One area of work I particularly have a lot of interest in and have learned a lot about is addiction. There are a lot of opinions out there on addiction, and I would like to share mine based on my experiences with addicts.
- Addiction can be genetic, and this can come out in many different ways. The disease of addiction, as a whole, can be genetic. For example- let’s say my father is an alcoholic, that is his addiction. I am susceptible to any kind of addiction, not just alcoholism. So I may not drink alcohol but I am more opt to be addicted to porn, shopping, gambling, etc… Interesting, isn’t it?! Keep in mind, though, that there are many circumstances where an individual’s addiction does not stem from their genetics, but from the environment they are in.
- Some addicts replace one addiction with another. Let’s say an alcoholic is trying to keep their mind off of walking down the block to their favorite bar. They may try doing something else to keep their mind off of it- like online shopping. So yes it’s great that they are not drinking, as that is super challenging itself, however, a new addiction then takes over. This is common with smoking. I have seen a lot of alcoholics be successful in discontinuing their habit, but start smoking cigarettes to help ease the stress they are feeling.
- Praise addicts for their sobriety! Whether it’s 1 day or 10 years that is something to be proud of! Any amount of time sober is difficult and deserves to be recognized. Don’t get upset with yourself or someone you know who stays sober for 2 weeks and then “slips”. Two weeks is a step in the right direction. Be proud.
- Recovering addicts must focus on themselves, which to us may appear to be, well, selfish. In my opinion, recovering addicts are recovering for their whole life. Personally, I do not believe people are no longer addicts even if they are sober 20 years. Addiction is a disease of the brain and recovering addicts need to be conscious of their decisions to not trigger themself to want to break their sobriety. In recovery, people need to really focus on what triggers them(certain people, places, smells, etc) . You may have a friend with an addiction who no longer wants to hang out, or often takes charge of what your plans are. They are not trying to be rude or bossy. It’s because their recovery must come first. Their life cannot be fulfilled if they are using, so making the decisions themselves and focusing on their own needs is the best way for them to ensure they are not going to use.
- Addiction is a disease of the brain. This is not a choice, people! Chronic addicts are working around the clock to get that next high. They are constantly thinking about how to get their next fix because the disease tells their brain and body they need it. That’s exhausting work, 24 hours a day. What addict would want to choose their addiction over their family? They wouldn’t. They have a disease and need help. Let me tell you that it is heartbreaking watching addicts go down a path where they are more opt to loose their job or family, and other valuable things. If addicts could function without their brains telling them they need something, they would rarely choose to lose the things that mean the most to them.
- Chronic addicts often lie, a lot. Lying and addiction go hand-in-hand. When I have worked with addicts in the past, they typically would say their family knew if they were using again because they started again with the lies. Addicts will typically want to hide their using, so lying becomes the only way they know how to communicate. It almost acts as a second addiction, and is very hard to break. Addicts want to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions. Lying may assist is helping addicts feel in control because they have manipulated others into believing them. Typically, lies also are ways in which addicts stay in denial. A lot of times they are trying to convince themselves more than they are trying to convince us.
- Withdrawals are extremely painful and exhausting. Take the worst flu you’ve ever had a times that by 100, seriously. It’s unimaginable . And speaking of withdrawals, the only drug you can die from strictly through the withdrawal process is alcohol which makes quitting cold turkey really difficult and potentially dangerous. This is not to be confused with an overdose as most drugs can cause death with an overdose.
- People never believe me when I tell them you can experience withdrawals from weed, but it’s true. Or how about caffeine? I bet if you tried stopping caffeine for a week your head would hurt constantly during the weaning process! Caffeine and weed do cause withdrawals and you are able to become addicted. Yes, weed is an addictive drug. Sorry to all you “green” folks out there- it’s true. Your mind and body crave the stuff just like any other drug. I have worked with numerous individuals who needed rehab for weed and it is a difficult, long process for them.
- One thing I always recommend for addicts or family members of addicts is to take things slowly. Even thinking about a full day- taking things 24 hours at a time- may feel impossible to an addict. That can be overwhelming and scary. Sometimes, addicts need to take one minute at a time and just focus on each minute specifically. That is okay! Help them in the process. If they are making steps to change that is a huge step in the right direction. Help guide them in that direction and be a positive support. They need encouragement and love, and will appreciate it! Patience is key in this step.
- Behind addiction is typically a lot of hurt. Many addicts start using for a reason, sometimes not even knowing why until they dig a little deeper into their past. Some addicts use their addiction as a self-medication technique. Whether they want to forget about something that happened, avoid a situation, avoid their feelings, etc. Drugs and alcohol, and other forms of addiction, can be a great self-medicator and it quickly becomes an addiction before one may even realize it.
So there you have it- things I have learned through working with addicts. Be kind, be patient. You cannot change an addict, they must want the change themselves. You cannot work harder than they do in their recovery, which is difficult for a lot of close family members and friends to accept. When they come to the realization that they want to be sober it can be life changing, and they will need your support. Be the support they need.