Addiction is both a physical and psychological disease. While many people mistakenly believe that the addiction is primarily a physical attachment to a substance of abuse, the reality is that people become addicted through both physical and psychological channels that are intrinsically related.
With both physical and psychological pathways at work, addiction becomes a powerful disease that is difficult to fight.1 Learning how the addicted brain works can empower a recovering addict to avoid relapse.
The Process of Psychological Addiction
The euphoric high felt during drug or alcohol abuse directly affects an area of the brain called the pleasure or reward center. This is the same part of the brain that manages a variety of important psychological functions such as the following:
- Emotional response
- Anxiety management
- Coping with stress
- Reinforcing behaviors (forming habits)
- The ability to resist impulses
- The formation and recollection of memories2
Drugs and alcohol provide real — albeit temporary — relief of emotional pain or distress in this part of the brain. When the substance wears off and the underlying psychological disorder begins to take over, the brain will use every psychological tool at its disposal to get those chemicals again. One of the most problematic of these symptoms — especially after months of recovery — is a phenomenon called euphoric recall.
The Danger of Euphoric Recall
Because the formation and recollection of memories is managed in this same area, the brain may choose only to bring to mind the fun times or highlights of past drug use. The user will not remember the pain, sickness, destruction, disappointment or trapped feelings of addiction — only the good times.
This can lead a person to romanticize their previous substance abuse and spend too much time thinking back on it longingly.
This type of distorted memory can also lead people to feel overconfident in their ability to resist relapse, which may cause them to place themselves in high-risk environments. Individuals recovering from alcoholism, when walking past a bar, may think back to some fun times and then tell themselves that they can handle the temptation to drink now. They go into the bar where the positive memories collide with a weakened state of alertness. Relapse quickly follows.
Preparing for Euphoric Recall
While you cannot stop euphoric recall, one of the most powerful tools to overcome it is through relational accountability. Make sure you have a friend or sponsor who you have especially empowered to hold you accountable for your time, words, money and actions. Another person can provide the accurate perspective that euphoric recall destroys the hard work of recovery.
You may become nostalgic for your party days, but a good accountability partner will remind you of the broken relationships, the misery of withdrawal and the positive aspects of being clean and sober.
Journaling can also be extremely helpful — especially as it relates to identifying faulty or incomplete memories and filling in those gaps during weak moments. In time you can train your mind to remember all aspects of the disease of addiction, not just the distorted ones.
Help Dealing with Euphoric Recall
If you are struggling with euphoric recall, call our 24-hour, toll-free helpline, 706-914-2327. Our specially trained admissions coordinators can help you think about the cost of addiction and relapse as well as the numerous benefits of a sober life. Call now, and let us help connect you with resources to keep your recovery on track.
1 Jaffe, Adi, "Physical addiction or psychological addiction – Is there a real difference?" Psychology Today, July 26, 2010.
2 "Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction." National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2018.