If you are someone who struggles with addiction, you have probably asked yourself this at some point or another.
Is it possible to still have one drink? One joint? “What if my problem was pain pills; I can’t smoke pot anymore?”
Sure, you are entitled to do whatever you like, but if you are someone who truly suffers from the disease of addiction, then you will find that having “just one” never turns out the way you planned.
No matter the substance you used and abused, attempting to substitute or “dabble” with other drugs will only lead you down the road of destructive behaviors once more.
The Difference Between Physical Dependence & Addiction
The words dependence and addiction often go hand-in-hand, but what most people do not know is that they are not interchangeable. There are very distinct differences between physical dependence and addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse tells us that a physical dependence is when the body adapts to a drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect. This is known as building a tolerance to the drug. If the use of the drug is abruptly ceased, a person may experience physical and mental symptoms, also known as withdrawal. Physical dependence can often happen with the use of prescription drugs, such as benzodiazepines and opioid pain medication.
Addiction, on the other hand, is characterized by more than just a physical dependence. Yes, one who suffers from addiction does have a physical dependence while they are in the state of active use, but they also suffer from mental obsessions and cravings. Despite adverse and harmful consequences, such as a failure to meet family and work obligations, lack of social connection, and possible legal consequences, the individual is still driven by compulsive drug seeking behaviors.
Someone can form a physical dependence on a drug, but never be diagnosed with an addiction; whereas, someone who struggles with addiction, will do so for a lifetime, but may not currently have a physical dependence on a substance.
Addiction Changes the Brain
Although a popular topic of debate, especially in our current state of an opioid epidemic, drug and alcohol addiction is in fact a brain disease.
Yes, the initial use of a substance, such as alcohol, marijuana, or pain medication is a choice, no one ever foresees themselves becoming an addict. Like the rest of the world that has experimented with drugs and alcohol, these individuals go into it thinking, “This will be fun,” or “I’ve had a stressful day, I think I’ll have a glass of wine.”
No one ever says, “I think I’ll become an alcoholic today and destroy my life.”
So, what separates “those people” from the rest of the world? Although there is no one specific reason, there are a variety of factors that play a role in someone becoming addicted.
Many studies have shown that roughly 50% of the predisposition to addiction is caused by genetics, or a family history of alcohol and drug abuse. Nevertheless, that is not the sole cause. Other influencers include a mental health diagnosis, such as anxiety or depression, suffering a childhood trauma, and a person’s environment. Additionally, a person’s expectations on what that substance may do for them, along with how they react to that feeling both play a significant role.
When you couple these factors with drug and alcohol experimentation, a person is at great risk. After long periods of use, drugs alter the brain’s structure and functioning. Studies have shown that drug use can cause changes in areas of the brain that are responsible for learning, decision making, judgement, and behavior control, causing the individual to lack self-control. Furthermore, these changes can persist long after drug use has ceased, possibly explaining why relapse is common for many in recovery.
Why Abstinence Is Best
Although an addict may favor one drug over another, such as pain meds over alcohol, that does not mean that alcohol will have no effect on them. Addiction is not about the substance that was abused, but why the person became addicted in the first place.
Due to the underlying factors that influence addiction and changes within the brain, complete abstinence is best for sustained recovery and success.
You can almost think of it like an addict has no off switch. Once they start, it triggers something within the brain, and they are unable to stop. Even if they have all intentions in doing so, their reasoning becomes impaired and impulse and compulsion take over. If you don’t pick up the first one, then you have nothing to worry about.
As the saying goes, “One is too many, and a thousand is never enough.”
Even those that are sober for years or decades, are not immune to this. That is why they say recovery is a “one day at a time, daily reprieve.” A person will never be cured from addiction, but they can manage their disease. This is only done through continuous and daily work on themselves and through helping others.
If you are questioning whether or not you can have just one, or substitute one substance for another, we hope that you have found this information helpful.
We have found through our experience that we were only able to recover, when we gave up all ideas and reservations about using again. If you currently have these thoughts, please reach out to someone in recovery or an addictions professional. Odds are, they can relate to your feelings and are able to share their experience with you.
In the end, remember, addiction is a cunning and baffling disease. Even when you think that you have it under control, it can sneak up on you. Please do not attempt to test fate. It may be something you will not be able to come back from.
Contact Clearbrook for Addiction Treatment
If you or someone you love is currently struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, please let us help you.
For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been effectively treating those who suffer from substance use disorders, while providing education and support services to affected family members.
Make today the day you decide to change your life. Contact our Admissions Specialists today and get on the road to recovery.