Looking at addiction from the outside-in can leave people feeling confused. Why would someone choose a behaviour that is actively destroying their lives?
Addiction is a complex illness, and is as unique to each individual as fingerprints. However, having some answers to “What does addiction feel like?” can help us to better understand, empathise with, and ultimately help those who are suffering.
The experience of addiction is so unique and personal to each individual suffering from it, that it is almost impossible to describe what being addicted to something feels like. This can also feel different depending on if a person is addicted to a substance, or to a behaviour, and can feel different again depending on what substance or behaviour.
Some quotes from people who have recovered from their own addictions can give us an insight:
“ It’s like being in a never-ending battle with yourself. You know what you’re doing is destroying your life, but you can’t stop. It’s like being a prisoner in your own mind.”
“Addiction is like trying to fill a void that can never be filled. You keep chasing something that’s always just out of reach, and it leaves you feeling empty inside.”
“Addiction feels like you’re drowning, and the substance is the only thing keeping you afloat. But in reality, it’s dragging you deeper into the abyss.”
“It’s a love-hate relationship with the very thing that’s ruining your life. You hate it for what it’s done to you, but you can’t let go.”
“Addiction is like a dark cloud that follows you everywhere. You can’t escape it, and it casts a shadow over everything you do.”
What is clear in these quotes is a general feeling of powerlessness, of desperation, and of battle within yourself, and within your relationship with the substance. Despite all the bad things addiction brings into your life, there is something else it brings that you cannot live without.
More concretely, there are some common trends in behaviour that may indicate to someone who has never experienced addiction what it may feel like:
Not all addicts are aware that they have an addiction, or even that their use of the substance or behaviour is problematic. The awareness of addiction can vary from person to person, and changes over time for each individual.
Many individuals in addiction experience what’s referred to as ‘denial’. This is either a conscious or unconscious rejection of reality regarding their level of control and the impacts of the substance/behaviour on their life.
Those in denial often do not fully recognise the signs of addiction or understand the impact it has on their life. They may attribute negative consequences to external factors rather than their substance use. They may even be enabled by others in their life to continue using in a harmful way, justifying their use as non-problematic.
Addiction also develops gradually, with a progressive increase in tolerance and cumulative negative impacts on the addict themselves. Some individuals may not realise they are addicted until they experience severe consequences or hit a crisis point, often referred to a ‘rock bottom’.
On the other hand, some individuals do recognise their addiction and actively seek help. They may have moments of clarity where they realise the extent of their dependency and its negative effects.
In psychology, the journey from complete denial into an acceptance and willingness to change can be described using the “Transtheoretical Model of Change”, or “The Cycle of Change”. Developed by Prochaska and DiClemente, this model can be used to understand someone’s ‘readiness’ to change when it comes to addiction.
Let’s use an imaginary person struggling with cocaine addiction, Jake, to understand how the cycle works:
This is called a cycle because often people do not progress through the stages in a linear fashion. They may experience lapses, or relapses, many times before managing to achieve long term successful recovery.
Understanding where someone is in the stages of change can help tailor interventions and support to their specific needs. It’s also crucial to recognise that the process of change is highly individual, and people progress at their own pace.
Clinic Les Alpes is a leading provider of world-class addiction treatment and recovery services. If you think you, or someone you care about, are struggling with substance use or another addiction, we’re here to provide support.
Nestled in the tranquil hills alongside Lake Geneva, our facility offers individuals seeking recovery a private, secure, and comfortable environment. Our unwavering commitment to excellence ensures a luxurious experience, complete with round-the-clock access to medical professionals, offering reassurance to families and friends that their loved ones are receiving expert care during detox and treatment.
Under the guidance of a personal therapist, patients collaborate with our diverse, multi-disciplinary team to develop an individualised treatment plan that enables their involvement in our Minnesota Model-based program. Our team employs a wide range of evidence-based treatments and approaches to empower patients through therapeutic interventions, psychoeducation, and complementary therapies that address both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction.
For more information or if you have questions about referrals, our treatments, or our facilities, please feel free to reach out to our team.
Every person’s experience of addiction is different, however one aspect that remains consistent is this feeling of inescapability, and dependence. For some, they may not be aware of this dynamic yet, and therefore be unprepare to change or challenge their addiction.
Having an idea of what addiction may feel like can help build resilience in battling this damaging illness. However, only those who have experienced addiction before will truly know the answer to “What does addiction feel like?”.