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5 Reasons Loving an Addict Feels Like Loving a Stranger
Loving an addict is no easy task. Due to the very nature of the disease, drug addicts’ personalities are drastically altered. One minute everything is calm; next thing you know chaos erupts and all of life’s boundaries go flying out the window. It’s safe to assume that the person standing before you today bears little resemblance to the loving and caring individual you knew pre-addiction.
1. A Lack of Accountability
For years, experts like Dr. Stephanie Brown have studied addiction-related developmental changes in cognition. Dr. Brown says these changes include “not only rationalization, denial and frame of mind, but also character traits that frequently accompany drinking, including grandiosity, omnipotence and low frustration tolerance.”
He tries desperately to convince you there’s nothing wrong. When that doesn’t work, he grows angry and lashes out.
Instead of confronting the disease of addiction, most addicts work to hide its existence. Your loved one is likely no different. He tries desperately to convince you there’s nothing wrong. When that doesn’t work, he grows angry and lashes out. It’s textbook avoidance.
Regardless of his drug(s) of choice, your loved one’s brain has been substantively changed by the disease of addiction. Despite being keenly aware that his actions are self-destructive, the physical and mental obsessions of addiction keep him shackled. As if by some form of dark magic, drugs have caused your loved one to morph into a total stranger.
An important thing to remember, according to Brown, is that these traits appear to be directly associated with the addictive process and not the individual’s personality prior to establishing an abusive cycle of drug and alcohol abuse.
2. Displays of Emotional Immaturity
As your loved one sinks deeper into addiction, his desperation intensifies. Between the physiological changes and psychological defenses, addiction becomes both a physical and mental disorder. Once the puzzle pieces are in place, your loved one begins exhibiting emotional immaturity, self-centeredness and irresponsibility.
There’s an assumption that addiction can stunt emotional growth. As it turns out, that assumption is spot on. The immature qualities of an addict are similar to the primary defenses and interpersonal styles of a teenager. The continued use of alcohol and drugs only strengthens the grip of that child-like personality and, at the same time, weakens its adult counterpart. Without realizing it, the immature teen becomes a predominant personality and the responsible adult persona withers from disuse.
The immature qualities of an addict are similar to the primary defenses and interpersonal styles of a teenager.
3. A Diminished Will to Survive
Despite the love he feels for you, nothing is more important to your addicted loved one than drugs and alcohol. He’ll do anything to feed his habit…it’s a matter of survival.
Dr. Brad Lander, clinical director of addiction psychiatry at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, set out to demonstrate the control addiction holds over its victims. The resulting data is much more than concerning; it’s actually terrifying.
Dr. Lander and his team inserted electrodes into the brains of rats, carefully placing them into the area of the brain affected by drugs. By tapping a tiny bar, a jolt of “pleasure” was experienced. Once the lab rats figured out what they needed to do to get “high,” they worked themselves into a frenzy.
The rats incessantly tapped the bar. They never stopped to eat, drink or have sex. Dr. Lander upped the stakes by making the rats cross an electrified grid to get to the bar.
The result was the same. The rats continued to tap the bar and feed their addiction until they die. Addiction easily overwhelmed their survival instinct.
4. A Loss of Emotional Control
You may have noticed your loved one is increasingly explosive, argumentative, or depressed. The lack of emotional control is directly linked to drug-induced brain damage. Each and every dose or drink affects the brain; continued use can produce devastating, permanent results.
Harmful toxins are normally screened out by the blood-brain barrier. However, tiny molecules of alcohol, marijuana, opiates and other narcotic drugs are able to cross that barrier and slip into the brain. Once there, the substances create a flood of dopamine, generating feelings of euphoria. The drugs also inhibit the brain’s ability to absorb serotonin, leaving your loved one unable to control a wide range of his emotions.
“There’s no such thing as a little cocaine or crack use,” says Dr. Lander. “This is going to affect you for a significant period of time.”
5. Unconcerned and Forgetful Behaviors
You’ve more than likely noticed that your addicted loved one struggles to remember things. Though the forgetfulness can feel like a personal attack, Dr. Lander says that’s simply not the case.
“Short-term memory is converted or ‘downloaded’ to long-term memory while we sleep. Since people using drugs don’t sleep well or very long, their memory doesn’t download. So when they say they don’t remember what they did while they were high, they really don’t remember.”
It’s important to mention, however, that the brain eventually recovers after the drug use stops — with the exception of alcohol abuse, which permanently kills brain cells. Once sober, your loved one’s perception, learning, impulse control and judgment will improve…in time. As with all things related to addiction recovery, patience must be your ally.
Aurora Photos: Elyse Butler, Ron Koeberer