurture. This comprises three features
1) chemical dependency ;
2) learned behaviours and habits ;
denial of both need and habit.
Although there are important differences in the features of addiction
to cocaine, heroin, amphetamine or alcohol, these features are basically differences of
form and not one of essence. Furthermore, these difference become less relevant where people
are cross-addicted to one or more substances.
One of the principal difference
between so-called « hard » and « soft » drugs,
is the speed of the addiction process. Whereas the phase of chronic alcoholism may take 5, 10 or 20 years to develop, total chemical dependency can be
achieved from day 1, 6 months with drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
Initially, drugs are used for
pleasure and relief. However, they work on the
basis of ever-increasing investment for ever-diminishing returns. Whatever the individual time scale, drugs result in increased pain
and less and less pleasure on a physical and psychological level, and the addict needs ever greater amounts of the substance to ward
off the torture of withdrawal, and achieve a level of bearable « normalcy
Modern medical evidence proves
that addiction is a biologically-based illness,
to which psychological and sociological factors are important,
reinforcing factors. Psycho-sociological factors may play a more or less important role in
starting the addiction (depending on the individual), but, at root, we are dealing with a
physiological illness, based on chemical dependency, acquired through "nature", i.e.,
genetical inheritance predisposing the person’s body chemistry to addiction ; and "nurture",
i.e., behaviours and habits that lead to a fundamental change in the body chemistry, which results in
on the physical and psychological level. Consequently, the body is, or
becomes, susceptible to all addictive substances. Studies in Dublin, Ireland,
have shown that heroin addicts have a greater tendency to come from families, where one or more parents
were alcoholics. However, you do not need to have a genetic disposition to get
addicted, this only « helps »
the drug to do its work. Furthermore, once hooked to one main
addictive substance it is frequent and easy to become dependent upon another.
All drug use can lead to serious
brain and organ damage and death. On the psychological level it
leads to depression, neurosis, paranoia, psychosis and suicide. Recent
scientific research shows that all drugs work on the same neurological pathways and key areas
of the brain, especially dopamine receptors and the limbic system.
A famous breakthrough, in this respect, was made by accident in Texas,
when a specialist physician carried out an autopsy on four dead men. The physician, a world
authority in the effects of heroin on the brain, concluded in her report that all had died as a result of
heroin damage to the brain. To her surprise, she was later informed by local police that none of the deceased were
heroin users, but all were alcoholics.
The limbic system is our most
primitive response mechanism in the brain, which works on the instantaneous satisfaction of needs, normaly for survival -
hunger/eat, danger/attack-run. Addiction tricks it into equating drugs with pleasure/relief, and even
with survival. Faced with the bodily agony of withdrawal the limbic system can
override higher brain functions and demand drugs- NOW - by any means necessary !- and this lies at the root of much the social marginalisation and crime committed by addicts.
The most important psychological
factor in the addiction process is DENIAL.
« One/another try won’t harm me »,
« I won’t get hooked like
those bums on the street »,
« look at .... he doesn’t have a problem»,
« I have a habit
not a problem »,
« I can kick it whenever I want to » etc.
This maintains and reinforces continued use and dependency.
The cycle of addiction can only be
broken by getting clean and remaining totally abstinent from all mind-altering drugs. Many addicts are cross addicted and/or use
varying cocktails of other drugs to help them withdraw from their main drug of choice.
Barbiturates, amphetamines, alcohol and marijuana, heroin and cocaine are regularly mixed
for their countering or complementary effects.
During the 60s and 70s many
alcoholics used drugs like valium as a substitute for alcohol, some now use marijuana as a supposedly « safe » drug, while
not drinking. The same often holds true for heroin and cocaine addicts.
However, it’s a fool’s
solution, which sooner or later leads back to use of the original drug of choice. Most often this happens because, under the
influence of the substitute drug, the addict is no longer in control of their
thoughts and actions, and- drunk or high - they take their original drug of choice again.
However, the underlying reason for
this is that an addict’s body chemistry is addictive and, therefore, hyper-sensitive to all addictive substances. At base,
the brain reacts in similar ways to all toxic mind-altering substances, even if the effects of the
substance are different. Thus, the brain remains in addictive mode, even if the original drug
is not taken. The neural associations and pathways have no opportunity to become
disabled and dormant, and instead stay active and alert for the chance to latch back onto
the original drug.
For this reason many addicts and
alcoholics, have to be careful even when taking prescribed medications. For example some alcoholics have reported
unpleasant side-effects and cravings following cough mixture, some of which contain small
amounts of alcohol.
Others have reported a sudden rise in urges and cravings
following surgery and medications.
Pain killers and sedatives can have sometimes have very bad
In other words the brain and nervous system is not able to make the
differentiation between these drugs and the addict's drug of choice,
believes it is receiving a small or similar form of the original drug,
reacts by demanding more of the real thing.
The underlying psychological
factor in this is that, although s/he may not be using the original
drug of choice, the addict is still, in fact, in denial.
« But I never had a problem
with alcohol »,
« I don’t fix anymore, but the odd joint is o.k. »,
« I need
these just for my nerves/depression ».
In fact, in the name of abstaining from the main drug, the addict is
only perpetuating the cycle of addiction in another form, a cycle within a cycle, and is not
at all breaking away to a new cycle of sobriety and recovery. The only exception to this is
where medical proof exists of dual diagnosis, i.e., where the addict is also suffering from mental
illness which needs prescribed medication, under the careful control of a specialist.
Since the Cycle of Addiction for
drug addicts and alcoholics is essentially the same - all addicts must follow the Cycle of Sobriety which
1) daily acknowledgement of your addictive disorder,
2) daily acceptance of the fact that you are seriously ill, and
3) your daily Sobriety Priority, which means -
TOTAL ABSTINENCE FROM ALL
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to start a discussion in your group?