The feeling that you’re suffering from addiction issues can be a hard one to cope with. There’s a lot going on between personal concerns, social pressures, and even the way your body reacts to drugs or alcohol in your system. Also, you may want to look at the situation as a case where maybe you had a bad night or a bad patch, and the need to get help is limited.
Knowing the signs of addiction will allow you to wrap your head around what you’re actually dealing with, and it will help you start looking into recovery options that match your needs. These are some of the biggest signs of addiction that you should keep a watch out for:
- Declining control
- A want to quit without the ability to do so
- Significant time invested in obtaining drugs or alcohol
- Breakdowns of personal, professional, and romantic relationships
- Physical cravings
- Failures of responsibility
- Disinterest in other aspects of life
- A developed tolerance to the drugs you use
- Withdrawal symptoms
Once you see indications of at least two items on this list, you should consider how to get help. Even in circumstances that are relatively mild or that don’t seem self-destructive, taking the time to speak with a substance abuse counselor about addiction will help you get some insights.
How Your Brain Responds to Drugs and Alcohol
Drugs and alcohol have a documented ability to rewire the human brain and body. In particular, the neuroreceptor known as dopamine is critical to how we develop a functional ability to seek out rewarding experiences. In nature, dopamine serves the role of motivating us to seek:
- Compensation for work
- Community interaction
The problem with addiction is that drug and alcohol use can alter the way the brain maps rewards. This is what gives rise to the sense that drugs are in control and that you are not. Over time, energies that you once directed toward positive interactions become largely about getting drugs or getting a fix.
Making this worse is that many people who have addiction issues develop them in social settings, often at bars, at clubs, or among their friends. These social interactions can become so intertwined with drug use that entire relationships end up completely based on drugs. Soon, people start cutting out those who don’t support their lifestyle, and a feedback loop of rewards built around drugs can end up being heavily reinforced.
Outward Indicators of Addiction
Looking at yourself and seeing the signs of addiction can be a wake-up call. Many people who have addiction issues display:
- Unkempt hair
- Clothes that haven’t been changed recently
- Poorly coordinated outfits
- Long-sleeve clothing to hide marks from IV drug use
- Inappropriate use of sunglasses
Physical changes also occur. For example, many people who suffer from heroin addiction end up losing weight because the drug can shut down the digestive tract to the point they no longer want to eat. Other drugs have similar effects, often functioning as substitutes for food in how the body perceives rewards. Complicating this issue is that the early stages of drug-related weight loss can seem like something positive, and the disturbing part only shows up later as the weight continues to be shed long past the point where it looks healthy.
As you think about where you might need to get help, try to be serious about how your appearance may have changed. Look back at old photos and make comparisons. You may be shocked to see how different you look now.
Others Don’t Think You Have a Problem
One of the biggest challenges you can face as you try to get help is that not everyone may see it. Some are well-meaning individuals, and others are folks who may be enmeshed in your addiction cycle. There are also plenty of cases where high-functioning addicts just do a really good job of keeping their problems under wraps. Working with a professional to assess your situation is a good way to get an unbiased perspective.
It’s easy to get caught in the trap of picturing the standard junkie we see on television and in films. However, addicts come from all walks of life, and it’s common in recovery programs to meet people like:
- High-achieving college students who have abused amphetamines to power through study sessions
- Weekend partiers who frame drug use as a reward for getting through work, school, and family events
- Social drinkers who have built their entire base of friends around drinking alcohol
- Medical workers who have formed addictions due to having access to prescription lockers
- Laborers who got hooked on painkillers following job site accidents
- People who became addicted to opioids after getting hydrocodone for pain following wisdom teeth extractions
Many of these folks are seen as far off from the guy on the street looking to score a hit. This can perpetuate a notion that in order to need a recovery program, a person has to be a messy addict. Unfortunately, some of the worst addiction patterns often follow people who are skilled at hiding them.
