Syringes to Sobriety

Stories and Advice from a Real Heroin Addict
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What is the Cause of Drug Addiction?

I wish there was an easy answer to this question. Many people have dedicated their entire lives’ work to solving this question. Some have concluded addiction is caused genetically, some of us are just born with a predisposition. Others have credited addiction to coping with traumatic or emotional experiences in adolescents. I am sure many people with drug abuse issues can relate to some of these theories, but I couldn’t.

I had alcohol abuse issues on one side of my family, but as far as I know, I was the first to use heroin. After seeing multiple counselors, I concluded there was nothing in my upbringing I was trying to block our by using drugs. I always felt a bit envious of other drug users in recovery who related to these addiction cause theories. Many people told me to stop worrying about the causes and just focus on my recovery so I moved along with my recovery program, but I knew there had to be another cause of drug addiction.

Ultimately, I came to my own conclusion. Hopefully, if you are also struggling to relate to the prevailing theories, this will help you understand another, possibly more universal, cause of drug addiction.

Doped up on Dopamine

We humans are programmed to strive for happiness, every day, every second of our lives. I am not a scientist, but I will attempt to describe in words a lay person can understand and hopefully any person struggling with addiction can relate to.

Biologically, dopamine release in your brain plays a huge role in happiness. Dopamine give people a sense of well-being and can alleviate depression. Simple things, like having sex, seeing your child smile, completing a bachelor’s degree, eating your favorite type of cheesecake, or even laying in your bed after a long day at work trigger the release of dopamine in our brain. Every time dopamine is released after one of these activities, Glutamine, another chemical, is also released in our brain. Glutamine, tells our brain that these activities are good because they release dopamine, making us happy and we need to be happy to survive.

This totally makes sense when it comes to eating food, or having sex, right? Our body needs to know that survival is dependent on food, exercise and reproduction, obviously. With constant surges of dopamine followed by Glutamine, pathways form in our brain. The more we use heroin or other drugs to get a dopamine release, the deeper these pathways become etched into our brains.

I know it sounds far-fetched, but these are actual, physical pathways that get deeper andDopamine Pathways stronger each time we flood them with chemicals by getting high. Eat food, dopamine releases down the pathway, dopamine release triggers Glutamine release back down the pathway, rinse, repeat and so on and so on. These pathways are carved right from the beginning of our lives while our mother feeds us, dopamine releases as our tummies get full and our brain gets happy, Glutamine releases and an hour later we are crying for another feeding.

Dr. Warren Whitfield does a wonderful job explaining this process with some pretty great visuals in this YouTube video:

I feel happy, oh so happy πŸ™‚

This all sounds well and good and if we were still cavemen, I have no doubt we would figure out Free Smileshow to survive. However, in modern times, we have figured out how to play with these chemicals. Introducing drugs into the mix, we can release happy chemicals at staggering rates. All it takes is one pill, one huff, one snort, one shot, one patch and you are flooding your brain in happy chemicals!

Since happiness is a fundamental human need, you can see why drugs can be so appealing. Once you experiment a few times, it is easy to form a habit. Shit, your brain is helping you. The more we experiment, the deeper the pathway in our brain becomes and the easier it is to interchange getting high to getting happy.

Every time you get high you are reinforcing your brain that this is what you need to survive. Yes, to survive. This instant gratification becomes a habit very quickly. If a user is already unhappy, it would be very easy to drown our all the “Just Say No” and “War on Drugs” speeches they have cataloged in the grade 5 memories section of their brain and just keep on making themselves happy.

Why won’t it last?

Why won't it last?

After allowing myself to get clean, I was able to grasp this explanation of using drugs became a habit in the first place. Only then was I able to identify that I was only creating very short term bouts of happiness of every time I pushed that needle in. Without a balance, a good dose of long term happiness, I would continue the cycle of using, spikes of happiness followed by depression, eventually wearing out the receptors in my brain.

Eventually, my brain found it difficult to produce much more natural happy (dopamine) of its own. With moderation and/or abstinence, depending on the substance, I was able to get back to setting long term goals in my life. This doesn’t mean that all people need to be cut off from every substance. After long term abuse, some users need prescription drugs to help their brain heal or function normally.

With a counselor, I broke all my long term goals into smaller, more readily achievable goals. Once I was able to get my tasks under control, I was able to focus on achieving these goals. Achieving these bigger life goals will eventually lead me to happiness on a different level.

