Addiction and substance abuse can easily turn those we care about into people we don’t even recognize. We can see an entirely different side of them as they lie, cheat, manipulate and even steal to get what they need to sustain their lifestyle and addiction. They appear to value their drugs more than they value their loved ones.
As we watch in turmoil while they turn their backs on a once great life, something that once held great meaning, we may find ourselves asking, “Why do they not care anymore?”
It’s a question that no simple explanation can answer. It can be understood, in part, by understanding that alcohol and drug use has the power to change the way brain works. Addicts may actually care - or want to care - but they are not able to act on those caring feelings. In many instances, they have lost the ability to access critical emotional functions, especially empathy.
How Empathy Relates to Humanity
Empathy is within the epitome of what it means to be human. It is the foundation on which moral behavior is created and the essential point of social interaction, helping humans to prioritize the conflict between meeting our own needs and those of others. Through empathy, we are able to feel what another is feeling. It’s a human ability that grants us a distinct evolutionary advantage: People are better able to create effective groups if the members are able to feel empathy for each other. This trait and degree of unity signifies a greater chance of thriving and surviving.
Empathy has been linked with having a strong basis of biological/neurochemical factors. It has been connected to our hormones’ oxytocin and serotonin as well as to the mirror neuron system in the insula. This region of the brain encourages social emotions including shame, embarrassment, guilt, and other similar feelings. If you see a co-worker getting body checked by the big boss, for example, your mirror neurons “mirror” that person’s pain and feelings of public humiliation as if those feelings were your own. Mirror neurons demonstrate why we may feel sad after spending time consoling a friend over a tragic experience. Individuals who rank highly in feeling empathy for others have especially active mirror neuron systems.
When substance abuse enters the picture, however, it has the ability to change us - it blocks our normal biological and chemical processes. What that means in real life is that substance abuse takes away our ability to feel empathy and can make us unaware of others’ feelings altogether. If you put that together with an addict’s desperation for the next “fix”, you may be able to see then how a once caring parent could let their child go hungry and refuse to buy groceries in order to buy drugs or even how a teenager who was once your sweet child could steal money for drugs from their parents without any regard to the consequences. Most addicts actually do care but are put in a powerless position - they have no ability to feel the emotion or to take action upon it.
Embracing Service and Selflessness
For long-term sobriety to be maintained as a person overcomes addiction, the capacity for empathy needs to be restored. There is hope for this. Both the brain and the body are capable of remarkable healing with each reduction of drug and alcohol intake. When abused substances are no longer hijacking the brain, the executive functions of the brain can start to return empathetic feelings - especially if an appropriate drug addiction therapy plan is implemented.
A person in recovery can help the healing process with one simple step: participating in acts of service and selflessness. Doing these acts of service not only reintroduces them to the rewards of showing empathy, but it can them maintain their sobriety. Research has shown that participating in regular community service helps a recovering addict by making them significantly less likely to go back to old habits. Acts of service present an opportunity to boost their mood and make them feel like they are part of a community. This is why a commitment to helping others has been an essential part of successful 12-step support groups.
The challenge, then, is in getting a person who is fighting an addiction and their loss of empathy to admit they have a problem and ask for help in making a change, for their own good and for the good of others.
We can’t fix them, but we can influence them.
You may not know this, but an individual doesn’t necessarily have to want to participate in treatment to receive benefits from it. Addicts who resist against going to a drug addiction therapy program are just as likely to reach recovery as those who willingly enter a treatment program. There are multiple studies of individuals who were ordered into treatment and who now maintain sobriety willingly which support this.
We, as bystanders, help an addict most when we set real boundaries on what we are willing to accept and what we are not. Most addicts finally reach out for help because something negative has happened as a result of their actions and they are feeling the effects of it. You might be surprised to hear of the many success stories which began with a person being forced by loved ones to go to treatment.
It is important to remember that while the person you know and love may seem completely taken over by their addiction, their real self is still in there. Using your own empathy towards them to set an example may even help them to reclaim their own.
The important thing in all of this is that you seek help for your drug addiction. Do not let fear keep you from the life you have always wanted. You do not need to fight this disease alone and any and all concerns that you have can be addressed as you move through the process of recovery. So call the professionals at Evolutions Treatment Center today, at 1-866-771-7091. We are standing by to help you finally overcome your addiction.