Imagine not being able to see. You’re surrounded by a fog that only exists for you. Your arms and legs feel heavy and your body feels weird. It doesn’t exactly feel bad… but it doesn’t feel normal either. You’re numb. Now, imagine feeling that everyday. It’s become your norm, and, without that strange, fuzzy feeling, you don’t feel like you can function. You go through your days touching things but not really feeling them, looking at things but not really seeing them, and acknowledging things but not really knowing them. You’re existing but not really living. You can thank addiction for that.

drug-induced numbness

Addiction casts a shadow of numbness over the addict. It takes over a person’s life and takes away anything that might have induced normal feelings (of pleasure and of pain alike) and places the drug (or drink) of choice as the center of existence. Nothing feels better than the high. But then again, nothing even feels like anything besides that high. Fortunately, that numbness does not have to be permanent. Sobriety will recover awareness again.

Addiction Creates Numbness

Addiction will take away a person’s sense of normalcy. When an addict is high or drunk, they’re living in that moment. All that matters is the high. When an addict hasn’t used, all that matters is the craving. The downtime between each use is dedicated to getting to that next high. That fact alone is enough to create numbness in place of normal awareness. Someone whose life has been absorbed by addiction will feel like sobriety is inadequate and their drug of choice gives them a sense of adequacy, causing them to never want to live in inadequacy again. But that inadequacy isn’t actually inadequate at all. It’s normal life. But it has been taken, never to be given back again as long as addiction remains.

The primary way that addiction creates numbness is through a kind of sensory deprivation. Most drugs induce some kind of relief or euphoria that will either mask or enhance normal feelings. For example, opiates are created to relieve pain; they’re painkillers. They can be incredibly effective but are also easily abused. Most people abuse opiates for the feelings of euphoria that they’ll create in higher doses. While that euphoria sounds like it can just be a sort of enhancement on normal feelings, it’s also paired with that painkilling effect. So, a person’s sensory awareness will essentially be replaced with a numb euphoria. A sober person will be open to pain and other sensory triggers. The addict will not.

Other Drugs that Will Create Some Sort of Numbness:

  • Heroin – Like prescription painkillers, heroin is an opiate. It will hijack the brain’s reward center and induce feelings of extreme pleasure by releasing chemicals like dopamine. However, it won’t take long before a heroin user won’t be able to feel anything without the help of the drug. Without it, the addict will feel lost in a dark pit of numbness and depression.
  • XanaxXanax is part of a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines and works by depressing the central nervous system. It inhibits communication between receptors in the brain and will cause a person to feel relaxed and drowsy, both of which contribute to sensory numbness.
  • Alcohol – Most casual drinkers consume alcohol for stimulating effects. They use it to lower inhibitions and feel more open. But alcohol is technically a depressant. It doesn’t just lower inhibitions; it also slows down vital functions, which results in things like impaired thinking and unsteady movement. Consuming large amounts of alcohol (as with alcoholism) will result in numbness characterized by a loss of control, coordination, and sensory awareness.

Sobriety Restores Awareness

One of the biggest things a person will work towards in recovery is mindfulness. In basic terms, mindfulness is essentially being aware of our surroundings, ourselves, and our emotions as related to each other.

Interestingly, mindfulness comes naturally to us when we’re young. Have you ever noticed how the smallest things can distract babies and toddlers? We’re quick to pass that off as distraction, but it’s actually an example of mindfulness. No, your toddler is not Yoda. But young children are mindful in the sense that they live in the moment. They notice things and become almost entranced by them as they observe how these things are all a part of their world.

Unfortunately, mindfulness becomes harder to keep holding on to as we get older and collect more things that we have to constantly think about. It’s harder to stay in the moment as adults. Substance addiction seems as if it puts you in the moment. And if we’re being honest, it does… but not in the right way. And addict lives in the moment but that moment is dominated and controlled by the drug. Mindfulness isn’t dominated or controlled by anything. That moment a mindful person is living in is contrarily induced by the person’s awareness of themselves and the world.

Luckily, mindfulness and awareness can actually be taught. As I mentioned earlier, it’s one of the areas that people work on in recovery. One of the simplest (and perhaps most fun) ways to restore mindfulness is through sensory activities. Sobriety already inherently gives back some of a person’s sensory awareness, as their senses are no longer compromised or controlled by substances. But there are also sensory activities that you can do to help build up that awareness.

Sober Activities that Help Build Awareness:

There are five basic senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Sensory awareness activities can involve any one (or more) of these senses. They’ll also typically involve emotions and/or physical movement as well.

  • Listen to Calming Music

    Calming music isn’t just nice to listen to; it also helps the body and mind to calm down. Hence the descriptor: calming. Research has shown that an external source of rhythm can cause our bodies to try and match that rhythm. Different beats per minute will give your brain different inputs for your body’s mood. That’s why we gravitate towards faster music when we’re running and working out. Similarly, a lower beat per minute ratio can cause our minds and bodies to become calmer. For example, 60 beats per minute is perfect before bed because it helps to put the body in a calm state. But you don’t have to wait until bed to do this. Listening to calm music during the day will help your body and mind become calm so that you can become more aware of the world outside of your own self.

  • Go Outside and Observe the World

    Spending some time outside in nature helps awareness and mindfulness in many different ways. The different scents of flowers and trees can cause different sensory effects. For example, the scent of lavender can help calm and restore balance in the mind. Being amongst trees (particularly pine trees) can heal you internally and make your body more able to handle the different stressors of the day. And the bright, natural light of day can help boost your mood and restore your body’s natural rhythms. All of these things help contribute to sensory awareness and mindfulness. These are also all things that fade away in addiction. You don’t see addicts stopping to smell the flowers very often, do you?

  • Meditation and Yoga

    Meditation and yoga both aren’t technically sensory exercises. However, they are incredibly effective in engaging the mind. Meditation (kindly) forces you to be in the moment. It requires that you stop everything else and focus on your breathing as well as your mental channels. It’s a great way to become more aware of yourself and the world. Yoga also compels you to stay in the moment. All of your attention will go into focusing on and breathing through your pose. Most yoga poses also actually require meditation. Yoga is most effective when you align your mind with that physical pose. Both meditation and yoga are virtually opposite to the mind-numbing effects of substances.

drug-induced numbness

Sometimes – particularly when the various stressors of the day start to get overwhelming – we wish for numbness. But a drug-induced sensory numbness is definitely not the way to go. Especially when the side effects of that numbness can include overdose and death. That weird, thick numbing fog isn’t at all what we should be wishing for. And, once a person takes a step into recovery, that realization becomes clear.

Watch a child notice a bug in the grass or observe the rain from their bedroom window. That simple awareness that the child experiences is the kind of mindfulness we should be striving for. The drug-induced numbness that leaves you impaired, still, and unbothered as the rest of the world moves without you is not.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, New Start can help. Call us at 855-737-7363 for a free and confidential assessment. We’ll help you get out of that destructive numbness.