Addiction comes in all forms. Drug and alcohol addiction are some of the most widely recognized addictions, but there are a number of other common addictions, including sex addiction, workaholism, gambling addiction, shopping addiction, hoarding, and behavioral addictions that include eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia).
At its core, addiction is anything someone does compulsively, whether drugs, alcohol, or a particular behavior. Being addicted means you are not in control of your consumption or behavior – you can't stop.
How do you know if you're addicted?
Sometimes addiction starts out simply as a habit, like drinking socially. It can even begin with a medical prescription, as in the case of prescription drug addiction (i.e. drugs like Vicodin, Percocet, or Ritalin).
Regardless of how it begins, here are some signs consumption has turned into addiction:
- Wanting to do it often, or all the time
- Not being able to function without it
- Having major mood shifts related to being able to do it (i.e. getting angry/irritable if it's not available for some reason)
- Experiencing negative impacts on your life because of it (i.e. problems at work, school, in relationships, and/or with finances)
- Not being able to stop doing it
Dealing with addiction can be agonizing. Those struggling with it often cycle through feelings of fear, anxiety, elation, helplessness, and shame. Drug and alcohol addiction in particular often lead to money problems, relationship issues, and health crises. Untreated addiction is also exceptionally dangerous – it can be life-threatening.
Addiction is not a choice, nor is it an indication of weakness. Over the last ten years, numerous research studies have demonstrated that addiction can be classified as a brain disease. Such research defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing-remitting illness, with accompanying abnormalities in multiple neural pathways.
How can you tell if you need treatment?
One way to tell whether you need treatment is if you've built up a tolerance to the substance, whether drugs or alcohol. This means you need more and more of it in order to get the same effect as you did when you first started using it. Building up a tolerance is an indication that you've been using the substance so much and for so long that you are likely addicted.
As addiction progresses, drug addicts and alcoholics become physically dependent on their substance of choice. Their body get used to a certain level of alcohol or drugs, such that they "need" it to function.
If they lose access to the substance (or choose to stop using it suddenly), their bodies go through withdrawal, and they can suffer from extremely uncomfortable symptoms that include nausea, sweating, physical tremors (the shakes), swings in body temperature, and more. It's extremely important that alcoholics and extreme drug addicts seek professional medical attention before trying to detox. Without the right care, withdrawal symptoms can be fatal.
Addiction is also dangerous beyond the physical effects. For example, in the case of drug and alcohol addiction, addicts will normally experience cravings for drugs and alcohol that can lead to extreme behaviors to get more. This means drug and alcohol addicts will often commit acts they wouldn't otherwise, sometimes even including violent or illegal behavior. Thus issues associated with addiction extend beyond substance abuse itself.
If you feel out of control when it comes to your addiction, it's time to seek treatment. If you've tried to stop and failed (or experienced withdrawal symptoms), it's time to get help. If the drug or alcohol abuse is affecting your everyday functioning or impacting your relationships negatively, it's time to get into treatment.
The ultimate goal of substance abuse treatment is to deal with both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction, and to get the person to a place where they can stay completely clean and sober on their own.
It's never too early to get help, and you should never wait until it's too late.
What can be treated?
It's important to note that addiction can get out of control even when the initial drug or alcohol use was within the person's control. For example, millions of people get addicted to prescription medications every year, without intending to.
It's a commonly held belief that addiction to prescription drugs like sleeping pills or painkillers "isn't that bad", since they were prescribed by a doctor. This is a dangerous and wrong assumption. The abuse of prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Adderall can be just as dangerous as heroin addiction, and frequently leads to fatal overdoses – especially when drugs like these are combined with alcohol or other substances.
Professional drug and rehab facilities have experience with basically every substance that can be abused. Drug and alcohol rehab centers can help with addiction to:
- Illicit drugs: cocaine, crack, MDMA (ecstasy/molly), heroin, inhalants, marijuana, methamphetamine (crystal meth), ketamine (special K), hallucinogens (LSD, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), DMT, PCP)
- Prescription drugs, including:
- Stimulants: Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Dexedrine, diet pills, steroids
- Benzodiazepines: Valium, Xanax, Librium, Ativan, Klonopin, Librium, Halcion
- Antidepressant medications: Prozac, Cymbalta, Pristiq, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa, Effexor, Wellbutrin XL, Vilazodone
- Opiates: Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan), Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab), codeine, morphine, methadone
- Sleeping pills: Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta, Amytal
How does treatment work?
Substance abuse treatment and recovery generally follows an established pattern: inpatient or outpatient drug and alcohol rehab, individual and/or group therapy, and ongoing support that usually involves continued therapy and 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
Alcohol and drug treatment centers differ in the range and scope of what they offer. Depending on the severity of addiction as well as individual circumstances, certain drug and alcohol rehab facilities may be better suited to your needs than others.
After intake, inpatient drug and alcohol rehab centers begin substance abuse treatment by having the person undergo medical detox, where all drugs and alcohol are removed from the body. This can be a challenging and painful process, but it is significantly eased in an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab center where medical professionals are on hand 24/7.
Alcoholics in particular are strongly recommended to seek care at an inpatient rehab facility to safely detox from alcohol addiction, as withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. This is also true for heroin addiction and prescription opioid addiction (drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet).
Most rehabilitation centers and substance abuse treatment programs then have participants begin addiction therapy. This is an essential part of the process, since it helps recovering drug and alcohol addicts identify the underlying reasons for their drinking or drug abuse.
Drug and alcohol rehab programs frequently offer both individual and group therapy, as well as behavioral therapy (therapy that addresses behaviors and how to change them). Recovering drug and alcohol addicts start to understand and address the root causes of their addictive behavior (wanting connection, wanting to numb mental pain, trying to avoid confrontation, feeling anxious) as well as how to address those needs in a healthy way.
In addition to one-on-one counseling and group addiction therapy, drug and alcohol rehab centers frequently offer family therapy. Because family systems are so critical in someone's understanding of the world, family dynamics are an important part of what is explored in drug and alcoholism treatment. Family therapy also gives loved ones an opportunity to come and participate in the overall rehabilitation process, including learning about their part in the cycle of addiction.
What happens after treatment?
For many, drug and alcohol rehab is the beginning of a new life. It's the first step on a journey that is often lifelong, as recovery is ongoing.
No matter what you've been addicted to, help is available. Substance abuse treatment has proven successful for millions of people, and with scientific advancements, it only improves in scope and capacity. The most important thing to know is that you are not alone; others have been through it before you and paved the way. You will be well supported once you choose to get clean.
You can get help, and you can get well. The future is yours.