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Understanding an Addict’s Mind

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The mind of the chronic addict, and alcoholic, has been baffling spouses, friends, bosses, scientists, and therapists for centuries. What the heck is going on in the addict’s brain? To the casual outsider, the behavior of the addict seems irrational, confusing, and even insane. They are like the person who puts his hand on a hot stove and gets burned, yet five minutes later they do it again! People unfamiliar with addiction may observe the addict’s actions and think him/her weak-willed or moronic. A recovered addict myself, often even I can’t understand the minds of the addicts I interact with. Surprisingly the addict is generally a sensitive, self-aware, and complex individual; unpredictable at times. My experience as a former addict gives me additional insight into the mysterious realm of the addict’s mind, and here are my observations:

People (Generally) Don’t Choose to be Addicted

The first step in understanding the addict is to realize that they are sick, actually suffering from a disease called addiction. Similar to bi-polar and depression, addiction is a mental condition that results in a defect in the functioning of the neuro transmitters of the brain, specifically the dopamine-reward system. Put simply, the brain of the addict is vulnerable to dependency upon drugs and alcohol because of the effect they have on the brain. Most addicts try to stop or cutback their substance abuse when consequences and problems arise, like when the person burns his hand on the stove. Yet they find themselves succumbing to abusing drugs, putting their hands on the hot stove again. Eventually they lose control over their ability to moderate or stop using drugs. Although the addict is suffering from a disease, it shouldn’t be an excuse for their behavior or actions. Many parents or spouses of the addict think that their love, affection, or threats should be enough incentive to damper addiction, yet these methods often fall short to stop the neurological entrapment of drug addiction.



The Addicted Personality

While addicts have varying personalities, there are a couple common traits that most addicts seem to possess. One of these traits is a sense of “not belonging” or “trouble fitting in”. They find relief in alcohol and drugs because they help them fit into social situations or relax around other people. Another common quality of addicts is that they are sensitive people and are able to feel emotions to the extreme. This also plays a part in using drugs and alcohol, since the addict may use them to numb emotions or ‘take away’ their strong feelings. Remember these are just some general trends and the types and personalities of addicts vary greatly. Some addicts came from broken or abusive households, other addicts come from upper-class supportive families. Some addicts are introverts while others are the life of the party. Many addicts have problems with anxiety, depression, or a mental disorder such as bi-polar or schizophrenia. It is not possible to describe a ‘typical’ addict, since their behaviors and patterns are so wide-ranging. Many addicts are average people, who through the seduction and control of drugs and alcohol, have resorted to immoral actions and lifestyles to support their habits. Addicts aren’t born stealing, lying, and damaging relationships. These are just often the behaviors the addict develops through addiction. This is not an excuse for the addict, that drugs and alcohol are to blame, not him. Part of getting sober is taking responsibility for the hurt and damages you may have caused and taking actions to set right the past.


Recovery isn’t Easy

Most people look at the addict and think, “why don’t they just stop?” To the addict, addiction is a safe and familiar place. They can rely on the comfort and effects of drugs and alcohol to solve their perceived difficulties. The idea of getting clean is intimidating. Apart from the physical and mental withdrawals from drugs and alcohol, getting sober is an uncertain path where they must venture into without their greatest coping mechanism, the drugs.


Drug addicts face multiple obstacles to quitting their drugs and alcohol, such as mental obsessions, craving, social influences, physical dependency, lifestyle, and more. Addiction does not directly cause the harm and hurt that addicts often inflict upon the people closest to them and those affected by the actions of an addict may have justified resentments towards the addict. However. non-addicts have to understand that quitting drugs is an act of courage and determination that should not be downplayed or ignored. Very few of the addicts who try to quit actually succeed. The statistics are disheartening, less than 5 percent of the addicts who try to get clean actually succeed. Even less reassuring, only half of that 5 percent stay sober for a whole year.

How can the average person understand the mind and thought processes of an addict? Learning about addiction and talking to former addicts is the best way to peep into the addicted mind. Today, I can clearly remember my insane and illogical thoughts that justified my addiction and my behaviors. I still remember the inner turmoil and despair that surfaced between periods of intoxication. Now, removed from that past, I can clearly understand what was going through my head and my experience helps me to understand addicts who come to NewBridge for help or to Alcoholic Anonymous for support.

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