Updated on March 26, 2024
4 min read

What Does Addiction Feel Like? Personal Stories and Insights

Addiction is a complex condition where a person's relationship with a substance (like drugs or alcohol) becomes deeply unhealthy. Their brain and body develop a strong, overwhelming need for the substance, even though it causes harm.

This overwhelming need can make it incredibly difficult to stop using, even when the person desperately wants to.

What Does Addiction Feel Like?

Addiction isn't about a lack of morals or willpower. It's a serious medical condition that can overwhelm a person's thoughts and actions. It isn't easy to understand, especially for someone who hasn't experienced it.

"I'm an addict because I like the feeling of not being myself."

The experience of addiction is deeply personal and can vary across each person. However, some common themes include:

Feeling a Loss of Control 

Addiction can cause a feeling of being unable to stop using the substance, even while desperately wanting to. This powerlessness over your own actions can be incredibly isolating and frightening.

Experiencing Intense Cravings

Experiencing strong urges to use, often accompanied by physical and emotional discomfort, can be debilitating. These urges can be so intense that they consume your thoughts and make it difficult to focus on anything else.

Chasing Fleeting Pleasure

While substance use might provide temporary relief, the good feelings are short-lived and quickly replaced by the need for more. Feelings of guilt, shame, or depression often follow this fleeting high. It creates a cycle of needing more and more just to feel "normal."

An Attempt to Escape Pain

Addiction is often less about seeking pleasure and more about escaping emotional pain or suppressing difficult memories and feelings. The substance becomes a way to numb these feelings, even though it ultimately doesn't solve the underlying problems.

Experiencing Inner Struggle

Addiction creates a constant internal struggle. A part of you knows the destructive path you're on, but the addiction can feel so powerful that you feel powerless to resist. This inner conflict can be incredibly draining and leave you feeling hopeless.

"When you're in survival mode, doing drugs becomes number one⁠—more important than eating, sleeping, even breathing."

What Are the Physical Symptoms of Addiction?

While addiction is primarily a disease of the brain, its devastating effects are often visible in a person's physical appearance and health.

These physical symptoms can offer clues about how the addiction is impacting their emotional and mental well-being:

  • Neglecting personal hygiene or unusual smells 
  • Insomnia or drastic changes in sleep habits often point to underlying anxiety, agitation, or depression
  • Significant increases or decreases in appetite 
  • Bloodshot eyes or changes in pupil size 
  • Impaired coordination, slurred speech, and tremors 
  • Experiencing physical and mental distress when unable 
  • Needing increased amounts to achieve the same effect 
  • Damage to multiple organs, headaches, and oral health problems 
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while intoxicated

"I neglected my health so completely, hoping the next hit would kill me so my family wouldn't have to suffer seeing me like this."

While these physical changes may be signs of addiction, it's essential to seek professional assessment. Only a healthcare professional can accurately diagnose a substance use disorder. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. Contact SAMHSA's National Helpline or reach out to a trusted medical professional.

What Are the Effects of Addiction on the Brain?

Addiction overstimulates the brain's reward system, making it reliant on the substance to feel any sense of pleasure. The brain's emotional centers also become hyperactive. This leads to overwhelming feelings of anxiety, stress, and negativity when not using.

Repeated substance use damages the prefrontal cortex, which plays a crucial role in judgment, decision-making, and impulse control. This impairment makes it harder to recognize the destructive consequences of addiction.

"My brain was screaming at me constantly that I needed heroin simply to function. Getting high didn't even get me high anymore, just brought temporary relief."


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The Impact of Addiction on a Person

Addiction can have devastating effects on every aspect of a person's life, including:

  • Damaged Relationships: Addiction puts a strain on friendships, family bonds, and romantic relationships.
  • Loss of Opportunities: Addicted people may neglect their responsibilities, lose jobs, or damage their potential.
  • Destructive Behaviors: The desperation caused by addiction can lead to lying, stealing, or engaging in other harmful and risky actions.

Recovery from Addiction

"My worst day clean beats my best day using ten times over for sure."

While recovery from addiction is a challenging and lifelong process, it is absolutely possible. It often necessitates professional treatment, support groups, and a strong commitment to change.

Building healthy relationships and finding supportive communities are also crucial for long-term recovery. Understand that relapses can happen, but they're not a sign of failure. With continued support, people can overcome challenges and find lasting sobriety.

"Sobriety isn't easy. I still think about using every day. But I've found supportive communities and reasons to keep fighting."

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Addiction is a harrowing struggle that hijacks a person’s mind and body. It creates a cycle of temporary relief followed by immense suffering.

However, it's important to remember that addiction is a treatable condition. With the right help and a strong desire to change, people can overcome their addiction and rebuild their lives.

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Updated on March 26, 2024
10 sources cited
Updated on March 26, 2024
  1. “SAMHSA’s National Helpline.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  2. “What Does Addiction Feel Like?” Steve Rose, PhD.
  3. “Biology of Addiction.” National Institutes of Health. 
  4. “Dealing with Addiction.” NEMOURS Children’s Health.
  5. “Signs & Symptoms of Addiction (Physical & Mental).”  American Addiction Centers. 
  6. “The Signs and Symptoms of Addiction.” Priory Group. 
  7. “Warning Signs of Drug Abuse.” State of Tennessee. 
  8. “What Heroin Addiction Is Really Like, As Told By A Former User.” YouTube, uploaded by Scripps News. 
  9. "What Does It Feel Like To Be Addicted To Heroin?" YouTube, uploaded by Sober Dogs.
  10. “What Does Drug Addiction Feel Like?” YouTube, uploaded by Not Not Normal.

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