It’s never the right time to shoo the brain’s reward center. The cycle is impenetrable, it seems. The darkness blankets us, and we embrace it with a sigh of relief, with our eager existence waiting to be cocooned once again. And again. If there’s anything even remotely humorous about substance abuse, it’s this simple, little truth: darkness fighting off the darkness. A clash of two very distinctive internal nights without any sign of dawn. Until eternity. The positive and negative numbers rule does not apply when a human soul is at stake. Unfortunately, two minuses do not always make a plus. Still, if we’re appreciative of life, no matter how mediocre, obscure, or insufferable, we just might live to see another daybreak. And we will if we give it a tiny, tiny push. A single sunrise is reason enough to fight the darkness(es). These are six psychological effects of substance abuse.
The domino effect
It’s never just one person suffering. In substance abuse, there are no innocent bystanders. There is no indifference, only an emotional plague, spreading like the California wildfires. Understanding and recognizing the symptoms and effects of addiction is the first step to providing the struggling person with a reason to quit. That’s what firefighters do. More often than not, our primary concern is the physical aspect of consuming. We focus on the palpable issues, as it gives us a sense of control. However, it leaves us overlooking the crucial, burning question: What is happening within?
Substance abuse and anxiety live in thriving symbiosis. Although it can be a pre-existing condition, many substance abusers experience drug or alcohol-related anxiety as it changes the wiring of the brain. Central nervous system depressants are known to increase the risk and cause the condition, even if the person did not initially have a genetic predisposition for developing this type of mental disorder. Anxiety symptoms include:
- easily fatigued
- rumination/excessive worrying
- muscle tension
- panic attacks
People struggling with substance abuse tend to experience anxiety and mental fog daily, especially when hiding their addiction from coworkers, family members, and friends.
Like with anxiety, the question arises: what came first, the chicken or the egg? There is a clear link between substance consumption and depression, along with myriad other mood disorders. No matter the case, even with a pre-existing condition, the symptoms always worsen. To alleviate the pending doom, the user will continue self-medicating, all in the hope it will magically go away. And it does, for a brief moment. The high gives the illusion of trouble dissipating before the user’s eyes. Still, as the drugs leave the system, the only thing waiting on the sober side is withdrawal, accompanied by a new episode of depression. Only heightened. Depression symptoms include:
- sleep problems
- decreased concentration
- loss of appetite
- negative self-image
- lack of motivation
- low energy levels
- suicidal thoughts
As frightening as it may appear, fighting depression is possible.
3. Emotional numbness
Is there anything worse than an empty stare? A retinal abyss. Emotional numbness might be one of the most complex psychological effects of substance abuse a person can experience: complete detachment and voluntary isolation. Substances offer the illusion of comfort. They fight loneliness for the user. In return, their biggest fears materialize. What was once only a feeling of inadequacy and abandonment now comes to fruition in the material plain. The struggling person is now completely alone. A self-imposed prison of solitude, ruled by the merciless hand of the invisible executioner. Relationships crumble away as the unresponsive emotional apparatus of the user slowly turns to stone.
4. Zero interest
Well, one thing leads to another. If the apparatus is idle, the positive spectrum of emotions becomes unavailable. And what is life without joy? Horrendously perpetual indifference. A loss of interest in things, people, and activities is a bright, big, red alarm saying: things are going south. With slowly becoming a pale imitation of self and drifting away from any recognizable emotion (unless it’s “fix hour”), the struggling individual believes they have no choice but to surrender to nothingness completely. If your loved one is fighting addiction, look out for these symptoms; it’s a clear sign it’s time to get professional help.
5. Perpetual guilt
Every substance user carries a stigma on their back. Individuals who struggle with addiction know too well how society perceives them; they are the ones who have failed in life. Psychologically speaking, society’s perception only deepens the wound of the sufferer while simultaneously enabling the continuum of the addiction pattern, initially stemming from their childhood. The truth is, substance abusers have struggled with shame, guilt, self-loathing, and negative self-talk all their lives. The very act of consumption is complex; yes, it offers instant relief, but it also brings shame, guilt, and self-disgust and tells them, over and over again, every time they use: you have failed once again. This vicious loop sends them down the rabbit hole. On repeat.
6. Mental /physical issues gateway
Many individuals already struggling with mental health issues turn to substance abuse to alleviate the pain. The point of no return. Not only does the consumption worsen the existing problems, but it can also unexpectedly trigger various hereditary mental disorders (frequently linked to schizophrenia). Other documented mental issues include:
- violent behavior
- catatonic syndrome
- impaired memory
Substance abuse causes a decline in more than one area of mental activity. Whether the effects are short-term or long-term depends on the substance and the duration of the consumption. Once the person is addiction-free, there are ways to improve cognitive functions.
The fight against psychological effects of substance abuse begins with healing
Addressing the issue is never easy, but it’s the first step toward finding the necessary help. If left untreated, the psychological effects of substance abuse can have detrimental consequences on the person’s psyche. Remember, it’s never the right time. If you or your loved one are struggling with addiction and you recognize some of the worrisome signs, contact your local addiction treatment center.
Written by: David Mason