Is the path from experimentation to addiction a giant leap or millions of small steps? How does an individual go from a high-achieving professional with a nice house to homeless? In the video below, find the answers to these questions and much more.

By: Zach Good

Key Takeaways:

The longer an individual uses an addictive substance, the less euphoric the high becomes. The first few times an individual uses a physically-addictive substance (such as alcohol or heroin), they "enjoy" the effects of the high to a much greater extent because the individual's mind and body are not used to the effects of the drug. The longer an individual uses an addictive substance, the less euphoric the high becomes. The reason is because the human body and brain adapt and alter their functioning based on the substances they receive. When an individual repetitively uses a substance, the body and brain begin to adjust to the repetitive intake of that substance and they change their functioning to account for or balance the effects of the substance. Consider an everyday substance like caffeine. If you drink a caffeinated beverage every morning to help you wake up, eventually your body will adjust its chemical processes around the expectation of caffeine intake, meaning it will create less and less of the internal chemicals that function in a manner similar to caffeine. On the day you wake up and don't drink a caffeinated beverage, your body will respond negatively because it will be expecting the caffeine boost and has altered its processes around the expectation that it will be receiving caffeine.

An individual goes from using a drug recreationally to being a full-blown addict in many, many small steps. In the video I use the example of a teenager who starts drinking alcohol with friends on the weekends as a way to escape from the stresses of overbearing parents who expect perfection. In the beginning he might just be drinking with friends one night a month. If he enjoys the experience and continues to want to escape, it might become two or three times a month. He might have no negative effects from this level of use. If his family situation and his desire to escape do not change, over time he might start drinking once a week, then once every few days, then every day. The more he turns to alcohol to cope with his emotions, the more he learns to use alcohol as a coping mechanism, the more his life starts to be affected by his drinking, and—perhaps most importantly—the less likely he is able to see that his use of alcohol is affecting his life. In the course of a decade, he might go from being an A-student at 14 years old to a homeless alcoholic at 24 years old.

If an individual was able to look into the future and see the long-term results of their drug use before they used the substance for the first time, they would most likely be horrified and not begin using the substance. Consider a man who works at a prestigious law firm and lives in a large house with his wife and children. He carries with him deep emotional wounds from childhood traumas that have not been reconciled. After years of running from this pain, one day he decides to meet up with a friend to use cocaine as a way to momentarily get away from it all and finally get a break from life. If that man could travel through time and see that five years later he's lost his job, marriage, and house due to his cocaine use, instead of snorting his first line, he would probably go to a therapist to treat his emotional wounds. Why? Because the difference between his current life and his life after long-term use of cocaine is such a disturbing, stark contrast that it would make him reconsider. The problem with addiction, however, is that it affects an individual's life so gradually that it allows time for the individual's mind to recalibrate what it considers "normal". Whereas the original "normal" for a particular teenage girl is using marijuana to cope with emotional trauma resulting from an abusive father, years later her new "normal" becomes living under a highway overpass and prostituting herself for money to buy crack.