Caution: Entering the Drug Addict’s Spin Zone

Caution: Entering the Drug Addict’s Spin Zone

Drug addicts will lie and tell you anything they think you want to hear, or that they feel they have to say at the moment. This isn’t a fantasy. It’s a fact. Even the most docile, mild-mannered, unassuming person can’t control what comes out of their mouth once they’re in the grip of addiction. Just because you’ve known the person all your life, are married to him or her, doesn’t matter. In the fierce hold of their habit, the addict has lost touch with reality and all that goes with it. As a concerned loved one, friend, or coworker, there’s something you need to know. Caution: you’re entering the drug addict’s spin zone.

What is the Spin Zone?

Usually, when you hear the words spin zone you think of politics, business, sports or Hollywood. “Spin” is another word used by public relations experts to cast a more favorable light on a person, company, product or situation that has come under scrutiny following a major blunder, fair or unfair criticism, police matter, legal issues or social snafu. What it really is, however, is embroidery of the facts. It’s telling the story in a way that’s designed to favor your client, company, product or situation – regardless of the truth.

In the world of the drug addict, spin takes on a slightly different meaning as well. There is certainly considerable embroidery of the truth, but it may or may not be deliberate. Depending on the substance the addict abuses, he or she may still have some semblance of rational thinking left. Still able to separate reality from illusion or hallucination, the drug addict may wish to spare the feelings of family and friends. He or she may try to hide evidence of their addiction by telling what they think are only little white lies.

As the addiction progresses, however, all efforts to try to maintain a normal life disappear in a cloud of lies, half-truths, deliberate omissions, anger, hurt, betrayal and loss. In a sense, everything in the addict’s world spins. It’s not just what comes out of his or her mouth that doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense. It’s important for you to understand why.

It’s All About the Fix

Addiction is, by definition, abuse of a substance to the point where the individual continues to use despite negative consequences, needs to use more of the substance and more often in order to achieve the same high. They have gone far beyond physical dependence on the drug – whether the drug is alcohol, illegal street or prescription drugs, or a combination of drugs, or compulsive sexual, eating or gambling – to a point where they physically have to have the drug (or engage in the activity). Their lives become all about the fix. They crave the high, the euphoria they feel when they inject, smoke, snort, pop, inhale, drink, eat or satiate themselves with the drug or activity. Nothing else matters – family or friends, not the job, not their health or finances, and, certainly, not their future.

While loved ones and friends of the addict can argue, cajole, scream, threaten, or try to gloss over, dismiss or ignore what’s happening in a vain attempt to make it go away, the fact is that addiction will not go away by itself. In most cases, this is beyond the control of the addict. They can’t stop by force of will – despite what they may tell you. Remember, their words are part of their spin zone. They will tell you what you want to hear. In the end, however, they’re only concerned about maintaining their habit. Their primary thought is about the next fix. It’s always about the next fix.

Illness vs. Weakness

Whichever side of the fence you are on – and there are many addiction experts who claim one or the other – whether addiction is considered an illness or a weakness isn’t what really counts in the overall scheme of things. Some critics of the illness argument say that when someone is ill they’re not responsible, so saying an addict has an illness gives them an excuse to go on being an addict. On the weakness side, the criticism usually centers on the fact that people with very strong will and determination may be unable to overcome addiction on their own, so it has to have a physical component.

This is not meant to debate which side is right. The point to be made is that addiction will persist and progress to a point of no return, even to death, without treatment. Sheer willpower won’t do it alone, although the addict has to want to change before any treatment will work. Unless and until the underlying behaviors are changed, the spin – and the addiction – will continue.

Brain Functions Falter

What actually happens during the various stages of addiction to make the drug addict so untrustworthy, unreliable, and unpredictable, with wild mood swings and often violent behavior? It has to do with brain chemistry. Repeated drug use disrupts the brain’s complex and finely-tuned network that governs all thoughts, emotions, drives, and perceptions. Over time, such disruption distorts and changes a person’s needs and desires, replacing them with a single motivating drive to seek and use drugs.

All drugs of abuse involve activating the same brain circuits as behaviors linked to survival, such as eating and sex. Use of drugs or alcohol releases a surge of the brain chemical called dopamine which, in turn, leads to feelings of pleasure or euphoria. The brain remembers this feeling and wants to experience it again and again.

What happens is this: within seconds of entering the blood, the drug cause dramatic changes in the brain synapse. It completely bypasses the body’s five senses and enters the brain’s pleasure center, causing a jolt of intense pleasure.
The brain has to try to adapt to these abuse drugs and does so by shutting down or reducing the number of dopamine receptors at these synapses. As the body comes down from the high, the drug user needs more of the drug the next time in order to replicate the high. This is known as tolerance.

As the user continues to abuse drugs, other areas of the brain outside the reward pathway are altered. These include physical changes to regions involved in judgment, learning and memory. In essence, the brain becomes hard-wired, and the drug-seeking behavior becomes habit-driven, an automatic reflex. The user has become an addict.

Another neurotransmitter affected by repeated drug abuse is serotonin. The role of serotonin in the brain is to regulate many of the body’s functions, including body temperature, sleep, mood, appetite and pain. Increasing use of abuse drugs alter the serotonin pathway and can lead to obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, and anxiety disorders.

