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Behavioural Change in Drug and Alcohol Treatment – It’s Not Just About Stopping

Desert road which states 'Destroy What Destroys You' written on the road

Problematic alcohol and drug use, and at its extreme addiction, is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. For those living with this condition simply stopping and staying stopped by relying on grit, determination and will power is not possible. They know this because they have tried it – probably several times!

Partners, family members and friends all beg and plead with them to stop but for some “unknown reason” they just can’t seem to do it. For most people, their use and dependency creeps up like a silent assassin embedding its claws in their brains and hanging on for grim death. That’s because over time, and increased quantities and frequency of drugs and alcohol use, it changes the brains wiring. Brain imaging studies of people that problematically use drugs and alcohol show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behaviour control. These substances can cause other harmful changes in how the brain functions and also cause people to have intense cravings for drugs and alcohol that make it harder to stop using. These changes can last long after the immediate effects of the drug where off making stopping and staying stopped much harder.

Why do people use drugs and alcohol?

I have never met anyone that woke up one morning and decided to have a problem with alcohol or drugs. As indicated above it creeps up like a silent assassin. In most cases people use drugs and alcohol:

  • to feel good — feeling of pleasure
  • to feel better — relieve stress, anxiety, disappointment, trauma……
  • to do better — improve performance
  • out of curiosity and peer pressure

Many people believe problematic alcohol and drug use and addiction is not a disease because it’s caused by the person’s choice to use drugs and/or alcohol. That’s true. The first time is a choice. But keep this in mind. Who do you know that has never tried alcohol and/or drugs? Almost everyone tries them at some point in their life. So why do some people find they can’t just stop, while others can take it or leave it?

If you’re genetically predisposed to drug and alcohol misuse/addiction, scientists say your brain chemistry will change upon introduction. Once the brain has been chemically changed or altered most experts believe that the person loses the power of choice and control of their behaviour is compromised.

Notwithstanding the above, problematic alcohol and drug use and addiction stems from a root reason or causes in the first place, making impossible to overcome unless that cause is treated as well. There can be many different root causes that the drug and alcohol use is a symptom of, and all need to be treated if relapse is to be avoided.

For some people, the root causes are known but they don’t have the resources to learn how to deal with these, for others the root causes are buried and not obvious to the individual. Having access to trained, experienced addiction psychotherapists to help discover the root causes is therefore a must. They are also essential in helping the person deal effectively and healthily with the root causes once they are known.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol problems, then we are here to talk about this. Call us now on 0208 191 9191 or email us directly.

So at what point does someone need to do anything about their drug or alcohol use?

If you are experiencing any of the following, then it’s an indication that your use is now problematic, and you need to do something about it before things get worse

  • Impaired control: cravings or strong urge to use the substance; desire or repeated failed attempts to cut down, stop or control substance use
  • Social problems: substance use causes failure to complete major tasks at work, or home; social, work or leisure activities are given up or cut back because of substance use
  • Risky use: substance is used in risky settings; continued use despite known problems
  • Drug effects: tolerance (need for larger amounts to get the same effect); withdrawal symptoms (different for each substance)

What are the changed behaviours?

Once the drugs and alcohol take a grip these are some of the behaviours that go with it:

  • Secrecy
  • Tiredness
  • Paranoia
  • Forgetfulness
  • Impulsiveness
  • Shifting blame
  • Abusiveness
  • High-risk taking
  • Unreliability
  • Low stress tolerance
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Selfishness
  • Dishonesty
  • Restlessness
  • Manipulation
  • Deflection
  • Blame

What to do if you recognise these changes in someone you care about?

Realising that the person you care about is struggling with drugs and alcohol is scary and overwhelming but know that you are not alone. During this difficult time, it’s important that you surround yourself with support ⎼ groups such as Drugfam, Adfam and Al-Anon can be a great resource for families. Educating yourself on addiction and problematic use, what you can and cannot do to help the person you care about, how you can encourage them to seek treatment, and what to look for in a treatment centre also important. Talking to the person you care about won’t be easy, but it is a necessary conversation that could save their life.

What to do if you recognise these changes in yourself?

Recognising that you are struggling with drugs or alcohol is the first step to a healthier future. Know that while overcoming drug and alcohol misuse is not easy, it is possible. Talk to the people that care about you and let them know how they can support you during this time. It is normal for you to have questions and wonder if you need treatment or if you can do it on your own. Do your research, learn what your treatment options are, and most importantly, don’t give up.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol problems, then we are here to talk about this. Call us now on 0208 191 9191 or email us.

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