Ahmed A Moustafa Ph.D.

A Computational Approach


How Can You Get Over a Drug Addiction?

Finding a life goal.

Posted Aug 03, 2018

Any transition in life can be difficult, but the successful transformation from addiction to recovery is definitely one of the most trying. The failure rate is unfortunately very high. Addicts may rationalize not seeking treatment because they may have seen friends try to recover and fail. A significant number will stop using drugs for a period of time, ranging from a few months to a year or more. But many will relapse, returning to the cycle of drug abuse. Those who are able to stay clean indefinitely come to view their old lifestyle as a distant, unfortunately memory.

The path into addiction can start simply with casual drug use, but in many cases this activity is not the actual cause. Often, the addict has some deeper psychological issue that compels them to descend into addiction. Many addicts have experienced traumatic childhood experiences, like severe neglect or abuse. Even if they weren’t the victim of outright abuse, they may have not received enough love and attention. Drug use can be an attempt to suppress the pain of these memories, and the acceleration of use may not even be a conscious decision.

My research on human behavior and neuroscience, especially the links between childhood trauma and drug abuse, have increasingly led me to view addicts as victims. That does not mean they are powerless, just that they are often not completely responsible for the causes that drove them down the dark road of addiction. The aim of this article (and my research in general) is not to lay blame or debate the ethics of drug laws or policies. My primary goal is to help those who have descended into addiction find their way back, to suggest successful strategies and treatments supported by science, research, and experience.

My interactions with patients at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney have always been heartbreaking. Heroin addicts arrive every morning to receive their methadone medication. Many have already gotten a start on the day with alcohol. The patients are usually not well-dressed, irritable, and unfocused. Many confess to me their history of physical and sexual abuse as children. Some tell me about crimes they have committed in order to get drugs. Some have just recently been released from jail. Even though they are now on methadone, some inform me that they have never stopped doing drugs. Sadly, a large number of my patients are indigenous Australians, typically addicted to heroin and ice.

Early in my study of addiction, I often felt despair. It seemed as if the problem was too difficult. I felt like the damage done to the brains and psyches of my patients was too extensive to fix. But today I feel more hopeful.

I have visited rural areas in New South Wales, Australia, where a significant portion of the indigenous population are drug addicts. I have conducted workshops on how to help them get out of addiction. In one case, an indigenous man who lives near Bourke, New South Wales not only recovered, but focused his life’s goal on helping others find their way back from addiction.

I had another patient who decided to go back to finish high school and then went on to study engineering at a university. This had been his goal for a long time, and it was immensely gratifying to see him successfully reach it.

Some patients have found success by enrolling in hard-core exercise programs. Others have converted to Christianity to help them overcome their addiction. While I’m not advocating a particular religion or lifestyle, what I have found is a common thread among those patients who have been able to get off drugs and stay off of them.

The common theme is finding a life goal and committing to it.