How the Addict Displays Spin

The proficiency with which the drug addict is able to manifest some outward signs of normal life changes over time, as more and more of the brain’s regions are damaged by continued drug use. It’s important to note that different drugs affect the brain in more severe and immediate ways. Addicts who abuse multiple drugs simultaneously, or combine drug and alcohol abuse, or have co-occurring mental disorders, may show more signs, or more severe signs, than a single-substance addict. Here, then, are some – but not all – of the most common behaviors that show the addict’s spin.

• Confusion – Usually when you think of a person who is confused you identify that with someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other debilitating mental condition. The origins may be different, but the behavior is the same. The addict often displays confusion over seemingly normal situations, not knowing what to do, where they are, finding it difficult to comprehend. They may be sitting at the dinner table and not know which utensil to pick up, or not realize they’ve already eaten their meal and ask for more. Confusion is also related to memory problems in that both occur more frequently in addicts.

• Inability to reason properly – Following a sequence pattern to make a decision involves the ability to reason. This is an ability that suffers as the addict continues to use. You may be discussing why your son or daughter should not be allowed to go to a party after disobeying family rules, getting bad grades or into some trouble at school. The addicted parent may come up with some incredibly faulty reasons why the child should be allowed to go or, on the other hand, some equally unreasonable reasons why not. Faulty reasoning may also be accompanied by wild mood swings as the drug’s effects wane and the addict is in need of another fix.

• Problems with judgment – Errors in judgment occur more frequently. Not only is the addict often confused and unable to reason properly, but he or she cannot accurately determine the right course of action at any given moment. This is particularly dangerous if the individual attempts to drive, operate dangerous equipment or perform a delicate task, such as surgery or using high-speed or hazardous equipment. The expression “judgment call” doesn’t apply to an addict. In the addict’s distorted world, whatever they decide is usually on the wrong side of judgment. They aren’t able to adequately judge and this only worsens over time.

• Learning and memory problems – Addicts find it increasingly difficult to remember even simple tasks, let alone learn and comprehend complex instructions. Short-term memory is profoundly affected as more and more brain circuits are damaged due to continued drug use. In your interactions with the drug addict, you may begin to see that he or she forgets important engagements, doesn’t show up for meals on time or at all, doesn’t pay bills or attend to financial or other responsibilities or other problems associated with learning and memory.

• Concentration suffers – Jitteriness, fidgeting, jumping all over the place in conversation – all are signs that the addict’s concentration is being affected by drugs. He or she can’t seem to stay on one topic, which may be extremely aggravating at the least, and, potentially, very damaging or harmful in the worst case scenario.

• Difficulty separating reality from illusion – Certain drugs of abuse such as hallucinogens cause addicts to have difficulty separating what’s real from what’s only an illusion, a fantasy, not reality. You can’t have a logical conversation – or any conversation, really – with someone who is so far gone that they’re seeing and hearing things that aren’t there. You’ll have to wait until they come down from the drug in order to have any hope of getting through to them.

• Problems with motor ability and space and time – Some drugs affect the addict by slowing down their motor ability or their perception of space and time. They move slower, or jerk uncontrollably in involuntary leg or arm movements. They may act as if they’ve just nodded off for a second when in reality they’ve been in a drug stupor for hours or longer. Having any conversation or interaction with an addict who is exhibiting any of these signs is next to impossible. Again, you will need to wait until they have come down from the drug to have any, hopefully, meaningful conversation.

How You Can Counter the Drug Addict’s Spin

By now, you’re probably wondering what, if anything, you can do to counter the spin you get from the drug addict. The best advice is to educate yourself on all aspects of addiction, particularly to the substance or substances your friend or loved one is addicted to. You need to know exactly what it is that you’re dealing with. This is important because different drugs have different side-effects, and short-term and long-term consequences. The risk for overdose, serious and potentially life-threatening consequences is greater for some drugs than for others. Knowledge is your first powerful tool.

Next, get help. While in most cases the addict has to be ready and willing to acknowledge that he or she needs help and then commit to getting treatment (and stay with it), and you can’t help them yourself, you can and should seek help for yourself. Dealing with an addict in any stage of the addictive cycle is difficult at best and can be impossible or even dangerous, especially if there are children present in the environment.

There are 12-step organizations for friends and loved ones of addicts that can provide support to you – whether or not your addicted loved one or friend decides to seek treatment. Check these organizations out on the Internet and see if they’re a good fit for you. Choose how you want to interact with them – strictly using their site to obtain tips and links to resources, or by participating in live meetings, or meetings via phone or Internet.

• Al-Anon/Alateen
• Adult Children of Alcoholics
• Nar-Anon Family Groups
• Co-Anon Family Groups
• Co-Dependents Anonymous
• Co-Dependents of Sex Addicts
• Gam-Anon
• S-Anon

Also investigate potential treatment programs for the time when the addict is ready to (or is forced to for legal or job-related issues) get treatment. Look into residential treatment centers, outpatient or inpatient hospital facilities and/or private counseling. Make sure they specialize in the particular addiction. Inquire about special financing, grants or scholarships, or sliding-scale or pay-as-you-go programs.

Remember, the spin will continue as long as the addiction continues. If you are going to remain with the drug addict, you will need all the help you can get to remain safe, sane and secure yourself, as well as to be supportive of the addict’s desire to change.

Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.

Call our experts today.