You may have begun to use alcohol or drugs because of the temporary relief you got from emotional discomfort. But there comes a point when the drug takes over and through its effects on the brain becomes its own motivation for continuing use. At this point, addiction - with the associated changes in brain functioning - has occurred. There is no way to tell exactly when this happens, but once it does the addict has another dilemma. What used to be a handy tool now becomes a heavy burden. One cocaine addict put it this way: “I was spending a hundred dollars just to feel nervous for fifteen minutes. But I couldn’t stop.” The drug wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do any more, but not using was no longer a choice. The inner drive to use has little to do with the reason you started.
What has happened is that your brain has learned that the drug produces pleasure. The pleasure center in the brain sends strong signals to other parts of the brain and motivates you to use again. Once this has occurred, your choices about drug use become more and more irrational. This powerful effect reinforces the denial mechanism. The personality starts to change as your basic goal in life becomes supporting and continuing the addiction.
You become more and more self-centered. As your main interest in life becomes supporting the addiction, other activities become less important. You might skip social events if they don’t provide an opportunity to drink or get high. You begin to choose friends based on whether or not they drink or use drugs. If you’re hung over on a Monday morning, you might call in sick to work.
Typically you will not see the ways in which your drinking or drug use interferes with relationships. When arguments occur about your behavior, you defensively blame the other person instead of looking at yourself. When you’re intoxicated, you are more likely to act on feelings of resentment, which leads to fights. The emotional needs of the people around you become less important, and you may find your-self resenting your spouse or children because they seem demanding. Having given the addiction the highest priority, you have no problem with diverting funds to support it, regardless of other necessities. This leads to more fights and more resentment.
Some people are able to maintain a modicum of functioning while continuing their addiction. You might control your behavior just enough so that you can avoid some consequences. For example, you might be able to keep your job and avoid legal difficulties. But it is likely that your relationships are suffering and that you are not realizing your potential for achievement. You are also risking the physical complications of your addiction, such as cirrhosis with alcohol or lung damage with marijuana.
While all this is going on, the spiritual life is suffering as well. A person’s relationship with God goes on the back burner along with all other relationships. Religious teachings and moral imperatives become relative rather than absolute.
This allows the addict to continue without experiencing guilt.
Many people develop resentments toward God. This might be because of something terrible that happened or it might be the consequence of a consistent turning away from God.
In any case, by the time the addiction is full blown you are spiritually bankrupt.
A moral deterioration also occurs while the addiction is progressing. This can be striking in the case of strongly addictive drugs like crack cocaine. People find themselves selling cherished personal belongings, going through savings accounts, stealing from family members, shoplifting, trading sex for drugs, or becoming entrenched in a criminal underground.
You become caught in a cycle of denial, rationalization, and justification. You might have a bit of insight; in quiet moments, you might suspect that the addiction is not worth the price. But when the motivation to use again kicks in, this voice is stilled. Everyone else becomes the enemy - the angry spouse or parent, the “narcs,” the straight-laced church people, the unreasonable boss. The addiction has created an illusory world in which it is the number-one priority. The reason you started using has disappeared, and the temporary relief the substance gave you has long since diminished.