Understanding How Drug Addicts Think: The Progression of Addiction

The road to addiction always starts with denial. Regardless of our personalities, genetics, or past experiences; we believe we can experiment without consequences. From the first moments of abusing a substance, we rationalize and justify. We overlook the risks through self deception:

- I’ll wait and watch someone else do it first.
- I’ll just do it once to know how it feels.
- It won’t happen to me ( forming a habit, dangerous decisions while using, or overdose).

We progressed from occasional use. We gave ourselves the illusion of control by setting (though often changing) limits on our use. Generally, we start with once a week and escalate to weekends only. The next step is not until after work. The lines begin to blur. We establish a false sense of security by setting lines we won’t cross:

- It’s okay as long as I’m not paying for it.
- I won’t ever use harder drugs
- I will never use needles

Developing daily use yields dependence. We experience withdrawal if we try to stop. Rationally we know we’re in trouble and so we excuse our use:

- It doesn’t affect my work.
- I still can do everything I’ve ever done.
- My friends and family can’t even tell!

As addiction peaks, the focus of our lives change dramatically. All other goals lose importance. Attaining and doing drugs becomes the focal point of each day. This in why we so closely resemble con artists. It’s all about the hustle: Beg, borrow, steal. Find it. Get it. Do it. Repeat.

Our degree of fanaticism depends primarily on our resources, the connection to quality dealers, and how much chaos and craziness exist in our lives aside from drugs. The downward spiral gets rougher as we go.

The thinking and behavior at this point is very similar to that of a person who lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. We experience a persistent and intrusive thought that eclipses all others. The urge to act on that thought is more than overwhelming. It’s everything. Until our demons are silenced, nothing else matters.

It’s all downhill from here. Our lives unravel. Some of us dig further into denial and others of us pretend not to care. We have little patience with casual users. We only use alone or with others as far gone as ourselves.

Our non addicted friends and family are distant by now. They are worried and/or angry. Maybe they know or maybe we just kid ourselves that they don’t. Some of us stay away out of shame and others of us are just too far gone to think about it.

Some of us make a token gesture to appease our loved ones. We attend a single meeting of Narcotics Anonymous (NA). We sit in the back, speak to no one and rush out at the end. We go to therapy and talk to a clinician about how we might have a little problem (minimizing maintains our lies).

By this time we’re accumulating losses. Jobs, partners, prized possessions, self expression, hobbies, and passionate pursuits are gone. Credit cards are maxed and anywhere we could borrow, we have. Some of us begin dealing small quantities to maintain our habit, some of us prostitute ourselves, others focus on any of a million ways to con our way to the next fix.

At this point there’s no denying we’re addicted. Our health is suffering, our daily routines and sleep habits are gone, as is our ability to maintain appearances/socialize (in anything resembling mainstream society). In this way, addiction resembles Major Depressive Disorder. Further, we experience hopelessness, anhedonia (loss of previously loved activities/interests) and overall impairment in functioning.

We are moving rapidly toward hitting a wall. Whether we know it or not, the adage from Recovery applies to us too. It’s the “rule of threes.” It dictates that there are only three places we can end up: jail, institution, or death.

Loved ones worry when we go to jail. It’s usually the best thing that could have possibly happened. It’s the best chance we have of being made to stop and regroup

Some of us go to rehab. Most will return to using with a vengeance. People who have never known addiction find this mystifying. Knowing how much we’d suffered, how could we ever go back? May you never know the ultimate seduction that addiction is.

Most of us have a hard time adjusting to life without drugs. We struggle to manage our emotions, our responsibilities, and in managing change. If we connect to those who understand our journey, our success is far more likely. We benefit when loved ones support our healthy choices.

As long as we remain vertical and breathing, we have another chance to get it right. Too many of us have perished believing that we’d always have more time.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.