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Message Board > Families / Partners of Addicts > The Reasons That Addicts Do What They Do

Posted by: hurtingmom June 29, 2019, 7:52 AM
Ever since heroin addiction darkened our doors, hubby and I have been trying to figure out WHY our daughter was doing the things she was doing. Try as we might, we just couldn't understand why she was acting like she was . . . why we got the cold stare when we confronted her after she stole. . . why her addiction seemed more of a priority to me than to her. This guy explained addiction like nobody else could. He has a PhD in pharmaceuticals and he wound up getting addicted to opioids. It took an addict who knew the intricacies of drugs and the paths they take in our brain to explain the reason that addicts do what they do.

My heart breaks thinking of all the times I was so DISGUSTED with my daughter for not being able to quit, to choose sobriety, to choose safety. It haunts me. Sending hugs to all . . .


We are in the midst of an epidemic of opioid addiction and death. Almost everyone knows someone living an opioid addiction or who has died from one. And they all have the same question: why can’t we, didn’t we, stop?

Why, they wonder, do we hock, trade, sell everything we own; why do we steal and hurt the ones we love just to get our roxies, dilaudid, our heroin? But the answer to that question is really very simple.

I started using heroin in 1976 when I was 20 years old. For the next 13 years I used occasionally, never enough to become addicted. I earned a B.A. in psychology, a masters in experimental psychology, and a doctorate in biopsychology. After I completed the doctorate in 1987 I was awarded a national institute on drug abuse post-doctoral fellowship in the pharmacology and toxicology department at the University of Arkansas for medical sciences.

My area of research was behavioral pharmacology which is the study of how drugs affect the brain and behavior. During all of this time I was still, on occasion, using. In April of 1989 I got into a bottle of methadone hydrochloride from the behavioral pharmacology lab and the whole time I was shooting that methadone I told myself that I would stop. And I believed that. Until I couldn’t.

For the next 22 years I lived the life of opioid addiction. The last year and a half of my addiction I was homeless, living on the streets and sleeping on the ground, homeless shelters, and people’s floors. The last time I used an opioid was December 11, 2011.

I am sharing this because I want you to know that I understand what your child, what your loved one, experiences in their addiction. I have lived it. And that because of my education and research, I also understand the neurocircuitry, neuropharmacology, and behavioral aspects of opioid addiction.

I believe in science. I believe in its truth. And science has shown that opioid addiction is a disease of brain structure and, thus, function. The continual intake of these opioids, day after day, year after year, alters the brain on a cellular, molecular basis. These alterations are opioid addiction. And they are manifested as behavior directed toward the survival of the individual.

The neurobiological explanation of this illness is beyond the scope of this article. But maybe this will help.

Let’s say that you haven’t had anything to eat for three or four days. You are starving. Can you feel it? What it’s like to be really starving? What would you be thinking about? You would be thinking about food. You would be needing, craving food. This craving that you feel is the brain’s mechanism that drives you to survive. Its purpose is to make everything else fall away and to force you to focus solely on acquiring what you have to have to live.

Now, let’s go further. Let’s say that food is restricted. There’s a famine or some kind of government control that limits the amount of food. There are no soup kitchens; there are no food banks. And no one will give you any food because they don’t have enough for themselves. There is, however, a black market in food. But the food in this black market is scarce and expensive. And it is illegal. It is against the law to buy food in this black market. What would you do if you were starving? Would you break the law? Would you steal to eat and to live? How much of yourself would you sacrifice? How much of who you are and what you are would you let go of to survive?

This craving for food is measured in days. Our craving for opioids is measured in hours. Four to five hours after our last use we begin to starve. And we crave. Everything but our need for these opioids falls away. And we focus solely on what we have to do to survive. We don’t have a choice. We really don’t.

Please understand I’m not trying to excuse our behavior. I am, though, trying to help you to see why we do these things. I know it may be difficult to believe that even when were stole from you, were verbally and maybe even physically abusive, we loved you. We are not narcissistic hedonists. When we hurt you we hurt too. We do these things not because we want to do them, but because we have to survive. We become desperate, and in our desperation we do things that we know are wrong; we do things that we know are not us. But this doesn’t mean we don’t care. If you are starving, you still love. What it does mean is that we are so desperate in our starvation that we will hurt the ones we love to end that hunger.

