― Brené Brown
Addicts put a great deal of energy into denial. Oftentimes, drug and alcohol abusers cling to the misconception that “hitting rock-bottom” is necessary before seeking treatment. This is far from true and does not take into account that “rock bottom” is different for everyone. While images of strung out, unkempt addicts permeate the media there are problem users who, on the surface, appear quite functional. Many addicts experience a painful internal deterioration that is less outwardly recognizable, but excruciating nonetheless.
No one is ever completely certain when it’s time for drug or alcohol treatment. The prospect of seeking help can feel quite scary and overwhelming, particularly to those with limited supports. A comprehensive treatment program will directly address those fears as you navigate the early stages of treatment. As you assess your own relationship with drugs and alcohol or that of a loved one, consider the following signs that recovery is a viable next step:
Drug or Alcohol Use is no Longer Fun
You Are Sick and Tired of Feeling Sick and Tired
You’ve Attempted to Moderate Unsuccessfully
You Find Yourself Researching Addiction and Recovery
Your Personal or Professional Life Are Suffering
You Recognize Your Goals Aren’t Achievable With Continued Use
You Are Experiencing Mild to Severe Physical Health Problems
Your Are Experiencing Mild to Severe Mental Health Problems
You Feel Like You Want to Quit, but Don’t Know How
You Spend a Great Deal of Time Seeking “Proof” That You Don’t Have a Problem
As addiction progresses, it shifts from a social and celebratory activity to a need. Recently, a client explained that her evening wine ritual no longer felt optional. Even on the nights when she “wasn’t in the mood,” she mechanically poured that first glass. “After the first glass,” she said, “I continued to pour more and more until I’d made it through the entire bottle”. Some addicts report a decrease in social substance use with a shift to more isolated, solitary patterns. Regardless of the setting, the former feelings of excitement and elation are slowly replaced with and need for emotional numbing and escape.
Long-term abuse of substances takes its toll both physically and emotionally. The periods between attempted moderation and binging are exhausting. The hangovers and hazy memories begin to destroy mornings and feelings of regret and shame permeate the remainder of the day. In addition to headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort, and disrupted sleep, addicts often battle relentless negative self-talk.
Many addicts describe waking up with a feelings of resolve marked by an “I’m not going to do this to myself anymore” attitude. As the day progresses, however, and triggers and cravings resurface, the resolve quickly fades. Some addicts describe their attempts at moderation as “completely exhausting”. This decision fatigue often perpetuates the cycle of abuse.
Addicts can spend hours on the internet conducting research on drug and alcohol use. More often than not, they are seeking confirmation that their problem “isn’t that bad” as they attach to stories of substance abusers with more progressive symptoms. Common searches include: Am I an addict? Symptoms of Alcoholism/Addiction? Addiction quizzes. Addiction Support. How much alcohol is too much? Chances are, if someone is spending any time researching addiction, there is a concern present. Regardless of official diagnoses, these concerns merit attention.
“But I’ve never missed worked because of drugs or alcohol,” is a typical assertion of substance abusers. Certainly, missing work is a red flag, but so is showing up to work with a severe hangover or while under the influence. When drugs and alcohol impact your engagement level professionally, there is a problem.
Your friends and family are likely more attuned to your behaviors than your colleagues and when concern is expressed, you should listen. Addicts are often the last ones to recognize the severity of the problem and the potential damage their addiction is having on their relationships and other important aspects of their life. If a loved one notes a change in you socially, physically, or emotionally it is worth considering the role of drugs or alcohol in that change.
As drug and alcohol use progresses, it begins to take precedence over all else. Personal and professional goals are shifted to the back burner and then often fall off the radar entirely. Take a moment to reflect on where you are in terms of your ambitions. Consider physical health, professional satisfaction, relationships, spirituality, and recreation as you explore your overall well-being. If you are off course on one or more fronts, assess the role that your substance use plays in your dissatisfaction.
Prolonged drug and alcohol use can have a devastating impact on physical well-being. What begins as hangovers or mild withdrawal symptoms can evolve into more debilitating symptoms like liver disease, tremors, difficulties with coordination, brain shrinkage, and hallucinations. Experiencing any of these symptoms indicates the need for immediate medical consult.
The link between substance abuse and mental health problems like depression and anxiety has been validated by countless studies. While it can be difficult to pinpoint which came first – the addiction or the mood disorder – the two inevitably feed off one another. The sense of escape so often attributed to drug and alcohol use is illusory. Inevitably the initial “high” wears off and mental health symptoms resurface to an even greater magnitude. This pattern of self-medicating leads many addicts to believe they can’t function without these fleeting escapes.
If you find yourself contemplating treatment, but don’t know where to begin, you aren’t alone. A single internet search on recovery options returns a mind-boggling number of results. The key is to take small steps. Enlisting the help of a trusted friend or family member can prove a critical first step. If you aren’t comfortable disclosing your concerns to a loved one, consider connecting with a certified addiction specialist or dual diagnosis therapist. Allow a professional to gently guide you through the treatment options. Here are some articles that may also be helpful as you consider getting help with your addiction.
Spending just a few hours in an addiction group or online support community will normalize your efforts to absolve yourself of an addiction diagnosis. The pervasive social stigma associated with substance abuse deters countless addicts from seeking the treatment they need. But by minimizing symptoms and relying too heavily on the stereotypes of hard core addicts and alcoholics, you are doing yourself a disservice. If you ask yourself, “does my drug or alcohol use concern me?” and if the answer is “yes”, that is the only fact that merits consideration.
If you are contemplating treatment, but find yourself waiting for true “readiness,” you may never get the help that you need. Your reservations and fears are completely normal and will be a addressed by a comprehensive treatment program. Try not to equate asking for help with relinquishing control. By addressing the issue now, you are giving yourself an immeasurable gift and can remain in the driver’s seat of your own recovery. Entering addiction recovery is the beginning of your new life.
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Sobriety Coach, and former alcohol enthusiast living in Florida with her husband and son.