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Drug Addiction and Discovering Solutions
Drugs and addictions are rampant in our culture, but not limited to drugs and alcohol alone. In addition to substances, people can be addicted to behaviors such as eating, sex, gambling, shopping, the internet, or relationships. The reason people turn to compulsive behaviors is the same: to escape or distract themselves from pain. No one likes to hurt or suffer, yet pain is a part of life, just like happiness, sadness, and fear. Escape, while it may seem attractive, prevents us from growing, learning, and developing and it doesn't solve the problems that are causing the pain. Usually, escape makes our problems worse or creates new ones. Finding licensed help can be tough, but not impossible.
An often overlooked addiction is known as co-dependence, where someone is overly focused on another person and puts someone else's needs above his or her own. Co-dependence is frequently seen in relationships where one person is addicted to a substance or behavior and the other person is addicted to them. It manifests in the partner's excusing or overlooking addictive, abusive, or irresponsible behavior and placating or pacifying the other person at the expense of one's own happiness.
Living with someone who relies on substances or compulsive behaviors as the means of coping with life's problems can be extremely difficult. For positive change to occur, ultimately the person with the unhealthy coping tools needs to get help for himself or herself. But for help to happen, the person's partner must stop enabling and begin his or her own process of recovery from co-dependence. The partner must begin to put his or her own needs first and set limits around what behavior will and will not be tolerated from a partner. He/she must begin to seek and find personal satisfaction and not depend on his/her partner to fulfill all needs. When the addicted person understands that his or her partner is not going to allow and enable the addiction to continue, he or she will have to choose between addressing the problem or losing the relationship.
Common Types of Addictions
Substance addictions include, but are not limited to the following: caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, stimulants, prescription drugs, and steroids.
Behavior addictions can include: shopping, gambling, eating, compulsive internet use, compulsive sexual behaviors, and self-mutilation (or "cutting").
Signs & symptoms of addiction
It can be very difficult to tell if someone has a substance abuse problem. In the past, addiction was defined primarily by physiological measures: tolerance and withdrawal. In the past few decades, the definition has expanded to include:
- Taking the substance in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended
- Desire to use or unsuccessful efforts to reduce or control use
- A great deal of time spent in obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of a substance
- Failing to meet important social, family, or occupational obligations, reducing or abandoning recreational activities
- Continued use despite adverse consequences
- High tolerance
A shorthand way to identify a substance abuse problem is known as the 3 Cs:
- Compulsion or Craving (an inordinate focus on obtaining or using the substance)
- Loss of Control (using more or for longer than intended)
- Continued use despite adverse consequences (loss of job, relationships, money)
Symptoms of behavioral addiction:
- Compulsively lying to family members
- Inability to meet living expenses
- Hiding gambling and/or shopping losses from family members
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed or confused
- Giving up or limiting important social, occupational or recreational activities because of the addictive behavior
- Being dishonest about computer and Internet use
- Experiencing anxiety, insomnia, irritability, mood swings or depression when unable to indulge in addictive behavior
What you can do right now
The first thing the addict must do is admit there is a problem. Admitting is hard because one of the hallmarks of addiction is denial, a defense mechanism that prevents the addict from seeing or acknowledging the negative effects that substance use or addictive behavior has on his or her life. Denial emanates from the shame that people feel when they know their addictive behavior is dominating their lives. Acknowledging a substance abuse problem or behavioral addiction to oneself or others can make one feel that he or she is weak and incapable of withstanding the everyday challenges of life.
If you are in a relationship with an addict, the most important thing you can do is to get help and develop a support system for yourself. A support system can include family and friends, groups and therapy.
Change is possible, though very challenging. Many people have recovered and are recovering from substance abuse, behavioral addictions, and codependence. It is a choice we make, whether consciously or unconsciously, to stay in unhealthy, unhappy relationships and lives, or do the hard work necessary to change, grow, and become the satisfied, fulfilled, productive, creative, caring, and loving people we are meant to be.
Articles: [PDF Files]
Reference material: [PDF Files]
California Department of Mental Health
National Drug & Alcohol Treatment Hotline
Eric Denner, MFT