The Brain Changes Caused by Addiction
Addiction is a disease that takes hold of the brain and fundamentally alters its circuitry. Substances like alcohol, opioids, and stimulants or behaviors like gambling over-activate the brain’s reward system. This causes a surge of dopamine, the “feel good” chemical. In healthy moderation, these activities generate temporary highs. But in the addicted brain, they create powerful cravings for recurrent use.
Over time, the consistent spike and crash of dopamine desensitizes the brain’s receptors. This makes it harder to feel pleasure from ordinary things. As tolerance builds, more of the addictive substance or behavior is needed to achieve the desired high. Eventually, things like relationships, family, work, and health are neglected. Obtaining and using the addiction become the top priority.
These brain changes compromise an addict’s ability to build healthy attachments and truly love others. When caught in active addiction, the drug or behavior essentially becomes the addict’s “true love.”
How Addiction Affects Relationships
It is often said that addiction is a family disease, impacting loved ones as much as the addict themselves. The ways addiction damages relationships include:
- Lying and secrecy – Covering up or denying the problem becomes commonplace. Addicts betray trust through hidden use and dishonesty.
- Emotional distance – Addicts numb their feelings and withdraw from closeness to protect the addiction. Love and intimacy are avoided.
- Unreliability – Promises are frequently broken as addictive behaviors take precedence. Letdowns occur consistently.
- Financial problems – Significant money troubles often arise due to spending on drugs or gambling losses. The addict’s needs come before family.
- Mood swings – Addictive substances directly impact mood. One moment the addict is drunk and cheerful, the next irritable and raging. Their moods are unpredictable.
- Physical or emotional abuse – When an addict doesn’t get their way, they may resort to violence or manipulation tactics. Partners and kids suffer the consequences.
These issues prevent addicts from connecting genuinely. The ability to give love, stability, understanding, and comfort is impaired. Sadly, those who care about an addict end up feeling neglected, betrayed, and angry.
Why Addicts Struggle to Love Others
There are several key reasons why active addiction and true love cannot coexist:
1. Obsession with the Addiction
An addiction becomes all-consuming. The addict’s thoughts, time, and energy go towards obtaining their substance or engaging in their addictive behavior. Everything else falls by the wayside. Real love requires time, presence, and emotional availability – things the addict has little to give.
2. Dishonesty and Secrecy
Honesty and trust are essential to love. But the addict frequently lies to conceal the extent of their problem. Major secrets are kept to protect the addiction. Deceit and cover-ups sabotage true intimacy.
3. Avoidance of Pain
To numb underlying pain is a huge factor driving addiction. But love often involves facing pain, sitting with painful emotions, and leaning on others for support during hard times. Addicts use their addiction to avoid pain, cutting off vulnerability.
Love means setting aside your own interests at times to care for others’ wellbeing. But addiction is inherently self-centered; the addict’s own needs come first. Narcissism and entitlement grow as the people around them are used to enable the addiction.
5. Loss of Control
The ability to make rational choices is lost with addiction. The compulsion to use takes over normal willpower. Addicts cannot control their behavior reliably, undermining a partner’s trust in them.
For all these reasons, active addiction destroys the intimacy, care, honesty, sacrifice, and reliability that real love is built on. The addiction will always win against the relationship until recovery occurs.
Moving Towards Love in Addiction Recovery
The good news is, addiction recovery is possible. With sustained treatment and sober time, the brain can heal and rediscover the capacity for healthy attachment. Steps addicts can take to nurture love include:
- Committing fully to the recovery process via rehab, 12-step programs, counseling, etc. This lays the foundation.
- Resolving underlying trauma, pain, or mental health issues driving the addiction through therapy. This facilitates emotional availability.
- Making amends to those hurt by the addiction. This rebuilds broken trust.
- Embracing complete openness and honesty in relationships; no more secrets. This nurtures intimacy.
- Learning to identify and communicate feelings in a sober state. This enables emotional depth.
- Consistently putting loved ones’ needs first. This shows love through actions.
- Staying patient, forgiving, and compassionate. Recovery is a process. Some repair work may take time.
With dedication to sobriety and growth, the damage of addiction can be reversed. Healthy brains and loving relationships can be restored over time.
Active addiction rewires the brain in ways that make genuine love nearly impossible. Obsession with the substance or behavior, dishonesty, avoidance of pain, and self-centeredness get in the way. However, recovery allows the brain to heal and reconnect with the ability to build intimacy and nurture healthy relationships. With support and perseverance, the losses caused by addiction can transform into newfound joy and loving connection.