Scientists have long argued that among many other things, like a brain disease, addiction operates like a habit. In the rooms of recovery meetings and the discussions of addicts we often hear sayings like “trying to kick my drinking habit” or “when I picked up a cocaine habit”. By definition, a habit is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up”. Anyone who has suffered from their attachment to an addiction or known someone who has, knows that it is indeed “hard to give up”.
One of the things we learn early on about addiction is that it changes the way our brains function. Commonly, the pleasure and reward center of the brain is pointed out. Most substances create an overproduction of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that communicates pleasure. In turn, dopamine eventually rewires the standing order of the midbrain. The midbrain dictates necessities of survival, like eating, sleeping, and reproducing. Overtime, finding and using the substance of choice becomes more important than anything else.
Habits are formed in the brain. Drug addiction is usually a routine practice. Once the body and brain have become completely dependent on a substance, they need to be consistently under the influence of it; thus, creating a habit.
Studies have revealed that cocaine habits in particular create an alarmingly tight grip on other habits as well. Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that when people with cocaine addictions were prompted to change a habit that, for a time, produced a positive reward, they were unable to. Though the conditions of the situation changed and the reward was no longer received for repeating a certain action, cocaine-addicted participants could not adjust their actions accordingly. Negative consequences are usually a minimal factor in decision making for an addict. The researchers found this to be especially true, even in the face of electrical shock. When the lack of reward turned into a punishment (small electrical shock), researchers found that the cocaine addicts seemed to disregard the imminent pain.
Science speaks for what years of cocaine addicts already know to be true. Despite knowing that the next hit could cost a life, a family, a job, or a home, it is still taken. Even after suffering painful withdrawal and knowing that using one more time will mean having to go through it again eventually, an addict will be tempted to get high once more. Habits can be retrained through replacement therapy using positive activities. For example, if there was a regular time of day to engage in substance abuse, fill that time with an activity like exercise. It may be true that ‘old habits die hard’, but they do eventually. Better the death of a habit than another beloved addict.
Refuge Recovery offers multiple treatment programs for substance abuse at various levels of care. Our programs range from detox to transitional living. For more information call (323) 207-0276