Why Is Addiction So Hard to Overcome?

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Although not everyone who uses alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs develops an addiction, many people find themselves becoming physically and psychologically dependent on these substances.

Addiction is clinically described as substance use disorder and recognized as a chronic, relapsing brain condition. Addiction involves changes to the structure and function of the brain, and it’s characterized by the compulsive use of substances regardless of adverse outcomes.

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If you or someone you care about are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse and have questions like “Why is addiction so hard to overcome”, read on to learn more about what underpins addiction and discover how to engage with effective and compassionate treatment that addresses all aspects of this chronic but highly treatable condition.

Understanding The Effects of Addiction

If you have questions like “Why is alcohol addiction so hard to overcome” or “Why is drug addiction so hard to overcome”, it helps to understand the biological and psychological foundations of substance use disorder.

Biological effects of addiction

At its core, addiction alters the natural balance of the brain, affecting neurotransmitter systems responsible for reward, motivation, memory, and emotion. Here’s how:

  • Neurotransmitter imbalance: Substances of abuse can hijack the brain’s reward system, leading to increased levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine. This results in a heightened sense of pleasure or euphoria. Over time, though, the brain adjusts to these high levels, diminishing the person’s ability to feel pleasure naturally without the substance.
  • Brain structure changes: Prolonged substance use can lead to changes in the brain’s structure, especially in areas that govern judgment, learning, memory, decision-making, and behavior control. These changes can make it increasingly difficult for people to control their substance use, despite negative consequences.
  • Physical dependence and withdrawal: The body can become dependent on a substance, leading to the presentation of withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. These symptoms can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening, depending on the substance and the level of physical dependence.
image of man depicting why is addiction so hard to overcome

Psychological effects of addiction

Psychologically, addiction impacts mental health, emotional well-being, and social interactions in the following ways:

  • Mental health disorders: There is a strong link between addiction and mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Substance use as self-medication can worsen these conditions without doing anything to address the underlying cause.
  • Emotional regulation: Addiction can impair a person’s ability to regulate emotions, leading to increased irritability, aggression, or emotional numbness. This can affect personal relationships and social interactions, further isolating the person.
  • Cognitive functioning: Substance abuse can affect cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and executive functioning, making it difficult for people to perform tasks, make decisions, or remember important information.


Why Addiction Is Hard to Overcome

Why is addiction hard to overcome, then? The challenge for many people involves the blend of physical, psychological, and social factors playing into their addictions.

The brain’s wiring plays a central role in why addiction is so hard to overcome. Substance abuse can alter the brain’s chemistry and functioning, making the desire for the substance almost irresistible. Drugs and alcohol can provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system, releasing an unnaturally high level of neurotransmitters like dopamine. Over time, the brain becomes dependent on the substance to trigger these pleasure signals, diminishing the ability to derive pleasure from natural rewards.

The body can adapt to the presence of the substance to the point where it becomes a new normal. Stopping the substance leads to the manifestation of withdrawal symptoms, which can be physically and emotionally distressing, driving the person back to substance use for relief.

Psychological factors significantly contribute to the challenge of overcoming addiction. When someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, intense urges or cravings for the substance are commonly triggered by cues like stress, people, places, or things associated with substance use. Without healthy coping mechanisms in place, cravings can feel practically impossible to resist.

Many people struggling with addiction experience co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, or PTSD. These conditions can complicate recovery, as substances may be used as a form of self-medication.

Addiction also involves ingrained patterns of behavior and thinking that are difficult to break. These include habits surrounding substance use and cognitive distortions that justify or minimize the addiction.

The environment in which a person lives can also significantly impact their ability to overcome addiction. Relationships with family, friends, or peers who use substances can reinforce addictive behaviors. Social isolation or lack of support can also hinder recovery.

Easy access to substances makes overcoming addiction more challenging. This can be due to living in an environment where substances are readily available or lack of engagement in structured activities that leaves an expanse of free time.

The stigma surrounding addiction can prevent people from seeking help due to fear of judgment or discrimination. This can lead to a cycle of secrecy and continued substance use.

Despite these challenges, recovery from addiction is possible with the right support and resources.

What Makes Addiction Easier to Overcome?

While overcoming addiction is undeniably challenging, engaging with evidence-based treatment can dramatically streamline the recovery process.

The enactment of ACA (Affordable Care Act) means that addiction treatment is covered by health insurance. We offer a free insurance coverage verification at California Detox, and we’re happy to work with most major health insurance providers to ensure that everyone gets the addiction treatment they need.

Addiction treatment involves supervised detoxification to address the issue of physical dependence and manage withdrawal symptoms. Ongoing treatment, delivered in an inpatient or outpatient setting, may involve MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapy, counseling, and holistic treatments.

Many people find that participation in peer support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) provides additional support and accountability in recovery, making it easier to remain abstinent from drugs or alcohol long-term.

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Get Premier Treatment for Addiction Recovery at California Detox

At California Detox, we offer the highest level of care during detox and inpatient addiction treatment. Situated between the beautiful rolling hills of Laguna Beach, each of our rooms overlooks the beautiful Pacific Ocean and surrounding natural area.

In addition to the serene environment, our staff is deeply invested and committed to the well-being and success of our patients. With founders and many of our clinical staff having experienced recovery themselves, we understand on a personal level just how important it is to receive quality care during your stay in treatment and beyond.

Our evidence-based detox and inpatient programs offer:

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Psychotherapies (CBT and DBT) 
  • Motivational therapies
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • One-to-one counseling
  • Holistic interventions
  • Aftercare planning

Begin your recovery from addiction today by calling California Detox at  (949) 694-8305.


Addiction changes the brain in ways that erode self-control and the ability to make healthy decisions. While willpower is important, these brain changes can make it extremely difficult to quit without additional support.
Effective treatments often involve a combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), behavioral therapies, counseling, and support groups. Personalized treatment plans that address individual needs are most successful.


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