What image does the word addict conjure up in your mind? Are you thinking of the stereotypical movie character who is trembling in an alley night after night looking for a “fix”? Most people believe that an addict is easily identifiable by their disheveled looks, by their inability to function in day-to-day life, or by recognizable constant “loaded” behaviors. This picture of addiction is simply untrue; and the danger of believing in the movie character addict persona is what can allow a person to continue in a dangerous pattern of addiction unaware.
But how could someone not know they are an addict?! Denial is a defense mechanism widely used in addiction. As long as one can rationalize numbing behaviors, telling themselves, for example, “I only use recreationally” or “I can stop anytime” or “I really do have pain my doctor doesn’t understand”- then that person can continue to use without admitting the severity of the problem. When a brain’s neuro-chemistry has been altered to crave a substance or behavior that numbs or produces pleasure, powerful thought structures are activated to allow for relief of the craving. Denial is a very effective tool for the addicted brain to employ: the craving is satisfied and the user is not guilty or concerned on a conscious level.
The truth is that addiction is not defined by the frequency or amount of use. Addiction is simply an inability to stop satisfying a craving to numb through a behavior or use of a substance, no matter how infrequent. Physical withdrawal has historically been thought of as the sign of addiction. In fact, marijuana, though there is little physical withdrawal because of the amount of time it takes for the body to eliminate the drug, can be incredibly psychologically addictive and difficult to quit- even for the occasional user. Behaviors, such as gambling, binge eating, pornography watching, or cutting, similarly don’t cause “the shakes” when not used for extended periods of time. But all can be powerfully addictive, even when engaged in infrequently.
The first step to conquering any addiction is admitting you have a problem. That is step one in any 12-step program, and it’s the only realization that will get an addict to contemplate seeking help. Addicts must get out of denial! On Narcotics Anonymous website (www.na.org), offers a self-test called “Am I an Addict?” It is meant to open the eyes of substance-abuse users who may be living in denial, but the questions can easily be applied to numbing behaviors, as well. Some question examples:
- Have you ever taken one drug to overcome the effects of another?
- Do you avoid people who do not approve of drug use?
- Do you put the purchase of a drug above other financial responsibilities?
- Does using make your home life unhappy?
- Have you ever tried to stop or slow down your drug use?
- Has drug use ever affected work or school performance?
- Do you have irrational fears? Have you ever questioned your sanity?
- Do you feel guilty or ashamed about your drug use?
- Have you ever taken drugs you don’t prefer?
- Have you experienced negative consequences from drug use, but used again?
- Do you think you may have a drug problem?
If reading these questions triggers any feelings of concern, familiarity, or anxiety, don’t panic. Recovery from any addiction is possible! The very first, huge step is available to you right now simply by admitting there is a problem. That’s it! From there, help and treatment is available. At Wasatch Family Therapy, an assessment session will gently help you identify the work you need to do for recovery. In many cases, treatment can happen with an understanding and trained therapist on staff. In some cases, a referral to a trusted rehabilitation facility might be in your best interest. In all cases, though, there is hope and freedom in your future when you decide you are ready to break free from the denial and pain of addiction.
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