By Patrick O’Neil, Group Facilitator, CAST Centers
“Hey I just use occasionally, I’m not addicted. I can stop anytime I want. I just don’t want to.” Sound familiar? Addicts tend to rationalize their using and sometimes it’s hard for them to recognize that their “recreational” use has turned into dependency. Instead of seeking help and stopping, they make excuses. They cross all those “I’ll never do that” lines. They tell themselves if their drug use ever turned into addiction they would know it—only it’s not always that easy.
Here are 10 Ways To Know If You Are Struggling With Addiction:
1. Cravings: When you think about using you have euphoric recall. Your memories are positive and they are mostly the first few times you got high and it was fun. This causes intense feelings that border on nostalgia. You remember the “good times” and not the negative repercussions and consequences that are the inevitable result of addiction. These memories come at you non-stop and they are relentless and it feels like your entire body is screaming for drugs. Certain people, places, emotions, and social situations trigger these cravings and they become overwhelming and all consuming. If you are experiencing these types of intense cravings then you’ve most likely crossed over from occasional use to addiction.
2. Loss of Interest: Things that used to give you pleasure no longer have meaning. You think of doing something fun and all you can focus on is doing more drugs. You might have loved your career, but now it’s another thing you have to do and it’s getting in the way of using drugs. Addiction has altered the chemistry in your brain. Not only does it make the times when you don’t have drugs worse, but it also makes it harder for the smaller pleasures to trigger the same reactions they used to. Addiction controls your mind’s reward system and it doesn’t allow anything else to get in. You go through the motions of your former life, but you’re apathetic and complacent, and nothing brings joy.
3. Lying: You didn’t used to lie. In fact for the most part you were a pretty honest person. But these days you have so many secrets around your drug use it’s hard to remember what you told people and instead of telling them the truth it’s easier to just keep lying. You disappear to score and use drugs, your family and friends want to know where you’ve been, and you tell them the store, the gym, visiting another friend, or whatever lie you can come up with. You justify your lying by telling yourself that you’re doing this to protect their feelings. Only you’re really just lying to avoid confrontation. It’s become so ingrained in your behavior you discover that now you’re even lying when you could’ve just as easily been honest. But the worst part is you’re addicted and lying to yourself about it.
4. Isolating: You tell yourself that you’ve always been a loner because it’s hard to interact with people. You use drugs to make you feel less lonely and gradually detach from everyone around you. The more you use the less connected you feel and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You want to be left alone so that you can do more drugs. You’re putting up a huge barrier, becoming more and more isolated, and it’s a lonely place to be.
5. Sleep: Depending on your drug of choice, sleep is a huge indicator that your drug use has moved into the addiction category. Whether you’re smoking meth, haven’t slept in a week, and are starting to hallucinate; or you’ve been nodding on Vicodin, not really sleeping, just sort of coming in and out of consciousness—you are not experiencing any actual deep sleep—the stage where your body repairs and restores your muscles and body tissue. You are literally sleep deprived, which causes fatigue, and negatively affects your creativity and mental performance. You start to crave real sleep and take more drugs in the hopes that it will help, only it doesn’t because you’re addicted and you now have what the medical field designates as a substance-induced sleep disorder.
6. Physical Appearance: You look in the mirror. There’s a gaunt hollow-eyed version of yourself staring back, and you’re shocked by what you see. You’ve stopped bathing and your skin has a glistening sheen. You buy makeup to cover your acne and the dark bags under your eyes. Friends and family comment on how you look and you make excuses: you’ve been sick or having trouble sleeping. You start to avoid social gatherings because you don’t want to continue making these same excuses. Only you can’t make any excuses to yourself that you will actually believe so you eventually stop looking in the mirror.
7. Mood Swings: You may feel as if you’re the most likeable person on the planet when you’re high. But when you can’t get your drugs you definitely are not. It’s the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. You get unstable during withdrawal or even when you are just coming down off drugs. Your depression and anxiety kick in and your mood swings are erratic and unpredictable. Family and friends check to see which “you” they are dealing with before engaging. You’re irritable, or happy, or talking about suicide, or laughing and upbeat and everyone’s best friend. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions and you may not be able to see that addiction is affecting you this way, but everyone else can.
8. Troubled Relationships: “I’ve got a habit to feed, I just don’t have time for you.” This may sound exaggerated, but it’s not far from the truth. When you’re addicted to drugs the drugs come first. It’s not that you don’t love or care about your significant other, family, or friends. It’s just that you care more for your drugs. They’ve replaced your friends and family and have become your lover. Intimacy and trust levels are impacted. The chance of emotional and physical abuse with your partner increases. The more addicted you become the more your relationships start to fail. “It’s not you, it’s me,” becomes your reality.
9. Health: You neglect yourself. You neglect your health. You smoke so much you have “meth mouth” and your teeth are falling out. Your liver is shot and your skin looks gray and your body is covered in scabs. Your all day cannabis habit has caused lung issues and you need an inhaler. Your overall health is at an all time low and that’s not including your depression and anxiety. Life expectancy in the United States has declined for two years in a row, mainly due to deaths from the opioid epidemic. Drug overdoses, suicides, and chronic liver disease are the common causes of deaths among addicts. You say, “I’m not hurting anyone using drugs,” but the truth is your addiction is killing you.
10. Attitude: You don’t see the glass as half full – you see it knocked over and the contents puddled on the floor. You think everyone is a hypocrite, because you are, and you know you’re lying, so they must be as well. You hate life and everyone in it. You’re bitter, resentful, and you’re not even remotely positive or even hopefully. Your attitude wasn’t always this bleak, it’s just your addiction talking, and you better listen.