Just as drugs of abuse can have a significant impact on a person’s body, they can also have a deep impact on the person’s mind. A drug addiction is a habit that gets reinforced through daily repetitions and practice. Each and every repetition can work like a reinforcer, drilling those addictive habits deeper and deeper into the person’s mind and soul. In time, all of those reinforcements can make this a very difficult habit to break.
For example, in research highlighted by Live Science, clinicians found that humans have about 25 different genes that encode for the taste of bitterness on the tongue. People who are missing a few of those receptors, researchers found, were more likely to consider an alcoholic drink pleasant-tasting. That could make drinking alcohol more rewarding for them, and they could develop a psychological habit of drinking alcohol. It tastes good to them, so they drink it. Every choice they make of alcohol over another type of beverage makes this an encoded habit.
In time, that habit can become so encoded that people will feel cravings for their substance of choice when they are faced with things that remind them of that substance. For example, in a study in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, researchers showed 26 men and 23 women with a heroin habit photographs of heroin-related paraphernalia, including:
- Aluminum foil
- Cigarette filters
The people in this study were not given heroin, nor were they asked to be sober before the test started. All of these people felt significant cravings for heroin when they saw those images. Their hearts raced, their blood pressure readings increased, and they felt anxiety. This is a psychological response cued by the images of drug-related objects.
This is something that could happen to anyone in recovery from a drug habit. A person who abuses alcohol could feel a spike when shown ice cubes in a glass. That person could feel a spark of cravings when hearing a liquid poured from a bottle. That person could feel a craving while watching someone else drinking.
People who abuse drugs may feel psychological cravings based on the things they did while they were intoxicated. They may think about the parties they attended, the people they met, or the good times they had. They may think about the times in which they could use drugs recreationally, rather than abusively, and they may wonder if they can get those times back again. They may have a psychological yearning for a past that can never come back again. For people like this, memories are psychological triggers, and those triggers can keep an addiction issue alive.
In addition, some people use substances like a medication or tool. For example, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that about 15 million people have a social anxiety disorder. To them, spending time with others is deeply disturbing or even worrisome. These people might use alcohol or other relaxing substances as a method to help them deal with social interactions. They cannot handle these things without a jolt of some help, and they get that help through substances.
This form of self-medication is a psychological addiction, as substances of abuse rarely make a mental health issue better. Typically, they make a mental health issue much worse. They distress already damaged brain cells, and that can make things much worse. But people may really believe that the drugs work. They may rely on them, even when they have proof that they do not work. They may refuse to go out and deal with people without drugs.