Cocaine and Psychological Addiction
America is more addicted than it has ever been before. Recent advantages in brain imaging have made it possible to see how addiction works physically. We know cocaine disrupts the brain’s reward circuit. Researchers can see how and when this happens. What can still be confusing, though, is the behaviors around addiction.
Physical Vs Psychological Addiction to Cocaine
Cocaine is an interesting substance. At some times, people have insisted it’s not addictive. So although we can see “the cocaine habit” mentioned in early Agatha Christie books, by 1980 it was considered non-addictive. Doctors at the time thought there was no physical addiction caused by the drug, and it took an epidemic to convince them otherwise. Today, we understand that it’s one of the most highly addictive substances available.
What Christie understood back in the 1930s better than many modern doctors is the psychological aspect of addiction. Psychological addiction refers to the think and emotional components of addiction. When people are stressed, dealing with loss, or otherwise under pressure, drugs can seem to fill a void for them. And, in truth, drugs are a coping mechanism. They’re just not a very healthy one.
For addiction to really take root, both psychological and physical factors are generally present. In fact, they often feed off of each other. The anxiety, fear, rage and sadness that characterize a cocaine addict’s life are closely linked to the way the drug is cycling in the body. In a similar way, physical cravings affect the addict’s mental processes around decision-making. This can lead to very destructive decision making.
Effects of Psychological Addiction of Cocaine
The psychological characteristics of addiction can continue even after the physical dependence has ended. This is why reputable treatment programs employ psychological, in addition to physical, treatment for drug addiction. Detox is not where most people get better. Recovery comes in individual therapy, 12 Step groups and other traditions.
The 12 Steps are possibly the most famous treatment option for addiction. Though this program has its flaws, note what the Steps and Traditions attempt to do. They’re not just about abstinence. They’re about re-learning how to be a pro-social person. For example, timed shares, following Roberts Rules of Order and the prohibition against cross-talk all help people learn how to act appropriately in other situations. The focus is not just on the bodily process. In fact, most of the focus in recovery is on emotions and people skills.
Although the effects of any dose of cocaine are fleeting, the changes to brain chemistry can affect people for far longer. When recovering from cocaine addiction, it’s important to be gentle with oneself. Always recall that emotions have a beginning, a middle and an end. Sit with them, don’t get caught up in them. And know that recovery from psychological addiction can and will come.