From Chapter Two of the book
How to Quit Drugs for Good
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A Brain that Craves
All drugs of abuse have one thing in common: They’re fat soluble enough to get into the brain and, once there, to alter its neurochemistry. Most drugs of abuse affect the neurochemicals that activate the brain’s pleasure circuits. These drugs reward us with feelings of pleasure.
Only a minority of us become addicted to drugs, but for those who do, it’s the feelings of pleasure that become so completely compelling. The brain loves the pleasurable sensations. The brain loves this so much that it gets addicted. That’s why the brain begins to crave the pleasure-producing drugs every time we stop using them. This mental attachment to drugs, this craving, has become known as the “psychological addiction.”
Some drugs have little effect on the brain’s pleasure circuits. For example, the hallucinogens stimulate serotonin, a neurochemical found mainly in the cortex of the brain. This is the site in the brain where abstract thinking occurs. Perhaps because of this, the hallucinogens are less psychologically addicting than drugs such as cocaine or heroin, which stimulate the pleasure center directly.
Also, drugs that stimulate the pleasure center during the “high” cause the reverse effect during withdrawal. During withdrawal nothing seems pleasurable. Life itself becomes raw and painful. Depression sets in. The deeper we get into our addiction, the more extreme each withdrawal becomes and thus the stronger our psychological craving for the drug.
In his booklet Drugs of Abuse, Dr. Samuel Irwin rated the psychological addiction potential for various drugs. The ratings, based on a scale from 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest, are as follows:
- Heroin: 5
- Stimulants (cocaine and amphetamines): 5
- Sedatives: 4
- Marijuana: 3
- Inhalants: 3
- PCP: 3
- LSD: 2
We become addicted to drugs partly as a way to avoid life’s misery. In our minds at least, we become unwilling to suffer.
Real life is loaded with suffering. We not only experience myriad physical pains but also must cope with psychological pain. Many events make us ache inside. Things happen that cause us to feel sad, miserable, angry, nervous, tense, disgusted, confused, weakened, tortured, cheated, abused, frightened, or upset.
But we can avoid these feelings—at least for the moment—-by using drugs. We can do drugs and almost instantly feel “high.” We can forget about life for a while. We can experience pleasure, excitement, power, courage, thrills, joy, enchantment, and a sense of connection with other people and the world around us.
Of course, in the long run drugs become less and less effective at bringing these benefits. Over time, the drugs themselves start causing suffering. Soon, we find we’re using drugs to relieve the misery that drugs themselves have caused. This is known as the “vicious cycle of addiction.”
It goes something like this: Life doesn’t feel too good. Bang! Try this drug or that drug, and things feel better. Come down off the drug, and things feel worse, just a little worse than they did before you took the drug in the first place. No matter. Bang! Use the drug and feel good again. Gradually, your biochemistry changes. Your brain learns that it doesn’t have to keep producing the chemicals that make you feel good. These chemicals keep appearing without the brain having to do any work. That’s why each time you try to get off the drugs, you feel a little worse than the time before. It becomes harder and harder for you to get off the drugs because you feel so bad whenever you try to stop.
And it all started with suffering, with your inability to accept suffering as an intimate part of life. You can break a drug habit anywhere along the way, or never start with drugs at all, simply by accepting life’s suffering and facing the suffering head-on.
This doesn’t mean that you will live a sad, miserable, and tormented life. There are plenty of ways you can face your suffering and then cope with it. In fact, once you learn these ways and begin using some of them, you’ll feel as if your spirit has been renewed.
Of course, it’s your choice.
If you choose drugs to cope with life’s suffering, you choose a buy-now-pay-later method. It works in the moment, but it just postpones the suffering. And by postponing it, it builds up, so that when you finally do face it, the suffering is immense. The detoxification from drugs might take a week or two, but the long-term withdrawal, the period of time when your biochemistry (and thus your physical and mental health) returns to normal, can take years. Luckily, during this time, you gradually feel a little bit better, day by day.
This book gives you another choice. In it, you’ll find more than 100 techniques to help you quit using drugs. There are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual techniques. Each one of these offers you another way to cope with some aspect of life’s suffering. Each one offers you another way to feel good.
Disease, Health, and Addiction
Is drug addiction a disease? There’s much confusion.
Sit for a while in a crack house with any crack star and ask if she has a disease. She’ll tell you no, even though she might be quick to admit that she’s addicted to crack. But ask any recovering cocaine addict in Narcotics Anonymous (NA). She’ll tell you that she has a disease and that she has this disease whether or not she’s using.
Each of them is partly right. Drug addiction starts a disease process. This process progresses when you’re using. It stops when you stop using. And when you stop using, you can heal much of the damage from the disease if you change your diet and lifestyle.
Drug addiction fits the definition of disease. Like other diseases, drug addiction impairs your health by damaging your cells. Like other diseases, it interrupts your body’s vital functions, causing specific symptoms. And like other diseases such as cancer, if it’s allowed to continue long enough, it can kill you.
But as a disease, it has an ironic twist. The agent causing the disease acts like a medicine that cures the symptoms. Drug-addicted users actually feel healthier when they’re using. Pain and sickness seem to disappear. Unfortunately, the sense of health is artificial. When using, you relieve yourself of the symptoms only. Meanwhile, inside your body, the disease process continues.
Drug use wears out your body and actually speeds up the aging process. Your cells live their lives in the fast lane of chemical stimulation and toxic invaders, grabbing a few thrills but choking on the poisons. You begin to feel worn out. You get physically sick more often, or you feel some slight sickness that lingers and is hard to pinpoint.
When cells don’t get sufficient nutrients, or if the cells are harmed too often by toxins in the blood, they stop performing important functions. After a while, whole groups of cells begin giving out, and organs begin to fail. Especially susceptible are the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, and stomach.