Addiction is a complex process that is rooted not only in biology, but in the psychology of the user. While the brain is receiving the rushes of neurotransmitters from the addictive substance, there is also a psychological process occurring. With repeated use of the addictive substance, the user learns that using it can provide pleasurable feelings, help them cope with stressful experiences, or even relieve boredom. A pattern of use and reliance on the addictive substance develops and it becomes a habit, deeply rooted in the way that the user approaches everyday situations. This habit results in the user compulsively using the addictive substance when they need to feel pleasure, relieve stress, or fill idle time. This cognitive aspect of addiction shows that addiction is as much a psychological process as it is biological.
Often, substance use becomes a coping mechanism by which the user deals with the stressors in their life. Individuals who experience a high level of both situational and chronic stress are more prone to develop addictions to cope with their stress. There are different ways that the user might begin to view using addictive substances as a way to cope, but regardless of the way it was introduced, using the addictive substance becomes the user’s go-to way to manage stress and self-soothe in difficult situations, especially if the user was not able to develop positive coping mechanisms early in life.
Lack of positive coping mechanisms can also be an important factor in relapse for substance abuse. Individuals who use addictive substances often do so as a coping mechanism. In this case, it is possible that they have not developed other, healthy coping skills to use instead. The stresses of everyday life do not go away, even when the substance use subsides. When these stresses occur and the individual does not have positive coping mechanisms or social support, they are at risk for resorting to using addictive substances again.
Even when sober, people who have been addicted to substances may have positive memories that they associate with their use. These memories may be about the people they used with or the circumstances that surrounded their use, like fun or comforting situations that they associate with their addictive behaviors. There is often a strong emotional connection to these experiences. As a result, it is possible that these individuals might reminisce about times that they used, especially in stressful situations. Because of this emotional association, it is important for individuals recovering from addiction to also learn positive ways of coping to replace the addictive behaviors that they have used previously.
When it comes to treating the psychological aspects of addiction, individual therapy, 12-step programs, and community support programs (like case management and vocational training) often follow medical detox and accompany medication assisted treatment. Some of the therapy methods that are used to treat psychological addiction like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and rational emotive behavioral therapy can be used to develop positive strategies to cope with difficult experiences. These kinds of therapy are often applied after the medical detox process and they are part of a long-term treatment process. This course of treatment allows not only for the brain to heal from the addictive patterns in a physical way, but also allows for the user to develop new habits and coping mechanisms.