What is sad is that we don’t understand why we are hurting the ones we love. And because we don’t understand, we can’t explain it to you. We can’t explain why we are hurting you. No one told us that these opioids cause changes in brain structure such that they become more important for our survival than food. We don’t understand this, and neither do you. And this lack of understanding can rip a family apart. It can replace love with resentments and anger. On both sides. And in this pain, in this lack of understanding, we lose each other.

The knowledge that I hope you take away from this article is that your child or your loved one did not hurt you so that they could go out and buy roxies, dilaudid, or heroin. What they bought was their survival.

For those of you that have lost a child or loved one to overdose and addiction, I hope this article will help you to understand that there is no blame here. Whatever you did, however you tried to help the one you loved, you did your best. Because that’s what love does. And I hope you also understand that your child or your loved one also did their best. They fought, they struggled, they did all they could to stop. But, ultimately, their disease took their life.

Understanding and knowledge is power. The lack of it is confusion and helplessness.

Posted by: sad eyes June 29, 2019, 4:34 PM
Great post intresting read,I have read something along them lines before, about your body starts needing it like it does water sleep and food, nobody is emune to this horrible addiction, but reading things like this makes it a little clearer to try and get are head around things, if we ever can, thanks for the intresting post

Posted by: Sallyanna June 29, 2019, 9:32 PM
Yes thank you hurting mom for sharing this with us. When I think of how awful addiction is I just want to throw up.

Posted by: Parenting2 June 30, 2019, 10:04 PM
Hurting Mom, this is a great read. Thank you for sharing. I think of you and your daughter a lot! And, hope you have some peace. Please release any guilt for your reaction. It is a natural reaction and we all do it. Addiction is a frustrating disease, and even when you understand, it still is confusing to be faced with this seemingly insane behavior. You did the very best you could and I am sure nothing you could do would change the outcome. You went through a horrible trauma and had to face the worse outcome. Please be easy on yourself. Reading your posts, I know that you did everything you could in your power. We just have no power over addiction.

Thanks again for sharing. I wish everyone would read this. I am passing it on!

Posted by: hurtingmom July 1, 2019, 7:41 PM
Thanks Parenting! How are you?

I don't think I will ever find peace. Or ever feel like I did enough. There is so much Monday morning quarterbacking. Because I'm no longer involved with fighting her active addiction, I have time to stop, pause, reflect and kick myself. So . . . I wonder if the results would have been different if I hired that sober coach. Or, I wonder if she would still be on this side of the grass if I kept her from boarding that flight to Florida to be with Lover Boy (who, I believe, gave her the carfentanyl). Or, I try to imagine what would have happened if I agreed with her that working as a camp counselor in the hinterlands was better for her than being in treatment.
Or, if 3+ years ago I understood addiction as well as I do now. (I've still got so much to learn. But I'm more informed now than in 2016.) Or, I go far, far down memory lane and ask myself if I did X or Y when she was growing up . . . or if I didn't do A or B . . . could I have 'prevented' her from becoming addicted. I'll be honest. Sometimes I even wonder what did I do so horribly wrong that God needed to punish me like this. Sssshhhh . . . don't tell anybody. LOL

Then, I read your stories. And, I see that they are all so similar. The reasons why our loved ones get hooked may be different . . . their paths to addiction may be divergent . . . but their behaviors are the same. (I have often joked that there is an addict's handbook.) These similarities should be proof positive that addiction has nothing to do with parenting or not loving your child/significant other enough or whether you worked outside of your home. Alas. As ya'll can attest. This proof is not enough to calm or soothe any of our hearts. Or, make us feel better.

Sending hugs, strength & prayers to all,

Posted by: Parenting2 July 1, 2019, 10:21 PM
I know. It is hard not to have those thoughts. I have other kids, and they are okay. My one child is so stable and easy going. I always question what is the difference? Did something happen that I missed (like abuse by someone)? Etc.

