Drug addiction is a treatable problem. The first step is admitting that your drug use (which probably started as casual and enjoyable) has become an all too important part of your life. There are many different types of drug addictions and some are more destructive than others – for example, an addiction to methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, or opioids is truly life-threatening.
If you are addicted to a drug, you crave it intensely and organize your life around getting it. Your desire and need for the drug take precedence over other parts of your life. You may lose control over your use of the drug, taking it more frequently and in increasing amounts, even though you know it is unsafe. You may feel that it is impossible to stop using the drug, even though it is causing enormous problems in your life.
Historically, our culture stigmatizes and judges addiction, but I believe it is important to start with the understanding that this is not a path that anyone ever sets out to take by choice. Finding yourself with an addiction to drugs feels awful, but it is never too late to change, heal, and redirect your life to a more purpose-driven path.
The first step in that direction is realizing that your use of drugs no longer serves a purpose or solves a problem but has, in fact, created bigger problems in your life.
There are three main reasons why people start using drugs:
- Recreational use – to lift yourself up from everyday life.
- Self-medication – to dull or drown emotional or mental or physical discomfort or pain.
- Performance enhancement – because you believe that the substance helps you to do what you do better, whether socially, mentally or physically.
Addiction Changes Your Brain
One reason addiction develops is that your habitual drug use has actually changed your brain and altered its reward circuitry. This is the reason why abstinence – completely staying away from your drug of choice – is so difficult, especially at first. With time and treatment, however, it’s possible to heal and overcome your addiction. It’s never too late. Within about 90 days (more or less), the brain begins to adjust and you will start to feel like yourself again.
It’s important to realize, however, that abstinence – not using your drug — does not mean the same thing as sobriety. Sobriety equals abstinence plus “recovery,” which is to track down and address your reasons for using drugs or alcohol in the first place. Recovery is the work that has to be done to understand why you got where you did, what unresolved issues you need to figure out, and what holes you need to fill … and then doing so.
Do you have an addiction?
It’s fair to say that your drug use has become an addiction if taking the drug has become a repetitive, habitual behavior that is destructive to the quality of your life.
Below, you will find information that medical doctors use to identify people with substance abuse and substance dependence. With your journal, take some time to think about each of the criteria listed and how it relates to your life … and then go through the list again with an important shift: Pretend you are a person to whom you are close (your spouse or lover or best friend or parent or child or perhaps your employer) and write down what you think they’d say if asked whether this criteria describes you.
Write down each statement … your thoughts and feelings from each perspective … and then write a paragraph about how you feel when you’ve completed the exercise.
Substance abuse is the diagnosis if one or more of the following criteria are met within a 12-month period:
- Recurrent substance use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, home, or school.
- Recurrent substance use in situations where it is physically hazardous (for instance, while driving a car).
- Recurrent substance-related legal problems.
- Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened by use of the substance (such as arguments with your spouse or children).
Dependence is defined as experiencing at least three of the following criteria within a 12-month period:
- Experiencing tolerance, defined as either a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effect or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount.
- Experiencing withdrawal, as evidence by either the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance or when medication is taken to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
- The substance is taken in larger amounts or over a longer time period than originally intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.
- A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance (you spend a lot of time thinking about it, how you are going to get it and when you can have/use it).
- Important social, occupational or recreational activities are neglected or abandoned because of substance use.
- The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent psychological or physical problem related to substance use.