If you are asking this question and are peeling your way through web pages loaded with information on this topic, then the likelihood is that you are, or the person you are searching on behalf of is, an addict.
A surprising amount of people are unwilling and unable to face the facts about the way they medicate their lives because of a masterful trick that the brain deploys to protect the sufferer from the consequences of their actions. This goes by the nefarious word; ‘denial’. Another strand of this hazy head-hoax is that addiction is notorious for being the only disease that tells the sufferer that they do not have it.
Here are some simple questions to ask yourself with very clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers:
- When you are prescribed drugs, most notably sedatives, stimulants or psychotropic substances, do you find yourself using more than the recommended dose and blast the through the prescription, finding yourself back at the doctor’s door in record time?
- Do you frequently find yourself using a cocktail of different substances?
- When was the last time that you managed to get through a week without using drugs?
- Do you often try to stop and find yourself unable to do so? This might be clouded with a million justifications and rationalisations such as ‘I’ve had a stressful day’ and ‘everyone does it’. These appear as totally reasonable, logical excuses.
- When trying to stop do you simply change allegiance and start taking something else instead? For example swapping speed for alcohol or heroin for methadone.
- Have you ever experienced “blackouts” or “flashbacks” as a result of drug use?
- Do you ever feel guilt and remorse about your drug use or the things you do when you’re high?
- Do your family and friends ever complain about your involvement with drugs?
- Have you lost friends because of your use of drugs and the resulting behaviour?
- Have you neglected your family and/or responsibilities because of your use of drugs?
- Have you been in trouble at work/school or lost a job because of using substances?
- Have you been in physical or verbal fights when under the influence of drugs?
- Have you engaged in illegal activities in order to obtain drugs?
- Have you been arrested for possession of illegal drugs?
- Have you ever experienced withdrawal symptoms when you stopped taking drugs?
- Have you had medical problems as a result of your drug use?
- Does any of your blood relatives have a problem with drugs or alcohol?
A complex disease
Addiction is a complex disease and confusingly not one that shows up on an x-ray, a blood test or even really through a questionnaire. It is, however, characterised by low dopamine production and a faulty reward system and is widely recognised as genetic in more than 50% of people, hence question 17.
This disease impacts individuals on a number of diverse emotional, social, psychological and spiritual levels and this doesn’t really become apparent in the series of questions that you have just been asked. Let’s delve a little deeper and get away from the ‘Health Services’ brand of survey.
Smoke and mirrors
Addicts are generally given to concealing not only the extent of their drug use but also the way they feel from themselves and other people. This inability to deal with their emotional life comes in a wealth of different forms from those who hide their fear with anger to those who simply withdraw physically from the world.
Often this secrecy has meandering threads back to guilt, fear, feelings of depression and a lack of self-esteem. Furthermore, in extreme cases, this can lead to suicidal thoughts or actual suicide attempts. This is a disease of negative thinking which separates the sufferer from the world and breeds a hard-core pessimism and staunch nihilism which can manifest in a loss of interest in life and an unwavering rebellious core.
The addict feeling like creature from outer space and being completely disconnected from life, doesn’t feel that the normal rules apply and what is more, feels totally justified in habitually breaking them often with a Machiavellian relish.
When challenged on this or on their drug use, you can almost see a Giger-type-alien-armour hinge around them with a clacking dexterity from the feet up. This defensiveness is another strong feature of the addictive personality and one which family members and close friends deal with on a regular basis.
Schemers and dreamers
Addicts cogitate, plan and scheme obsessively about using their drug or drugs of choice and this can look like the stereotypical crack head out on the scam 24/7 but can also appear in much more subtle forms especially during the early onset of the disease.
If you spend an inordinate amount of time during the week at work or school just thinking about the phases of wastedness that your weekend will entail: what you will take to get you up, parachute you down and add swashbuckling fandango climaxes, all planned with the precision of a military campaign, there is every possibility you are heading towards trouble.
All the while that this projection is playing in your mind you are not really present or connected to what you are doing in the moment. Obsession, compulsion and acting impulsively are all delightful traits of the addict.
A Disease of perception
Weirdly, this disease of perception and negative thinking often gets worse when the addict stops using because the problem is not really the substance at all, it’s the incessant chattering of the mind. Without the buffer of pills and potions these thoughts are unchecked and all consuming. Add to this the cravings associated with withdrawal and there is really a witch’s cauldron on the boil.
This sounds like a totally dire state of affairs but there is a relatively simple solution and that is to stop using and change the thinking and the behaviour. This can happen in innumerable ways through a variety of different types of therapy, the 12 steps and by helping the addict to reconnect with themselves and with the world. Addiction does not have to be a life sentence.