Addiction is more than just something that happens to someone else: it has spread and the opioid epidemic has made its way to every state and community in the U.S. Whether it’s you or someone you know, there’s an overwhelming chance that addiction has touched your life in some way.

There’s no question that addiction is a disease of the brain, but many people struggle to understand what leads to drug use in the first place. Why can some people take medications or even recreationally use drugs once and never become dependent on them? What makes the process different for some people than it is for others?

In reality, we don’t have all the answers to those questions. What we have discovered is that addiction is as much tied into mental illness as it is to a physiological response. This means that some people react to drugs at both an emotional and physical level.

Coping with Trauma

Everyone will deal with some level of trauma in their lives. For some, this comes very early in the form of child abuse or the loss of friends or family. For others, it can be an assault or a major life event that’s completely unexpected. There are no good ways to cope with certain things, and some people find that their lives feel out of control or struggle with things like PTSD.

This feeling of losing control or being unable to go back to their lives after trauma can trigger drug use and addiction. A person uses drugs to control how they feel and how they react. It’s a destructive distraction from the pain of trauma and a coping mechanism that ends up causing more damage.

This turns into a dependence on substances to get through the day, then the hour. Pretty soon, they end up stuck in a cycle of finding, using and recovering from drug use that takes over their lives.

Addiction can be both psychological and physical. Sometimes it starts out as one and evolves into the other. When you use drugs regularly for a long enough time, your body will eventually become dependent on them.

Self-Medicating

Self-medicating is a term that a lot of people hear, but ultimately fail to understand. Mental illness is very real and can be completely debilitating. Anxiety and depression can lead people to use drugs that help them to combat these feelings. Instead of visiting a therapist or licensed psychiatrist, they turn to street drugs.

Some do this because they don’t have insurance and can’t afford psychiatric medications. Others do it without even realizing it. They may have gone through much of their life undiagnosed and found that using certain drugs just made them feel better for a little while.

There are also times when people self-medicate to deal with pain or physical issues. Regardless of the reasoning, this never ends well for the addict. Street drugs aren’t exactly safe and taking anything without being closely monitored by a doctor can lead to accidental overdose or the eventual abuse of the drug.

Using Drugs as an Escape

Drugs can make you feel like a totally different person. They mask pain and stop you from dealing with the realities of life. The only problem is that when a person sobers up, those same problems are still there. Addiction stops being a temporary solution and turns into a full-time problem.

Living in an abusive relationship or feeling stuck in a bad situation can make people feel like there’s no way out. Drugs and alcohol offer a cheap and easy way to shut out the stress of life. This isn’t a real escape and weakens what few coping skills the person might’ve had to begin with.

Addiction Changes the Brain

While psychological addiction is a huge factor in the disease, there are also organic changes that take place in the brain. Many people who struggle with mental illness already suffer from chemical imbalances that cause them to suffer from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and other problems. Introducing drugs and alcohol into the mix further disrupts this chemical balance and eventually makes the original illness worse.

When a person constantly uses drugs or alcohol, their brain starts to get used to that extreme chemical imbalance. This means that the right mix of neurotransmitters aren’t doing their jobs anymore, and the brain is always waiting for the chemicals when the person uses.

It can take a long time for the brain to start producing the right mix of chemicals again, and the person may need the help of a psychiatrist to prescribe medications that can help to hasten the process.

Healing is as much behavioral as it is physical; basing an entire routine and life around drug use means completely changing those behaviors. This is where behavioral health services come in.

Oasis Behavioral Health Offers Help

Therapy is more than just sitting in a room and talking about your childhood: it’s about finding the root of your addiction and coming up with a personalized approach to overcoming this. This is what the professionals at Oasis Behavioral Health strive to do.

Talk therapy may be a part of your recovery process, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Behavioral therapy is about changing the behaviors that keep you trapped in a destructive cycle of drug use and self-harm. This means group therapies, situational therapies and many other tools that will work for you.

It’s important to remember that this approach can only work if you’re ready and willing to participate. Having world class professionals at your disposal means nothing if you aren’t ready to stop using drugs and to change the way that you’ve been living your life.

Addiction doesn’t have to be your voice or identity anymore. With the right help and treatment approach, you can learn how to cope with mental illness without dangerous drugs or risky behaviors. Everyone deserves a chance to be the best version of themselves—give yourself that chance.

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