I do this concerning my son's mental state. He is doing better but convinced he has done permanent damage to his brain (memory, feelings, etc.). Every time he talks about it, I feel guilt that I did not act more aggressively when he was in middle school. I had no idea he was using drugs at that time, I thought it was a mental issue. I did take him to several doctors, but I wonder if...I had him involuntarily committed they would have figured it out. Or, if I would have forced him to go to a boot camp in middle school...

But, you and I both know that we did so much and it never amounted to anything. When he was 8, I took him on a camping adventure. It was when I first really noticed that he has some overreaction issues. I can't even stand to think about it, because I kept telling myself that he would outgrow it. Did I miss early signs that he needed an assessment? Etc.

For you, it is much worse. I really do think of you and the other parents that have lost their children all the time. I lost two brothers and it was a nightmare. My Mom never forgave herself for not helping my one brother more. But, really, nothing could be done. It's like they are outside of our reach once they enter that world.

I see a big fall ahead for my son because he refuses to acknowledge that he has an addiction problem or an addiction personality. All that treatment stuff was stupid (that I am still paying on). He is trying so hard to change and it hurts my heart because there really is something wrong. His ideas and his actions are just not really right. He does things that are going to hurt him and he cannot seem to keep a good trend going. Sigh...

Anyway, I know it is hard not to think those thoughts and nothing will ever be okay. I guess I just wanted to reach out from someone still in the thick of it and has learned more and more. There is nothing that seems to help. If you could go back in time and redo everything that you feel you missed, it would still turn out the same. I don't understand exactly why but that is the nastiness of addiction. From my heart, you have my sympathies. I am glad to see you posting again, because I love seeing you check in! Big hugs, P2

Posted by: Sallyanna July 4, 2019, 10:56 AM
I just wanted to say I appreciate your posts too. I often wonder too where I went wrong and in hindsight everything is so clear. However, when we are in the moment of life there is no hindsight and I know we all do the best we can when we are faced with situations nothing can ever prepare us for. Parenting isn't easy and parenting a child with an addiction is like trying to catch smoke. Just when we think we may have a grasp on it it disappears. I personally try not to go there in my.mind because it's not productive. In fact it's destructive. I believe we all love our children dearly and we do the best we can.

Posted by: Sallyanna July 4, 2019, 4:11 PM
Its still emotionally very painful....

Posted by: Recovery Now!! July 6, 2019, 5:14 AM
My name is Andrew. I'm what many C.D.P.'s call a late stage drug addict. I'm 42 years old and honestly I have zero ideas about how I'm still alive, not in prison or at the very least a vegetable that has to be completely cared for 24/7?? I have 27 years ill never get back. That my parents will never get back. That my many victims will never get back. I'm not at all proud of over half my life's memories are WORTHLESS.

