Addiction and Recovery

How Addiction Happens

Addiction usually starts when someone experiments with drugs or alcohol. Why do some people go on to become addicts while others do not? Complex genetic, biological, and psychological factors come into play.

Once they are addicted, addicts feel an overwhelming, uncontrollable need for their substance of choice—be it drugs or alcohol or risky behaviors. At that moment, they do not care about the consequences of consumption. All they want is the associated "high."

The good news is that with medications, counseling, and the desire to quit, addictions are treatable. The road is not easy—and may require lifelong avoidance of previous behavior. But the rewards of recovery benefit everyone.

Like all parts of the human body, your brain is made up of cells, which connect to one another via tiny receptors. The gaps between cells where they meet are called synapses (sin-ap-seas), and allow for chemicals and electrical impulses to travel from cell to cell.

When you do something pleasurable (e.g., eat something tasty, touch something soft, or solve a problem), your brain produces various chemicals that float through the synapses and attach to parts of brain cells called receptors. This is how you feel pleasure. ..addiction can ruin the life of the addict, and those close to them.

When you drink or use a drug, your brain initially sends out its own chemicals. Drugs, however, can stay in your system longer than many brain chemicals. Once the body's chemicals are gone, the drugs you have used may still get attached to the receptors. This is typically what causes your body/mind to feel the "high" of drugs.

Once the drug has been processed through your body, the next release of your body’s own natural chemicals won’t feel as good as the drug "high." Recreational users may want to feel that “high” again, but people who develop addiction problems will crave the “high” so much that it takes over everything else, and becomes their main focus.

As you take more of the drug, your natural body brain chemical production will slow or stop altogether. You will soon be taking the drug to compensate for the lack typical brain chemicals in your body—you are now dependent on the drug, or "hooked."

Compounding the problem, once a set of synapses gets used, the brain adjusts to using them more frequently. Essentially, the brain rewires itself to this new reward system. In the case of an addict, the brain rewires itself to “needing” the pathway the drug provides for pleasure.

New pathways form around the self-regulating pathways of your brain. Taking the drug becomes such a priority—a need—that addicts can’t control how they get it, or the things they do while using. This is how addiction can ruin the life of the addict, and those close to them.

Planning and Enacting an Intervention

Many drug and alcohol users don’t think they have a problem. For many former addicts, the road to recover began when concerned family members, friends, or co-workers stepped in to persuade the user to seek treatment. This is called an intervention.

Typically, a group of family members, friends, church members, co-workers, or anyone close to the user is invited to participate in the intervention. Usually, the group will meet at the user's home or office, and will then discuss their concerns with the user and relate their personal stories of how the user’s actions have affected their lives.

To succeed, an intervention must be carefully planned and enacted. Since the user may be in denial, confrontation may make the situation worse. Frequently, a plan of action, including a treatment facility or a 12-step program, has been lined up to assist the user.

If you know of someone who has a drug or alcohol problem but refuses to acknowledge it, seek guidance from a doctor, counselor, or other trained professional about interventions. 


Recovery is a Process Recovery begins when a person recognizes he or she has a substance abuse problem, and becomes daily practice—hence the 12-step program mantra: one day at a time.

For many, the process of recovery involves a treatment center. Some may need a residential period, an outpatient program, or a sober living environment to begin their recovery path. The most important thing is getting the help you need.

Talk to your doctor or a trained counselor. There are many resources available to help you get the services you need to succeed.


Relapse happens. Research shows that 90% of addicts relapse in the first four years following treatment. Most people who relapse later identify triggers by high-risk situations, including:

  • Anger/frustration
  • Temptation
  • Social Pressure

To help prevent a relapse, know your triggers. Resist situations that you know could be a problem for you. Find a support group that works for you—and stick to your meetings!

Practice relaxation methods. Take up healthy hobbies, like Yoga, exercise, or something artistic. Take responsibility for your actions and control over your life.