Long term happiness feels different from the instant happiness brought on by a drug fix; it requires patience. Without patience, I end up right back in a chaotic using cycle. Unfortunately, I am still very quick to forget all of this, but finding an addiction cause that made sense for me was a milestone in my recovery. Hopefully it helps in yours as well.

16 comments on “What is the Cause of Drug Addiction?

  1. Not bad Ash … You always were a higher level thinker. If you found the recipe that works for you, Im extremely happy. And by laying out a blueprint of trials and tribulations along with successes, you give hope to readers that still may be struggling.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, people need to read this and not just me. I really can relate to the dopamine part, which is why i am trying to break away from every bad habit that releases dopamine subconsciously to my brain.

    I really had a wonderful read. Thank you and looking forward to seeing your next post

    1. A great way to break away from the bad habits, is to practice good ones instead. It is easier to create new, good habit, pathways than it is to dissolve old bad habit pathways. Lately, when I get an urge to do heroin, I paint my nails first. Usually the urge goes away as I am trying to decide which color glitter will look best πŸ™‚ Replacing bad habits with good ones has been key to my success so far, but I am always aware that those bad habit pathways are still there. This makes it much easier for me to slip up than someone who never made the bad decision in the first place. Hope that made sense!

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing!

  3. Wow! So brave of you to share your journey with readers online. I’ve had family members in my household who have suffered addictions as well.

    It’s a really tough road to go down. Because the one who suffered addiction was my husband, he would go to a different recovery house and learn different things.

    It would be great for someone to recover from addiction to be able to have the same support anywhere they go.

    Having been a counselor to recovering addicts, I feel a person who is trying to heal need to be let down the same path that started their recovery.

    My husband didn’t know what to blame for his addiction. His childhood, the issues we were going through our marriage, or just because he liked being high.

    1. Great point! I was scared to admit the abusive trigger that had led me to IV heroin, was only partly to blame for my excessive use of the substance. I actually liked, sorry loved, getting high. People get very nervous when they hear me share that, but until I figured that out, I could not move on with my recovery. As a result, I added exciting, thrilling activities to my recovery program. For example, I picked up a love for roller coasters and trying new things. As a kid, they terrified me. Now, it serves as a healthy adrenaline and dopamine release. πŸ™‚

      Thank you for sharing your experiences as a counselor, as well. I love hearing different perspectives.

  4. Hi Ashley,

    This is a very timely and an informative post. You made a very valid point, as to how Dopamine and Glutamin create deeper pathways in our brains and which invariably leads for a craving to meet instant gratification – And this sadly makes men / women a drug addict.

    It’s important people start focusing on setting long term and meaningful goals to lead happier life. Thanks for sharing this post and i wish it reaches out to more people who need help.

  5. The information is really very informative and in simple language.I am don’t do drugs but your post really made me understand why we get addicted to drugs or other addictions in life. You made me understand the cycle between new things and habits.Thank you so much as your post as really helpful.

  6. I must say that it is the first I am seeing this way of looking at the reason for drug addiction. Thanks for sharing this perspective.

    Allow me to share with you as someone diagnosed with diabetes. Do continue to add value to the lives of many in Cyberspace by researching and writing your website.

    Be transparent and honest in sharing your experiences. Your complete healing will follow. That’s my experience and I am thankful.

    Continued success in your journey. Proud of you kiddo.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with your own health issues. I agree, honesty is the foundation of healing. Hopefully, if the addiction discussion becomes less shameful, more people will feel comfortable sharing their stories and some positive change can be made.

  7. Wow what a great website and so brave of you to open up the way you have. I know a bit about addiction to alcohol via family members. Your explanation about how dopamine affects your brain rings true coz the only time the addicted relatives ever seemed happy was when they were drinking.

    1. I am sorry you had to experience that with your relatives. It can be difficult top watch, but I hope this post illuminates how difficult it can be to put down a substance you have trained your brain to believe is necessary for survival. I do know that, even when we are deep in a using cycle, we never love our families any less! Sometimes a big smile and bear hug from a relative is all a user needs to remember the other things, such as family, that can make us happy.

  8. very brave, obviously when you have been through something yourself you understand it more, but you’ve explained it all really well. Certainly got me looking at addiction differently than i normally would, well done.

    1. Thank you Michael. Drugs, specifically opiates, have become a tremendous, deadly, issue in the past few years. I believe in order to start making a positive change we must start examining the way we have been approaching recovery. Who better to help develop new, creative, more effective approaches to recovery than those of us who have lived it? I hope sharing my experiences will encourage others to join in the discussion.

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