Many people first become concerned about their alcohol or other drug use or that of another person because of some negative consequence.
Legal difficulties resulting from driving while intoxicated or drugged out, assault, or domestic violence may bring attention to a chemical problem.
Loss of employment or broken relationships may also lead us or others to question our use of chemicals. Frequently a family member, friend or employer may say something about the amount of our drinking or drugging. These are signs for us to take a closer look at our chemical use.
If we are SOCIAL USERS, we can take it or leave it.
If we are CHEMICAL ABUSERS, we may go through a stage of consuming intoxicating amounts and then moderate or limit our use or lose interest altogether.
If we are ADDICTS, we lose control of our chemical use and continue to drink and drug despite negative consequences. It is difficult to accurately assess the level of abuse or addiction in ourselves or someone we know. Anger, fear, denial and concerns about what others may think can make us misinterpret or “play down” what we see. Many of us may also be concerned about being labelled an addict or an alcoholic.
Can I take it or leave it?
Some of us question whether we really have a problem with alcohol and other drugs or are just “social users”. Social users rarely have consequences associated with alcohol or other drug use. They have little desire to use alcohol or other drugs to intoxication – to wipe themselves out! They may say, “Oh, I hate that feeling of being out of control”. They may leave a drink half finished. Their lives do not revolve around chemical use. The people they associate with are unlikely to be heavy abusers or addicts. Alcohol and other drugs simply are not an issue in their lives.
Crossing the line into addiction
Addiction is a complex disease with psychological, environmental, social, spiritual and physiological components. How do we know if we have crossed the line into addiction? Do we identify with having problems with alcohol or other drugs?
Remember this important point: We don’t willingly choose to be addicted. Most people don’t want that label or lifestyle. Because of the stigma, we are not anxious to admit to having any kind of problem with drugs or alcohol.
Addiction knows no age or gender restrictions. Rich or poor, old or young, regardless of intelligence level, everyone is susceptible. Many alcoholics and addicts started out as social users. They progressed to abuse users. Their level of abuse increased. Somewhere along the way they “crossed the line” into addiction.
Some became addicted early into their use, perhaps almost immediately.
Others used for years before experiencing problems. They wonder how they could have used for so long without consequences and then suddenly spiralled downward. Some are able to stop at will – but it’s the inability to stay “stopped” that’s the criteria for substance abuse.
Where are we along that sequence? Have we tried to convince ourselves that we are social users? Do we really have a problem with alcohol or other drugs?
There are many kinds of denial besides saying outright, “I don’t have a problem.” Or pointing the finger at others and blaming them… You’ve got to remember that there are three more fingers pointing back at you! We need to look at our behavior and our thinking and, if we are concerned about addiction, we need to be rigorously honest with ourselves.
Common Traits of Addiction
Addiction has three main characteristics: Loss of control, denial and proccupation.
Loss of control
Those of us addicted to mood altering chemicals don’t have the luxury of making a choice about our chemical use. The biggest difference between abuse and dependency is that, as alcohol and drug dependents, we have lost the ability to control our chemical use. We say that we are powerless over alcohol and other drugs. Powerlessness means being unable to predict or to control the outcome when we use or how much we may use at any given time.
- We cannot guarantee our behavior after using and abusing drugs and alcohol.
- We cannot predict how much we will use. We swear in God’s name that we’ll just have a few, and we honestly believe that. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
- We find ourselves using more and more – a condition called tolerance.
- We have vowed to quit our use on several occasions but have been able to stop only for a short period or not at all. We tell ourselves that if we can stop for three months, we are not an addict or alcoholic. If we accomplish our goal, we immediately go back to drinking or drugging.
A major obstacle to recognizing our addiction is denial. We tend to minimize or deny the effect our dependency has on others or ourselves.We minimize or lie about the amount of our chemical use or the amount of money we lose on gambling. This behaviour allows us to protect and continue our alcohol, drugs and gambling while preventing us from looking at the seriousness of our problem.
We make excuses, explain away consequences or blame others. We end up being the last to know how severe our problem has become.
Denial can be:
- Refusing to accept that we are alcoholics. We still see alcohol or drug use as an option. We can take it or leave it – but can we?
- Minimizing the severity of our dependency and what we need to do to stop our use. We try to control our use or alcohol or drugs and we fail miserably.
- Ignoring the problems we have created because of our use.
- Focusing on other people’s faults rather than on our own.
- Refusing to acknowledge people, situations, and events that cause us stress. We may deny the need to take action to resolve problems.
- Believing that we can live with some dishonesty in our lives. Secrets or lying by keeping silent become habits for alcoholics.
Another factor in addiction is the preoccupation that alcoholics have with the chemicals. Preoccupation means that we spend a great deal of time anticipating, planning and protecting our “hobby”.
Thoughts of drinking alcohol, practically being able to taste the white froth on top of an icy cold glass of beer on a hot day leaves us drooling with anticipation. Romancing about how it’s going to feel when we finally get our hands on it. Anticipation of pleasure is combined with the fear that somehow our plans will go astray.
- How, when and where can I get my next drink?
- How can I avoid trouble?
- Do I have enough of my drug of choice or should I be getting more stocks?
- What excuse am I going to use this time to explain my absence?
This type of thinking illustrates what our priorities really are. Our performance on the job or our interaction with friends and family may suffer, but we don’t want anything to interfere with our use of alcohol or other drugs. Alcohol takes priority over our families and our health. Our drug of choice comes first before anything else.
Preoccupation includes obsessing and planning while attempting to protect our next “high”. We want to make sure that we are able to do what we want to do and when we want to do it – without interference. We become irritable and moody if we are challenged.
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Is alcohol costing you more than money?
Well, you could try to stop drinking . . .
You could even get help to stop drinking . . .
There is life after alcohol but you do need support and help!
More information about alcohol dependency and my program, Serenity by the Sea, on my web site www.couragetochange.com.au