Recognising addiction in yourself or others isn’t as easy as it may sound. Very few of us can honestly say that they have never had a few drinks too many and woken up with a headache the following day, or that they have never poured themselves another glass of wine because they had a stressful day at work. A lot of people will have experimented with drugs at some point in their lives, and this doesn’t necessarily mean that they were addicts. Then, some addictions, like smoking, are more socially acceptable than others, and may not be identified as a problem.
So how do you know when your experimentation is no longer a “phase” and you, or someone you know, need help? Addictions vary considerably in nature and focus but what they have in common is that they control the individual affected who engages in the behaviour or substance abuse because they MUST; and they cannot stop themselves. Addiction is also degenerative and gradually increases its hold on the addict’s life.
In addition, addicts are most often both in denial and very skilled at hiding the signs of their dependency, some of them functioning satisfactorily in everyday life. However, there are some tell-tale signs which can reveal early on that you need addiction treatment.
It may be difficult to spot this issue early on, as behaviour may not be overly altered, and drinking and smoking, for example, are part of normal socialisation rituals. Furthermore, it could be nothing more than an experimental phase, or, especially for teenagers, about peer pressure and not wanting to look uncool. However, if you are finding yourself seeking opportunities to indulge into a specific activity or to use a substance repeatedly, and with excess, then these may be indications that you are developing an addiction.
Alienation and Secrets
Once the early phase of addiction has settled, more revealing signs will appear. Progressively, the substance abuse takes a firmer hold on the individual’s life who will frequently start avoiding situations and people which hinder their ability to satisfy it, such as family and friends, who also know them well and may notice changes in them, while surrounding themselves with people who will facilitate or encourage their addiction.
As the addiction starts playing a more prominent role, addicts will start planning their life around it – when can I have the next drink?, my next fix? – and other activities, such as going to school or work, will become an obstacle. Missing work, going back on commitments in order to be able to engage in your addictive behaviour is indubitably a sign.
Addicts will also go to great lengths to hide their problem, so if you find yourself concealing where you were the other day, hiding empty bottles of alcohol, or not telling the truth about why you are looking unwell, you probably have an issue and should seek help.
In the early stages, the change in behaviour may be subtle and infrequent, but as the addiction progresses, it will become more marked. Unfortunately, relationship breakdowns are not uncommon where addiction is concerned, with addicts drifting apart and becoming distant and possibly hostile when confronted about their problem.
Loss of control
Until an addict has recognised that they have a problem, they will be in denial and will have themselves convinced that they could stop if they chose to. If you think you may be dependent on alcohol for example, try pouring out all your bottles in the sink. If it makes you feel anxious, or you are unable to do it, then it is time to admit to yourself that you are an addict.
Whether the dependency is psychological or substance based, addicts’ energy will be devoted to satisfying their addiction and they may lose interest in their appearance and neglect personal hygiene.
In the case of substance abuse, more obvious signs will be noticeable, such as unexplained bruising or injuries, a weaker immune system leading to repeated illnesses and fatigue. Some parts of the human body are particularly susceptible to damage from drug abuse, and the skin, hair, teeth and nails of an addict will often be in poor condition, the more so the more potent the drug is.
In most cases, the individual’s personality and mental health will also be affected. If you experience mood swings, depression or present defensive, irritable behaviour, especially when someone hints that you have changed or that you have a problem, then it is quite likely that you indeed have a problem and that it may be time to consider talking to professionals.
If you think you, or someone you know, need help to overcome an addiction, contact Robert Street Clinic or call us on 09 973 5950. We offer comprehensive addition counselling in Auckland, with specialists in addiction treatment.