The Myth of Hitting Rock Bottom
Few dangerous stereotypes involving drugs and alcohol are as ingrained in the cultural imagination as “hitting rock bottom.” It’s at best a cliché that lazy fiction writers reach for to create cheap drama. The idea is that a person, in order to get help, has to wreck their lives to the point that they are:
- Incomplete financial distress or outright homeless
- Out of contact with friends and family members
- Struggling to pay their bills
- Unable to look themselves in the mirror
The problem with this is that plenty of high-functioning addicts can keep the rough outlines of a stable life together for a long time. Similarly, what counts as rock bottom? Is it waiting until an EMT has to dose you with naloxone to pull you out of an opioid overdose?
It’s time to get help when you see that something is wrong. In fact, it has been shown that the sense that coercion played a role in someone going to rehab can significantly undermine the process. Coercion extends far beyond the idea that a judge ordered you into rehab. Many patients cited the feeling that family members had guilt-tripped them to get help as a reason for why they didn’t get along with counselors and staff members at recovery centers. Going into recovery is a personal choice, and it works best when you come to it based on your own observations and assessments.
Going It Alone
Quitting cold turkey is another attitude that’s deeply embedded in our common view of addiction. In our earlier list of signs of addiction, wanting to quit and not being able to do so was an indication that you might have trouble.
The perception that quitting cold turkey is the go-to solution is shaped by the fact that a number of people can stop using drugs or alcohol without professional assistance. However, this is not always the case, and many people are dealing with issues that are beyond their control. About 50 percent of the factors in addiction formation are hereditary. In particular, addiction appears to run in families as evidenced by a study that showed siblings with parents who struggled with substance use disorders were more likely to become addicts themselves.
A study of people who had substance use disorder symptoms in their teenage years or 20s found that at least 60 percent of them had stopped using drugs or alcohol without professional intervention. They simply quit because they got too old for it, they got bored, their friends moved on, or life in some other way simply made drugs less of thing.
Unfortunately, that means there’s still about 40 percent of people who continue their substance use disorder. If you are among this group, you may suffer signs of chemical dependency that lead to withdrawal symptoms. Those who have become addicted to cocaine, for example, can experience withdrawal cravings within 90 minutes of last getting a fix. Individuals with full-on alcohol problems can experience dangerous symptoms during the withdrawal process.
If you’re at that the point that withdrawal symptoms appear when you haven’t gotten a fix, it’s wise to pursue recovery in a supervised setting. At this stage, you may need to go to an inpatient program that has 24/7 nursing staff on duty and other support options available. A counselor can assess your situation and give you a better idea of whether you require this level of care.
Other concerns that often come up during recovery are related to physical disabilities, injuries, and mental illness. For example, an individual who developed an opioid addiction after undergoing advanced back surgery and receiving strong painkillers will still have pain management problems after they’ve kicked a drug habit. It requires the support of a qualified professional to arrive at what options, such as switching to methadone, may be desirable under the circumstances.
Similar issues arise with individuals who may have comorbid addiction and mental health concerns. It’s common, for example, that someone with an undiagnosed mental illness like anxiety will lean on drugs as a form of self-medication. Additionally, it can be difficult to sort out withdrawal symptoms when someone has been heavily using multiple drugs.
There will also be questions about how a person’s body will hold up. A physically disabled patient with a drug problem may not be able to cope with the physical symptoms of withdrawal in an unsupervised setting. Those with age-related problems may be in a similar situation. Fortunately, there are recovery centers that specialize in working with clients who have issues alongside addictions.
How to Get Help
A positive aspect of the recent heroin epidemic in the U.S. is that society as a whole is more open to talking about recovery. Schools now have programs in place to help students find resources. Hospitals and health clinics also can connect you with professionals, and many of those even have processes in place for their own staff members to address their addiction concerns. The courts and law enforcement personnel are now more open to voluntary entry into recovery as an alternative to jail time for nonviolent offenders.
Your first goal should be to find out where you can get help. Working from what you’ve read here, you can then try to explain to a professional what signs of addiction you’re seeing in your life. Remember that recovery is a process that stays with you long after you’ve checked out of rehab. Relapses can and do happen; the key is to remain committed to getting better. Stay focused on your well-being and physical health, and in time, you will begin to see the better future that’s ahead of you.