It’s only relatively recently that we’ve begun to understand addiction in a more enlightened way. Before the accumulation of scientific research that we have today, the belief was that people who have substance abuse problems were simply choosing not to control themselves. As a result, people who would be encouraged to seek medical treatment today were confined to prisons and insane asylums. The idea was that confining or imprisoning them would force them into sobriety while causing them to remain abstinent and sober out of fear that they be imprisoned again. However, that’s not how it actually ended up working out.
Instead, many of those who’d been incarcerated quickly resumed their misdeeds after getting back their freedom. This was one of the first indications there was something more to substance abuse than met the eye. Today, we know that addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that completely changes the functioning and even the actual structure of a person’s brain. In other words, the development of an addiction coincides with major changes in the way a person’s brain works, resulting in an almost completely different personality and abnormal behaviors.
There’s a common expression that basically defines insanity as being when a person continues to repeat a behavior while expecting different outcomes. Some have applied this adage to addiction, which definitely has a number of resemblances. Therefore, the following will describe some of the ways that addiction could be described as insanity according to how an addict behaves.
When you consider how addicts behave, perhaps the most obvious “insanity” is how they continue to abuse mind-altering substances—in many cases just a single substance—over and over and over again. It’s clear how this would seem to apply to the adage about insanity since the abuse of a single substance or multiple substances occurs multiple times each day of an addict’s life. However, despite the similarities of this behavior to insanity there’s one major inconsistency; although addicts continue to abuse their substances of choice, multiple times each day of their lives, they’re not exactly expecting different results. In fact, they’re expecting the same result each time, which is intoxication at the high levels experienced in their earliest day of substance abuse.
Being an addict is a very dull, predictable existence. Save for the methods by which addicts obtain their drugs, virtually every day is the same. The hunt for the next fix and how to get more money to fund the next fix is ongoing and each day is the same alternation between intoxication and being on the cusp of withdrawal. One could argue that only a person in the throes of insanity could be content living the same day over and over again.
As human beings, we’re prone to some pretty self-destructive behavior. In most instances, it’s not intentionally self-destructive, but rather are certain behaviors that have harmful consequences like having a poor diet. However, substance abuse and addiction is arguably the most severe type of self-destructive behavior. It causes people to put their very well-being and lives in jeopardy on a daily basis, which implies very little concern for their own survival. Most people would agree that only someone experiencing some type of insanity would behave in such willfully self-destructive ways throughout each and every day.
Denial is a hallmark of addiction. In the earliest stages of addiction, there’s often denial that a person could possibly lose control of his or her addiction; perhaps the assumption is that being aware of the potential for addiction makes them unlikely or less likely to become physically dependent. When confronted with irrevocable evidence that addiction has occurred, addicts are often in denial of the severity of their addictions; they maintain that the substance or substances that they abuse aren’t as dangerous or addictive as others. Alternatively, they will often try to insist that because there are others who are in a worse state of addiction, their own addictions aren’t of any concern. Or they’ll assert that since their addictions aren’t as bad as some others, that they could actually stop using alcohol or drugs anytime they want. However, this is clearly untrue for a number of reasons.
First, if an addict were to have it within his or her ability to easily overcome addiction, it’s almost a certainty that he or she would have already done so. The experience of withdrawal symptoms is one of the most frightening realities to an addict and is one of the most common reasons why they reject or resist the recovery process. Since essentially all addicts experience withdrawal at least somewhat regularly—due to the inevitable instances when they’re unable, for whatever reason, to obtain their substance or substances of choice—they fear being without their drugs because they don’t want to have to suffer through withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, they actually can’t stop anytime they want because they’re desperate not to experience withdrawals; and if they weren’t, they’d have already gotten sober so they wouldn’t have to worry about experiencing withdrawals at any point.
There are a lot of sacrifices required to sustain a person’s alcohol or drug addiction. To remain an addict, people sacrifice their physical and mental health, their careers, their financial independence, their homes and cars, their relationships and families, opportunities, and their futures. With alcohol or drugs being the most important thing in their lives, they become willing to give up whatever they need to in order to sustain their habits. Sacrificing what’s basically a person’s entire existence for alcohol or drugs could definitely be considered part of the disease’s insanity.
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