Substance Abuse: Highs and Lows of Addiction

The False Feel Good

I'm afraid that many times the warning messages to avoid certain addictive behaviors, go in one ear and out the other. The pitch is almost unbelievable, and it gets tuned out. But I have to tell you, the more I read your messages about addictions, and the more I study and write about addictions, the more upset I get. It's like millions of people are just flushing their lives down the toilet, and for what? A cheap thrill and a false feel good to cover over their pain.

How about this? Just so you know I'm not naive, I'll first give you the sales pitch on why you might want to take up an addiction. There must be some positive reasons to take drugs or get drunk or fall into many other addictive behaviors, otherwise people wouldn't continue to do it, right? So, I'm willing to look at the PROS of an addiction if you are willing to look at the CONS as well. I understand that when you are getting the sales pitch on the street or at the party, it's going to sound so worth it. All I'm hoping is that maybe after reading this you might have a voice of truth in the back of your head.

Pro - The Buzz

Addictions, at least at the beginning, make you feel great. I've heard people say, no one ever forgets their first buzz...the magic of their addiction. Drugs (or addictive behaviors) work their charm by traveling to the brain's reward system and telling it to release mega amounts of chemicals like dopamine (high rush), serotonin (euphoric calm), or norepinephrine (adrenaline thrill). So, when these chemicals flood our brain, most people feel very, very good. In fact, they can make you feel so good that the feeling is beyond explanation. You've tried to explain it to me:

The best way I can describe it, is when you're on a roller coaster, and before you take off, they pull you back and you hear the click, or a shift of the coaster and you know you're seconds away from an incredible [but short] trip. As it lets go you feel as if your breath is a few steps behind you. Sadly, it felt amazing. The sting is shocking; breathtaking. A sea of shades of blue drowns me in my thoughts, and after it's over, you exhale. People can't really understand how much of a head rush it is. - Sandy

Con - The Buzz NEVER lasts

The buzz might be good at first, but it comes at a price. Your body quickly builds up a tolerance to the chemicals or activity that gave you the high. As the addict continues using, the brain tries to adapt to the change by reducing the amount of dopamine, serotonin, or norepinephrine it would normally release. This leaves the user needing more of their drug or activity to feel the same effect. So, addicts enter the black hole of chasing the high. The original thrill is harder and harder to find, but the cravings for it become greater and greater. It leaves a person always craving, but never truly finding.

Yes, the feeling you get when you are in your high can be amazing, but it doesn't last. After the effects have taken hold, you start to come down, it's like HELL.  All you think of is that next high, that next buzz, and you will do ANYTHING to get it. You become a person you don't want to be. - Eric 

The fact is that [the high] wasn't permanent, so I would have to keep doing it every time something bad happens, and that just sucked. - Rachel

Pro - You feel invincible

There's tremendous pressure in our society to feel confident and have the capacity to accomplish a lot in a short time. The pressures of life can slow us down, rather than speed us up, making us feel weak and ineffective. But with some addictive behaviors, there is this incredible feeling of being invincible.

I had to balance too much on my daily schedule, so I started using ice. Ice is a form of crystal meth. At first it was great. I started smoking ice and made all of my stress disappear. It made me feel like I could do anything. This was great because my major in college was Computer Information Systems. It made the wheels in my head turn so I could write software like a genius and never get tired. - Chris

Con - You become a liar and thief

Tragically, while the addiction may start from a desire to be productive and confident, every person with an addiction ends up spending half their time chasing the high, and the other half covering up the addiction or frantically trying to find the money to feed their addiction. No matter how important friendships, family, jobs, security are, they always become a distant second to the high. Lying becomes second nature to the addict because it's a tool to cover the tragic life they are leading.

I have to hide what I just did to myself, how I did it and that I am hurting. Guilt eats away at my insides. I walk around, different from others, covered at all times, and people ask me why all the time. I lie to them. - Shelby 

Addictions are expensive. Stealing becomes necessary to fund the addiction. As they say in Narcotics Anonymous, "Are you tired of the high price of low living?" When the craving for the addiction hits them, they often act in an irrational, cruel, and unbelievable way in order to dig up the money.

