“Why Can’t They Just Stop?”
This is a question that is constantly asked by people who have a loved one that struggles with addiction. The problem is that nobody can understand the mindset of an alcoholic or drug addict unless they’ve been in that situation. Instead of looking at a situation with an unbiased view, individuals who struggle with addiction view everything through the colored lens of the negative feedback loop.
What is a Negative Feedback Loop?
The mindset of a drug addict or alcoholic is one that develops over time. Nobody sets out to become an addict. Instead, substance usage becomes more important due to a negative feedback loop that turns occasional use into full-on addiction.
A negative feedback loop is a self-sustaining model in which the inputs prevent the system from generating any output. There are many practical examples of a negative feedback loop. A common example is someone who eats a large meal because they feel sad. They initially think that eating will help lift spirits, but since it does not, it makes them sadder. Since the desired effect of happiness never happens, the negative feedback loop kicks in. This cycle of increasing indulgence with no beneficial return will continue until the cycle is broken.
The same system exists as an individual descends into addiction. The individual begins consuming with the intention of releasing something or feeling better. Instead of generating the euphoric feeling that the individual desires, they simply find themselves thinking more substance will get the desired effect. This increased level of substance abuse and lack of payoff results in a negative feedback loop or what is known as addiction.
Because the negative feedback loop is so powerful, the individual places virtually everything to the side in order to fulfill their needs for substance. Work, family and money all pale in comparison to the cycle that takes over their life. As a result, these individuals withdraw from society so that they can pursue their addictions.
In addition, the cycle is so powerful that it leaves these individuals unable to listen to reason. This is why attempts to talk to alcoholics and drug addicts about their situations can sometimes be fruitless. In their mind, the only thing that exists is the negative feedback loop, which must be fed in order to achieve any semblance of normalcy.
Breaking the Cycle
Many people believe that addiction is a disease, and the negative feedback loop is a major reason why. It tricks the individual’s brain into believing that there is nothing else that matters. It’s a chronic condition that threatens the individual’s life, not to mention the lives of those around them.
It takes a careful and measured approach to break this negative feedback loop. Professional drug and alcohol counselors possess the knowledge and training necessary to get through to those struggling with addiction. They are also able to help an individual safely detox, which is a key component of recovery. Once the negative feedback loop is broken, the real work begins, and the individual can better understand why this cycle developed and how it can be avoided in the future.
If you notice a loved one deepen their dependency on drugs or alcohol, the time for action is now. The cycle of addiction is one that’s all too often unbroken. However, with professional help, your loved one can not only get over his or her issues, but they can go on to live healthy and prosperous lives.
What you are describing is a positive feedback loop.