Addiction directly stimulates the reward centers of the brain. In effect, it short-circuits natural chemical pathways that have evolved over many millions of years to motivate an organism in its quest to survive, thrive, and pass on its genetic heritage. Because of this, addiction of any type is difficult to treat. Chemical dependency is particularly resistant because of the direct way in which drugs interfere with endogenous neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and nor epinephrine.
Approaching a personalized understanding of addiction
Before any rigorous treatment plan is begun, it is crucial that the user become aware of his or her addiction on a personal level. Put simply, treatment is vastly more effective if the user wants to quit and is committed to following through. He or she must assess not only why they use the drug, but how it is hurting them and those around them. No one can be forced to quit; the user must choose to quit, and he or she must often come to this realization on his or her own terms, though not without some helpful guidance.
Initiating success through therapy
Therapy is a good first step. This can be done formally with a professional therapist, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed professional counselor, or social worker. No two therapists are alike in their training and approach, and it can take some time to find the right person. The key here is that a professional therapist has, through their training, education, and natural tendencies, learned to empathize and withhold judgment. They are committed to helping the user, and their neutral vantage point can be a boon. Therapy can also be approached informally with a friend, family member, or peer therapy group, in an environment in which the user trusts others to listen and avoid judgment. The user is in a very vulnerable position and must feel comfortable in opening up to explore and share their thoughts and emotions. As the treatment process develops, it is important to continue talking and processing with others.
Connecting through support groups
Users often feel alone as they struggle with addiction. It can be relieving to find a safe setting in which to connect with others that share their problem. Almost every drug with abuse potential has a support group devoted to assisting its users in their efforts toward recovery, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Marijuana Anonymous (MA), and many, many others. While these groups are specific as to the drug(s) they nominally support, they will often have open meetings that are completely inclusive. Should a user live in a small town with only an AA chapter, he or she should feel free to attend open AA meetings even if their drug of choice is not alcohol. Regardless of the particular substance, addictive behavior is often rooted in similar emotions and negative thought patterns, and there will be much to share.
Part of the loneliness of addiction, particularly as it spirals out of control, is the shame a user bears, both because of his or her actions and because of his or her perceived inability to quit. Shame only serves to reinforce addiction, as the user will often return to the comfort of addiction to avoid shameful feelings. Unfortunately, such feelings may arise, even among empathic people in an open, supportive environment. Relapses will happen, in all likelihood, and, when they do, it is important that the user is not shamed by others. Relapses are as much a part of the process as the intervals of sobriety. They can be critical periods of self-discovery as the user comes to understand his or her decision to use again, to truly grasp what drove this impulse. To shame the user is to drive him or her back into hole from which he or she is scrambling to crawl out.
Other treatment options
Treatment of drug addiction must be tackled on an individual basis. There is no cure-all except for hard work and a willingness to delve deeply into oneself. Some drugs with very high abuse potential have pharmaceutical treatment options, such as methadone for heroin. The internet, as always, is a great place to seek answers and support, but nothing helps to defeat addiction quite like face-to-face connection and a sense of community.