Recognizing an addict
The problem of alcohol and drug addiction is so widespread that it’s a rare person indeed who doesn’t have a close personal relationship with someone who isn’t experiencing some problems with either drugs or alcohol.
It’s highly likely that alcoholism or addiction affects one of your family members or close friends, and while you may suspect something is amiss, it’s often a challenge to distinguish between someone who’s just “moody” and someone who is struggling with serious health- and life-threatening chemical dependence.
Drug and alcohol addiction is not just a bad habit; it’s a chronic brain disorder that affects such basic life essentials as impulse control, learning ability, and memory retention. The most obvious symptoms of addiction include irrational and uncontrollable urges to acquire and consume alcohol or drugs, even in the face of hugely negative and unavoidable personal consequences. The threat of incarceration isn’t even enough to deter addictive behaviors, as proven by the vast numbers of daily drug busts.
Recognizing whether a relative, friend, or loved one is an addict can be complicated by the substance driving the addiction, the presence of co-occurring drug use, the duration of use, and the physiology of the individual user. While it can be difficult to determine the presence of addiction to a specific substance, there are some general signs of dependency:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Unpredictable or unmotivated mood swings
- Weight gain or loss
- Increased or diminished appetite
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Behavioral problems
- A change in social contacts
- Failure to maintain relationships
Driving these indicators, there is a vast panoply of neurological and psychological symptoms profoundly affecting the behavior and well-being of the addict of which others may be unaware. Depending on the addictive substance (alcohol, opioids, amphetamines, ketamines, LSD, marijuana), those symptoms have a complex and wide range, including:
- Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
- Drowsiness, impaired coordination
- Seizures, convulsions, tremors, and muscle cramps
- Restlessness and insomnia
- Infections and abscesses
- Constipation, liver and kidney disease
- Distorted sensory perception
- Confusion, memory loss
- Hallucinations and paranoia
- Anxiety, hypersensitivity, violent behaviors
When you see these signs and symptoms in someone you know, absent a serious medical condition, they are likely addicted to any number of drugs and they are in real danger.
There are four questions that can help you determine if someone close to you is addicted:
- Does your friend or loved one talk about having to cut down or cut back on his or her alcohol or drug use? If so, they are recognizing a problem at some level. Often for several years before a person comes to treatment, they have tried a number of methods to self-regulate their alcohol and drug use in order to continue use without problems. You can help your friend or loved one see this is not working, that it’s not a failure of willpower but a need for treatment. Because you understands this, you can help them not confuse the shame of addiction with the underlying medical condition behind the loss of control and need for treatment.
- When you ask your friend or loved one about their alcohol or drug use, does this lead to annoyance or anger? Does it seem like they’re defending something they need, rather than something they can simply indulge in or not…at will?
- Has the alcohol or drug caused your friend or loved one problems they regret (even if they don’t want to talk about it)? Focusing the blame for those problems on the drug or alcohol, rather than seeing themselves as weak, will motivate them to seek help.
- Has the time involved in taking or using the alcohol or drug crept into the daytime or even the morning? This indicates a major progression of their problem and a need for help.
We all have the best of intentions when we help a friend try to fix all the problems caused by addiction. But when we focus on those problems and not on the underlying cause distracts everyone from the true, underlying issue: the addiction itself. We need to avoid “fixing things” and thereby enabling the problems caused by addiction. The best option is to get the addicted individual to the point of seeking help as early as possible, when more of their life remains intact, rather than waiting to reach out for treatment only when all is lost.
While it’s true that some recreational drug users manage to avoid addiction, many are highly susceptible to losing control and becoming habituated and dependent upon the overstimulation of their brain’s dopamine circuitry. A series of complex factors often point to one’s risk of addiction:
- Exposure to drugs at an early age can affect brain development and short-circuit self-control and decision-making abilities.
- Psychological reactions to the environment can create debilitating stresses that are temporarily relieved by alcohol or drug use.
- Personal biology, genetic makeup, and cognitive or neurological disorders often lead the way toward addiction.
Is there truly a cure for addiction?
No, there is no “magic pill” that eliminates an addict’s urges, but like some other chronic diseases—asthma, arthritis, diabetes—there is effective treatment for addiction and there are ways to successfully manage it. The most positive treatment involves a combination of individualized social and behavioral therapies, frequently in concert with medicines proven to sublimate and control the urge to use or drink. Successful outcomes evolve when new patterns of behavior and positive self-perspectives are established, and that requires consistent effort over time. There may not be a “quick fix,” but addiction can be treated and complete recovery can be achieved and maintained.
The team at Recovery Road Medical Center is eager to put you on the path to
your personal recovery where a fulfilling and productive life is waiting for you.
Call us anytime at (805) 962-7800.