How does a drug addict think differently than a non-addict?

Drug addicted man thinking on a train ride

How does a drug addict think differently than a non-addict?

For someone who has never had a serious drug problem, it can be dubious about trying and understanding what’s going on in the mind of an addict. Serious drug addictions tend to change the way a person thinks, and even close family members, friends, and loved ones can behave much differently after becoming dependent on drugs.

In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the ways that drug addicts think and view the world a bit differently than the status quo. This should help you better understand why your loved ones are behaving in a certain manner, should they be addicted to drugs.

The Basis of Thinking

To clarify, most people have a similar pattern of thinking. As human beings, we are hardwired to meet our needs for survival. This means that we must acquire sustenance, shelter, and other necessary things to ensure our survival. Conversely, we must push away influences that threaten our safety and compromise our ability to survive.

In this sense, the majority of people, addicts included, think similarly. We are all interested in self-preservation. The difference is that addicts have a very different way to go about this, a way in which people who have never used drugs might find confusing.

Many drugs can put a bandage over the pains of life – physically and emotionally. Troubled individuals often use it to kill the pain of their unaddressed trauma, in what they believe to be an act of self-preservation.

So in this sense, addicts don’t think much differently than non-addicts.. Drug addiction is known to cause some of the same biological changes that could result from an addiction to food or sex. However, drug addiction tends to do this in a more pronounced way, resulting in compulsive behavior that is more intense than most people are used to. We’ll explain this below. e

Addictive Thinking and Being Down in the Dumps

Most of us have experienced what drug addicts undergo regularly – a feeling of irritability restlessness, a general sense of being discontent with our circumstances and unable to make a change.

Even recovering addicts who have been sober for 30-plus years struggle with this type of thinking, and it can be difficult for them to determine whether they’re struggling with addicted thinking or if they’re having a bad day.

One of the main issues that users struggle with in this regard is that many of them have built their addiction on the basis of trying to avoid these feelings. By using dope, addicts can replace these feelings of discontent with blissful euphoria or numbness.

Unfortunately, as an individual continues to use drugs, they will require more and more of these drugs to achieve the same relief – a condition known as tolerance, which we’ll talk about more later. As their tolerance increases, they will subsequently become more and more prone to these undesirable feelings of discontent and restlessness. This is one way that the vicious cycle of addiction can begin to consume an individual.

External Validation & Socialization

Human brain filled with prescription opioidsAnother reason that people begin to use drugs is that they were never given the proper love and acceptance that babies and children require from their parents.

If a child is not loved enough, it will begin its years in school believing that it’s “not enough,” or that something’s wrong with it. This pressure continues throughout the years of high school, and around this time, many troubled youths begin experimenting with drugs.

There are several reasons that drugs can seem useful for these individuals.

  • Many drugs reduce inhibitions and social barriers, allowing people to communicate openly and freely with people that they previously believed themselves to be unworthy to talk to. This can lead to the development of actual relationships – the catch being that the individual will now feel that they need this drug to continue maintaining their social relationship. This is a dangerous and challenging cycle of addiction to break because the addicted person becomes addicted to two separate things, the latter quite innocent: drugs, and the connections that drugs allow them to make. When an individual has associated drugs or alcohol with their ability to socialize and share love, energy, and time with people, the addiction becomes very hard to break.
  • Many drugs are known for causing a significant change in the production or reuptake of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These hormones are messengers in the brain that are responsible for feelings of well-being and satisfaction.There is evidence that people who have suffered through childhood trauma have lower levels of these neurotransmitters. When they use these drugs, the weight of their trauma seems to evaporate – leaving them feeling confident, self-assured, and in control.

    The difficulty with this is that the individual begins to associate these feelings with the use of drugs and will continue to use drugs to achieve them. If they do not seek out professional help and learn how to develop these feelings on their own, a dangerous, long-term addiction could emerge.

The Pleasure Circuit

Not everyone who becomes addicted to drugs struggles with childhood trauma. Many people become victims of addiction simply because they thought it would be okay to ‘try something once.’

The reason for this is because of the way that the brain processes enjoyable experiences. Pleasure causes a release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, and it doesn’t matter if the pleasure comes from eating good food, having sex, or using drugs. This region is so closely associated with pleasure that it has been deemed the brain’s pleasure center.

One of the reasons that drugs are so addicting is because they are capable of flooding the brain with dopamine much quicker than most other pleasurable experiences. This means that they can effectively hack the brain into feeling as good as it would after, say, going for a long run or having sex.

Evidence suggests that the likelihood of something becoming addicting is related to how quickly the activity or substance releases dopamine in the brain. Since drug addicts are generally used to having very powerful surges of dopamine delivered quite fast, they often tend to lose interest in pleasurable activities that they once enjoyed.

The Daily Routine

Some of the less fortunate drug users have forsaken their homes and close relationships to continue to use. Often, those who are seriously addicted to drugs has fallen into a fundamental routine. This routine revolves around acquiring money for drugs, purchasing drugs, using drugs, and repeating the cycle.

Anything that interferes with this cycle can be very aggravating because there’s a very serious risk that someone could become sick if they don’t follow this routine. If they aren’t able to secure the funds to score, then they may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Constant fear of withdrawal keeps many addicts in motion for long hours. During the later stages of addiction, anything that doesn’t fit into their routine presents a real danger for them. They often have to eschew family relationships, personal friendships, and deadlines or appointments to prevent themselves from getting sick.

Tolerance, Cravings, and Compulsion

Tolerance is a term that’s used to describe the gradual need for more and more of a substance to achieve the desired effects.

Through a process known as downregulation, the brain essentially ‘shrinks back’ from the flood of neurotransmitters bombarding it. An amphetamine user, for example, will constantly be experiencing very high levels of dopamine. In response, the brain will decrease the number of dopamine receptors available. This means that the user will require more amphetamine to experience the same high.

If a user does not stop when they begin to develop tolerance, their tolerance will continue to rise, and their receptor count will continue to decrease.

The fewer receptors that an individual has, the more difficult it will be for them to quit. This is because there will be very few receptors remaining to receive and react to the dopamine that the person produces naturally on their own.

This can lead to cravings and compulsion. While the individual may not be able to experience the same high that they once did, the memory of that experience will not fade for some time. In a desperate attempt to recreate their initial experiences, they will often use higher and higher doses – increasing the risk of overdosing and experiencing adverse side effects.

This creates an actual biological change in the bain. Two parts of the brain – hippocampus and the amygdala – actually store information related to the environmental cues associated with the use of drugs. These stored memories create a conditioned response which we know as a craving when the person is in a similar situation or environment to one that they’ve used drugs in.

This is one of the reasons that cravings can persist for so long. If someone uses drugs in their bedroom, for example, and they attempt to stop using drugs, their bedroom – a safe space – will become a trigger for immense cravings. Likewise, individuals may become triggered to use drugs while walking around town and spotting an alleyway, park, or another area that they had gotten high in.

In Conclusion

Drug addicts are human beings and should never be treated as anything else. However, sometimes, it can be challenging to understand how to show compassion to individuals who behave so much different than the status quo.

Drugs can create some serious biochemical and psychological changes in an individual that can be difficult to understand. Hopefully, this article has made it a bit easier for you to see why your loved ones may be behaving the way that they are. If you or a loved one is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, call Recovery Connection at (866) 812-8231. We are here to help.