My boyfriend is addicted to weed. He smokes in the house, and we have a son who sleeps in the next room. He has taken money out of our son's piggy bank to buy weed. - Lala

Pro - Supernatural Feeling 

Some people want to go into a totally different world where they can experience a supernatural encounter or feeling. It's like their addiction enables them to experience something in some other world, the world of the supernatural. A high is just another means of coping with life. It is a drug-induced fantasy, replacing reality with something surreal. Persons become something greater than they think they can ever be, escape the chains of reality, peer into worlds unknown to them and just feel really good. - TJ

Con - You will lose relationships with friends and family 

When you are living in this fantasy world, you soon become unaware of what's happening in the real world around you. You become blind to reality, failing to see the hurt in the eyes of those who love you the most. A user doesn't grasp what the addiction is doing to their loved ones, and how it is destroying their relationships. After all, a user is a user. They end up using whoever is near them so they can keep feeding the addiction, and the addiction is always very hungry. The problem with users is they soon forget how to love because they become so self-absorbed and selfish.

But one day, a day usually too late, they look around and notice something. The people whom they once cared about are no longer there. What happened? Little by little, their friends and family drifted away, no longer able to deal with the addict's heartbreaking behavior. And this is so unfortunate because recent research has shown that the best way for an addict to recover is to know they are loved and have purpose.

My friends were supportive and tried to help me. But as the addiction began to set in, I started to treat those who loved me like crap. I hurt them just as much as I hurt myself, and it was too late before I got the point. It hurt so badly to see my life falling apart, but addiction doesn't care. My life slowly fell apart, and I now am only beginning to pick up the pieces. - Amanda 

Pro - It's like breaking free from reality

Life can be painful and difficult. Research shows that the root of many addictions stems from difficult feelings, such as fear, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, etc. Addicts often can't bear to be present in their own life. We all have a need to bond with something, and if we feel like we have no one who loves us or nothing to give us purpose, an addiction tragically fills that void.

How many times have we said to ourselves, I need to get away and go on some kind of vacation? Some addictions do a very good job of allowing us to go on our own little vacation on demand (in fact, slang for using LSD was called going on a trip).

We can be gone for hours or sometimes even days on our trips. I felt that I had no worries in the world for once in my life, and I loved feeling that way, so I kept doing it. (Katie) Think of it. The very first time in Katie's life, she felt like she had no worries.

What a rush. Why wouldn't she want to go back to get the no worries feeling over and over again? When I get high, I feel great. It's the only time I feel good about myself. I can escape the craziness of life and I don't have to face reality. They made me happy. - Becky

Con - You become a Slave to the Addiction

Unfortunately, while you think you are finding freedom and vacation from the struggles of life, what you are really doing is turning into a slave to your addiction. No one ever goes into an addiction telling themselves, "My life is going to be totally taken over by this cruel thing."

A slave has no rights, no dignity, and is at the mercy of their master. An addict may be rich or poor, famous or a nobody, but they all have one thing in common they're slaves to their addiction and seemingly they can't get out.

My thought process was I wanted to get away from life. So, when I did drugs, did I get away? No, I didn't. I got HIV. I can't get away from that.  Addiction is a lie and a thief, [it] leads to destruction and death. It kills the person you are meant to be, and it kills the people who love you the most. Addiction always takes and never gives. Unless the giving is to destroy your body, mind, and soul. - Drew

Do you want your deepest needs filled?

Wow! I have a lot of compassion for those struggling with addiction. I don't believe anyone starts down the path of addiction intending to destroy themselves. Many people get hooked into an addiction because they are trying to fill the hole in their soul.

However, it is only the God of the universe, the One who loves you and me, who can meet our deepest needs and fill
that hole. And He would never turn us into liars, thieves, murderers, etc. The wisest man in the Bible, King Solomon, talked about finding a meaningful life without God. He called it, chasing after the wind. He said, "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind." That is what addicts do. They chase after the wind, thinking they will find that one all-time best high and be complete, but it will always allude them and never complete them.

Do you want to fill that hole?

If you seek God, by reading the Bible and praying and talking to a pastor or Christian friends, God will be there for you, and He will make you whole. He promises us this in the Bible, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Do you want to fill that hole?  Start looking in the right place. Look to God.

Do you want to know how substance abuse can be treated?

As I close, please know that substance abuse can be treated. It is usually treated with a combination of doctor visits, mental health counseling, and support groups (like AA or NA). Many people also rely on their faith community for recovery support. Some people go to in-patient rehab. Treatment for substance abuse is unique to each individual. If you are worried you have substance abuse issues, chat online with one of my HopeCoaches for help and resources to help you in our recovery. You are not alone, and we will do whatever we can to support you.

If you're in an addiction, wouldn't it be cool if you could break loose from it, and then turn around and help people who are still in their addiction? That's my dream for you. And I believe it is possible. I am not saying this journey of recovery will be easy, but it is worth it. In recovery they say, "It works if you work it, so work it because YOU are WORTH it!"

If you need some help with overcoming your addiction, download your free eBook today:

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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