How do you know if your or someone you know has an addiction problem?
It can be difficult to come to terms with whether or not you or your loved one has a problem with substance abuse, addiction or other problematic behaviors known as process addictions. There are many guides and self tests for determining if someone meets criteria for a bona fide substance use disorder. These can be quite useful but catching issues earlier can also lead to another, more fruitful path.
Sign #1: Missing Work, School, Other Obligations
An early sign of using and less effective coping is not meeting your usual obligations. This can be as apparent as missing work or school because of using or recovering from a hangover or as subtle as missing deadlines or less participation in activities. Examine your patterns – has your use started creeping up and you’ve started calling in more or opting out of spending time with friends and family? Have your preferred activities changed over time? Do you feel the inclination to avoid certain people?
Sign #2: Fighting More with Family, Friends, Partner
There are biological and emotional effects of substance use or process addictions. The biological effects are due to the actual use or behavior and withdrawal while the emotional symptoms develop out of guilt and shame from using, hiding the use, and all the consequences. What friends and families see is irritability that seems to come out of nowhere, explosive outbursts, increased impatience, more senseless arguments, and rapidly changing moods. What you might experience is excitement at the prospect of using followed by the crash of guilt and shame, anger or irritability that feels better when you have a target to let it out on, or a feeling of justification and validation when you fight with a loved one. One of the ways this serves you is it pushes away those people who trigger the guilt and shame, even when they don’t say anything, so that you can continue to use.
Sign #3: Doing Things that Are Out of Character
It is important to note that there is a difference between a person’s baseline character and personality and a person in active addiction. Addiction is almost like a virus that takes over the brain and send the message that unless the drug or behavior and all that goes with it, is obtained, the person will cease to exist. This promotes progressively more desperate and sometimes criminal behavior to “survive.”
We all have boundaries of what we will and will not do and what is acceptable to us. In active addiction, those boundaries widen, become morally fuzzy, and many previously unacceptable behaviors are justified. A person, when sober, would never steal, lie, or hurt someone, and when using justifies to him or herself the need to write checks on your account and act abusively towards you. This does not feel good to you to act like this and it’s difficult not to believe that this is who you really are when it happens. This is one of the pillars of hope to cling to in recovery – at the core, you are a good person and that substances or problematic coping leads you away from your true self.
Sign #4: Always Broke, Tired, or Busy
Active addiction takes a toll on a person. The signs inevitably emerge over time no matter how well you believe you are hiding them. Even if the people in your life don’t specifically say anything, assume they probably know. These patterns show up differently depending on your circumstances. For some, constantly borrowing or needing money and spending more money than usual is an indicator. Addiction is expensive!
Using also requires time, attention, and energy – all precious resources that are in short supply and must be replenished with patience. Addiction ends up being a full time job – the hustle of finding the fix, recovery after using, dealing with friends and family, trying not to get fired or arrested – leads to increased time commitments and exhaustion. The good news is it is easy to stop the madness and get help. You can make the most of your efforts with an effective Action Plans and the appropriate support.
Sign #5: Life Gets Out of Balance
The bottom line in assessing whether you or your loved one is struggling with substance abuse or a process addiction is to ask if life is out of balance. Listen to your gut for the answer. Denial is powerful and wants to answer, “No! Everything is fine!” but is it really?
Another way to check this is to ask yourself if you are happy. This applies to both the individual and the friends and family members. If not, there is work to do but that doesn’t obligate you. Change is difficult. Breaking through denial and becoming aware of the issues is the first step.
You don’t have to do it alone. There are so many new resources and advances in treatment and recovery for both those wanting to change their lives and the people who love them. It doesn’t have to be as hard as you imagine it. We can help ease the fears, anxieties, and barriers to the kind of treatment that will work for you. We stick with individuals and families as they navigate the road to sustained recovery and open a new chapter to their lives. Start the conversation with us. We’ll get to know you and customize a plan that works for you.