Emotional Instabilities and the Need for Addiction Treatment

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Addiction is an undesirable condition.  With its progress, emotional balance, physical health, mental clarity, and spiritual recognitions continue to be undermined with an overriding resistance to see things objectively.  Long after the initial experiences of euphoria, reward, or relief when abusing drugs, there is a dysfunctional emotional state that remains present in most individuals contributing to the persistence of engaging in addictive behaviors.

For those who have emotional problems beforehand, their problems are significantly magnified as they fall prey to adverse physiological, behavioral, and social consequences associated with their drug abuse.  Sadly, of an estimated 27 million problem drug users, the SAMHSA’s 2015 Behavioral Health Barometer, reports ”About 8 in 10 individuals (79.9%) with illicit drug dependence or abuse did not perceive a need for treatment for their illicit drug use.”

Difficulty in Breaking the Cycle

The majority of addicts will, at some point, suffer from an emotional instability during the course of their drug abuse which can make it seem all the more plausible for them to continue using.  Drug seeking behaviors and compulsions to use often supersede other pleasures and values to the extent that the addict feels helpless, controlled, dominated, and at the mercy of the drug use, associated behaviors, circumstances, and others to get through the day.  In fact, addicts tend to develop a hidden addiction to the negative aspects of drug addiction as distressful emotions and unresolved needs continue to multiply.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine characterizes addiction by; “inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”  Often, the emotional health of an individual is what leads them into abusing drugs and few things are more relevant in addiction treatment than addressing these issues in continuum because they are so closely linked together.

The Influences of Tolerance

While tolerance increases to the pleasurable effects of the drugs requiring more frequencies or amounts to achieve the desired effects, tolerance rarely develops to the negative emotional states.  According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “persons repeatedly attempt to create a “high”–but what they mostly experience is a deeper and deeper “low.”  As the rebound of the neuro-chemical effects drops significantly below normal levels when the person stops using, the central nervous system is thrown into turmoil.  As a result, withdrawals can be extremely unnerving and painful without being able to readjust before the next intoxication event.

Most drug abusers are unaware of the internal effects as they are occurring or worsening.  Unexplainable outbursts of anger, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidal or violent tendencies, and bizarre or obsessive behaviors are some of the problems that an emotional disorder can cause.  Through the repeat intoxications and withdrawals, drastic changes in neurotransmitter regulations and brain circuitry leads to emotional instabilities (moods, feeling, and emotions) that actually get worse and the person is less able to manage stressful situations without internal cues to seek and use drugs again.  Important relationships are often the first to be damaged contributing to the “lows” as addicts learn to manipulate or to avoid confrontations through defensive mechanisms of denial, secrecy, rationalizations, and alienations.

Addiction Treatment Can Help

Addiction treatment professionals know that there is a lot more to addiction recovery than achieving abstinence and that the addict has a long road ahead of them trying to unlearn addictive behaviors that contribute to their emotional distress.  Underneath the surface, are layers of negative emotions stemming from feeling criticized, rejected, abandoned, unworthy, betrayed, abused, victimized, or stigmatized and hope for change gets lost.  According to the SAMHSA, “Therapists are trained to view the treatment process as an exercise that will promote self-esteem, dignity, and self-worth. “

A professional assessment, guidance, and support are absolutely necessary to determine the true extent of these issues.  Learning to cope with stress, cravings, and influential “triggers” to use while improving health and social functioning is a difficult task if emotional issues and underlying problems are not adequately dealt with.  The addict sees little hope for their future if they are unable to satisfy basic needs and find meaningful purpose.  Counseling, psychotherapy interventions, and possibly, medications may be needed to reach an emotionally stable state that the addict can use to optimize their addiction recovery outcomes.