Why Do Addicts Continue Abusing Drugs?

why addicts can't stop
Fear of sadness can motivate drug use

What drives addicts to use more drugs?

The common perception is that addicts are driven to use more drugs or alcohol to get high or drunk but anecdotal accounts – and recent research – may indicate another reason.

Many drug abusers say they continue to use because they are afraid of getting physically or emotionally sick. Opiate addicts say they continue to take prescription drugs or use heroin because they don’t want to experience withdrawals. They continue to use to “feel normal” and avoid getting sick while many alcoholics say they continue to drink to avoid the shakes or delirium tremors (DTs).

Recent research by Rutgers University Department of Psychology indicates that similar reasons drive cocaine users to keep using – they fear the emotional lows that came with withdrawing from cocaine and continue to use to feel normal. Rutgers Professor Mark West, and doctoral student David Barker discovered through animal studies that the “high” of drug use from cocaine is short lived and is “quickly replaced by negative emotional responses whenever drug levels begin to fall,” propelling them to use more.

To inform their study they used rats that required more cocaine when they started to feel negative emotions (evident through their high pitched cries). They say that animals are important for drug testing studies because humans may not give reliable or truthful answers to questions about drug abuse. West and Baker concluded that negative emotions largely motivate cocaine abuse and can therefore play an important role in regulating cocaine abuse and the abuse of other substances.

In our Colorado addiction treatment programs here at Harmony we have seen that addiction usually starts by wanting to chase a high and ends with the need to continue drug use to avoid dealing with withdrawal, sickness, negative emotions or any emotions at all. That is why we have a comprehensive detoxification program followed by group and individual therapy that help clients cope with all emotions – negative or otherwise – and help them “feel normal” without drugs or alcohol.