Vallarta Tribune, Jan 22-28, 2006, issue # 459, pg 18

Someone suffering with addiction may or may not realize they have a problem or may not realize the severity of the illness, because it has become so normalized; such a part of their life. People have varying intensities of addiction, depending on how far it has progressed.

So how do you know if you have a problem or if someone you love does?

It is typical to try to control use (of alcohol/drug) to prove to yourself and others that you don’t have a problem because after all, “if you can control it then it can’t control you,” right? After all, isn’t that what addiction is all about, being controlled by the substance? In many cases if there is any need to control your use or to “cut back” then there is most likely a problem. It is a struggle every addict goes through as they attempt to maintain balance in their life and to keep things from falling apart (jobs, relationships, or finances) in order to prove to themselves that their problem is manageable; that they don’t need help. Of course, many addicts can not even admit they have a problem.

Eventually addiction negatively affects many areas of life, which would obviously  depend on the progression and severity of the addiction. Workmay be suffering, more mistakes, more conflicts, and possible firing. Family relations suffer and change and are sometimes damaged and lost.Marriages break-up, children may be abandoned, rejected, or manipulated between their parents. Debts accumulate, credit suffers, and in some cases people lose everything. Friends who do not support the addict’s lifestyle and are unwilling to tolerate his lying, manipulating, inconsistencies, and broken promises. Physical health suffers even without symptoms, damaging the heart, digestive system, liver, lungs and especially the brain. Depending on the drug of choice, the legal problems can vary but usually include car accidents, traffic tickets, and arrests.

Another indication is “increased tolerance” meaning increased amount of use and/or increased frequency and intensity of use. In other words, if someone used to become intoxicated on 6 beers, and then it may increase to 12 beers to achieve the same effect, in some severe cases the addict may also need to include hard alcohol in order to achieve the same effect. Some addicts who only drank on weekends may now drink during the week and perhaps alone. There’s a feeling like you can never get enough. A person with a drinking problem never leaves a drink unfinished, or a bottle of wine half empty, they drink the entire time they are out, with no sense of stopping, eventually consuming more than they intended.

People with addiction have impulsive behavior which can be very detrimental, often times very risky and costly, affecting all areas of life. Their inability to postpone immediate gratification because they “want it now” means that they do not stop to consider consequences; to themselves or others, and they will do whatever it takes to get it. It is not uncommon for them to later be surprised by circumstances and situations surrounding them, wondering how they got here.

What do you do impulsively? Spend money, drink, drug, lie, cheat, have sex?

For an addict, it is common to spend money with a frantic impulsivity, most often beyond their means, without considering the cost or why they are buying something, just because it feels good at the moment. They lie with a natural ease, sometimes without even planning to, not even realizing what they are saying or why, and certainly without considering who they are hurting. Cheating sexually, financially, in whatever manner, is a desperate attempt to facilitate their lifestyle, satisfy immediate desires, with the belief that it will never catch up to them, they will not be caught. Ah sex, gotta have it, no matter what! No matter whom it’s with, even if they just met her/him, and who cares about using protection! In the impulsive moment and frame of mind, absolutely nothing else and no one else matters!

To anyone on the outside it is baffling and frustrating how “they don’t just quit,” or “stop acting that way.” There is not just one answer or simple explanation, nor is there a simple solution. However there is hope and a path to recovery, whether you are the addict or the one involved with the addict. Seek specific treatment to address these situations and problems.

Written by: Giselle Belanger, RN, LCSW, CADC