By Christa A. Banister

The struggle is very real for anyone who deals with addiction. Not only does it damage the mind, but it also wreaks havoc on the body, relationships and so many other facets of everyday life.

And while the person who deals with drug or alcohol abuse may want to kick the habit to the curb more than anything, it’s important to understand how the brain works because its unique chemistry isn’t always on someone’s side.

Why Is Relapsing So Common?

Pouring pills into headBetween 40 to 60 percent of people who’ve gone through addiction treatment for alcohol and drug addiction relapse within a year, according to a recent study.1 While some mischaracterize this as simply a lack of willpower or personal resolve, brain chemistry helps explain the situation.

When someone uses drugs or alcohol, dopamine — the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating the brain’s reward and pleasure centers — is released. And because drug or alcohol use has become such a priority in this person’s life, using can feel synonymous with basic survival instincts, which explains why someone will go to great lengths to procure whatever makes them feel whole. Prolonged substance abuse also reconfigures the brain by eroding the prefrontal cortex, which interestingly enough is the section that recognizes problems and appropriate solutions.

In short, a body that’s been damaged by abuse doesn’t always comply with the person who is wanting to gain freedom from addiction, even if he’s been able to maintain recovery for an extended period of time. For Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Oscar-winning actor who accidentally overdosed from multiple substances in 2014, his relapse came after 23 years of sobriety.

Why Is Detox So Difficult?

If someone struggles with alcohol abuse, detoxing has physical effects that are often the polar opposite of using. If drinking feels pleasurable and helps you forget about the stresses of the day, detoxing from alcohol may lead to insomnia, anxious feelings, agitation and a rapid pulse rate in the beginning.

For those who struggle with opioid addiction, detox is challenging because the drugs relieve both physical and emotional pain. When someone is coming off of consistent opioid use, the physical pain can be particularly uncomfortable.

Withdrawal also affects those who are struggling mentally and emotionally, and it can often lead to a bout of depression. The prolonged nature of the wildly fluctuating symptoms can go on for months and months, depending on which drugs are involved.2

For Dr. Marc Myer, a treatment provider, it took repeated attempts for him to quit using opioids. It wasn’t until his co-workers staged an intervention that Myer was able to recognize he had a problem, seek help and travel down the difficult road to recovery, which he says “may not happen immediately.” But the temporary journey through detox is worth it to reach a new life of recovery.

Likening it to “the Asian flu” because of how bad you feel physically — the sleeplessness, restlessness, aching joint pain and non-stop nausea — writer and book critic Emily Carter Roiphe says it’s horrible how much you miss your drug of choice even though you know you will gain relief from the ugliness of detox.

Carter Roiphe says she can’t emphasize enough the importance of hearing how it’s important to take it “one day at a time.” When she realized she just had to stay sober for 24 hours to take the first step, rather than thinking about a lifetime, it meant everything to her recovery.

Lending Support Every Step of the Way

Staying sober isn’t something that’s dealt with and moved on from quickly. It’s a lifelong journey that requires the consistent support of loving, trusted friends and family.

Sometimes the simplest of gestures can make the greatest impact. And for someone recovering from alcohol or drug use, acceptance without judgment is key. Instead of dwelling on the past, those difficult moments of struggle and regret, it’s important to celebrate the important steps made along the way.

Support can also be given on a practical level. In an effort to support a healthier lifestyle, you can cook a meal together, take a walk and enjoy nature, dig into a new hobby — pretty much anything that’s free of the vices that have entangled your loved one in the past and encourage positivity.

Actively listening, exercising patience and even suggesting a support group with others in recovery are also key components in the healing process. The best way to encourage sobriety is being there for your friend or family member and supporting a drug-free life.

Know someone struggling with alcohol or drug abuse and not sure what your next steps should be? Don’t hesitate to reach out to the staff of Peachford Hospital at 770-454-2302.


1 Castaneda, Ruben. Why Do Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse So Often?U.S. News and World Report, April 24, 2017.

2 Williams, Sarah T. “What’s it Really Like to Withdraw From Heroin and Painkillers?Minnpost, February 14, 2014.