Posted by: Recovery Now!! July 6, 2019, 5:56 AM
Continued: Half my memories. Or I can better describe it in this way. The memories I have that make sense are many of them not worth the space they rent in my mind. The biggest regret of mine is allowing myself to create a huge void in my loved ones, my families lives. In the beginning of my one sided love affair with Heroin. I stole from the people that I knew. Family mostly. On occasion I would steal from stores but nothing was easier than stealing from those that continued to enable me. I decided not long after knowing I was addicted that I at all cost I had to get away from the people I still loved deeply. So I would vanish for months, years at a time. Fully missing out on the moments that make a dad a father. On everything! My struggle became my identity. My identity became something I could never of foreseen. More time spent in jail then prison than I'll describe here. My point I hope doesn't miss it's Mark. I am still alive! I'm coherent enough. I'm driven enough and I have major amounts of empathy and I have all this not because I was able to break away from addiction myself. Not because there's a magic spell or wand someone waved over me. It wasn't something I heard a loved one say. Or the memory of my oldest child asking me if I was ever going to come home. One day after a lot of days. I hit my bottom. I didn't care anymore. Not about life my death. The deaths of those around me. I woke up one day alone. No hope no resolve no body to help me. I had truly traded my morals my personality my education my life into something I could no longer work with or justify. How I had the strength to contact a medical's still a mystery to me. But I did. And before I left detox I signed up for a long term treatment. Six months inpatient. The only thing I wanted to do while there was run...hide...I needed to escape all the feelings I was being drowned by. I kept hearing it gets better. I didn't stay because of what I heard or what I witnessed. I stayed because I had no where else to go. Before my discharge I was reminded of a drug that could possibly help me in the fight for my life. NO not subpoena. NOT methadone. It's a drug that's a non narcotic. Vivotrol... it's a wonder drug. Non addictive very small side affects if any at all and state insurance pays 100% of the cost. It's a once a month injection delivered by a family doctor. It prevents urges 99% of the time. If by slim chance an urge is to strong. Vivotrol is a drug once taken it completely eliminates the effects of Heroin or any other drug that has opiates. So smoke all u can inject all u can but you'll never get high. This is exactly what I needed. Not saying it will work for your daughter but a planted seed turns to fruit if planted in the right soil.
If any of my ramblings were in any way taken as disrespectful or in any other way out of the context I intended I apologize. My only aim was to give you depth. Problem and possible solution.
It may a lot of time appear as though the situation you find yourselves in the middle of as being unique. I promise you that everything you feel, every situation you've managed to overcome. Every thought you've had about giving up. All of it is being played out again and again in millions of families right this very second. So I only ask that you seek out what has worked be weary of what hasn't. Get out and away from the problem and into the solution. Addiction to drugs cannot be cured. With persistence with empathy and more love than you knew you were capable of it can and is arrested daily. Giving lives back to the broken. Giving families back their loved ones. Fathers their daughters mother's their sons children their parents. There is never a reason to give up hope. I think the only thing stronger than love is hope. When love failed me hope was all I had left and just enough of it to make all the difference in my world...

Posted by: Sallyanna July 7, 2019, 5:35 AM
Thank you for sharing your experience. It sounds like the Vivitrol can help until a plan is implimented to help start the recovery process. It is expensive and does insurance cover it? Also, it's important to note it may not affect cravings or withdraw symptoms. Congrats on your sobriety and taking time to share your story. I hope your recovery continues and you continue to help others who are struggling. Thank you.

Posted by: coolmom37 July 9, 2019, 4:23 PM
Thank you for sharing this makes total sense to me

Posted by: constantine July 11, 2019, 1:34 PM
Damn HM.....That was a righteous perfect post....


Posted by: Parenting2 July 13, 2019, 9:48 PM
Hi Con!

Posted by: constantine July 18, 2019, 12:58 PM

Posted by: SoberInMI July 18, 2019, 5:35 PM
Hurting Mom:

The explanation for why an addict does what he/she does is simple. When a physical addiction occurs, or when the body physically needs a substance, there is a compulsion or irresistible urge to use, the hallmark or defining characteristic of a substance addiction. In some cases there are very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that addicts want to avoid. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.

Illicit drug users often use very strong substances like crack, meth, heroin, and fentanyl making it very difficult to achieve sobriety. These drugs are expensive to obtain and makes a drug habit very expensive. Arguably the dishonest conduct engaged in is out of necessity, like one needs food, but the drive is much greater and is all-consuming, the ends ALWAYS justify the means. Addicts will choose using over eating. There is a great deal of unlawfulness and criminality that accompany drug use and the mindset is tough to overcome. Unfortunately, most addicts and alcoholics never recover.

Addicts and alcoholics may initially abuse mood-altering substances to deal with life, and some substances like heroin hook the user the very first time, but in the end their addiction becomes all consuming.

Such people hurt or emotionally damage the people around them turning them into tortured codependents, “a behavioral condition in a relationship where one person enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.” This enabling is done out of caring and not wanting to be put through hell for failing to enable (tough love).

Parenting 2:

"I do this concerning my son's mental state. He is doing better but convinced he has done permanent damage to his brain (memory, feelings, etc.)."

Your son is right. A person's brain continues to develop until the early 20s. Powerful drugs can disrupt the brain's development and cause permanent irreversible damage.

Posted by: Sallyanna July 18, 2019, 6:57 PM
Thank you for your insight soberinMi. If you don't mind me asking, what was your motivation to seek and be in active sobriety? I know it must have been very hard. Thank you