“I did not think drugs were in my community. Only the poor and criminals use drugs on the streets Why did this happen? How can I stop my addiction, my loved one from using drugs, or this crisis in our own community?”
How to Stop Drug Use and the Progression of this Disease?
Like other diseases (i.e. diabetes, cardiac disease, and cancer), addiction is incurable, needs medical intervention, and long-term care. It requires initial medical intervention (inpatient and outpatient counseling) and long-term maintenance (aftercare counseling group and/or 12 step meetings). Long term maintenance is essential for life style changes necessary for relapse prevention and long-term abstinence. This includes three significant cognitive-behavioral changes: 1) Avoiding high risk situations (people, places, things, and events) associated with the addiction, 2) balancing and structuring time with work, rest, sober fun, and personal hobbies, and 3) developing and utilizing a sober, social group or network. Counseling includes learning new ways to think, cope with feelings, change behaviors, and manage urges.
Addiction can be described as the sleeping monster waiting for its opportunity to wake up and cause misery. Relapse occurs when your guard is down and when you least expect it.
Like other diseases, there are regressions or relapses when the disease is no longer dormant. A recovering addict usually relapses when they are triggered by boredom, something in the past (high risk situations and memories of past use or trauma), an old or new socioeconomic stressor, negative feelings, and/or they discontinue disciplines that kept them sober (i.e., stopping AA attendance and/or associating with old buddies who use). Just like when someone may not know that they are becoming addicted, recovering persons may not recognize when they are relapsing. This why it is essential that a support network such as family, counseling, and/or support group is ALWAYS in place. Although clean time is measured from the date of the last use, relapses may help people gain more insight into their relapse process and how to gain long term sobriety. Relapse is not failure at recovery. However, your high tolerance and pattern of drug use remains the same (or increase) when you relapse despite a long sobriety time.
Behavioral Warning Signs of Drug Use and Addictive Behaviors
Many family members and community professionals may not recognize the warning signs or symptoms of addiction. When someone increases their drug use or addictive behaviors, the addiction becomes priority and they spend a greater amount of time planning, anticipating, and participating in the activity. He/she may disappear for hours and are unable or unwilling to explain where they have been. Household money or valuables may start vanishing, and bank accounts overdrawn. Personality changes, mood swings, impulsivity, inability to concentrate or remember, poor work or academic performance, and a change in friends or activities may be evident. They may isolate and withdraw from others or have social problems. It is important to know the physical symptoms of different types of drugs so that to know which drug(s) your loved one is using. When confronted about his/her addiction, the relapsing person may become defensive by blaming others and making excuses for his/her different behavior.
What do I do if My Love One is Using Drugs?
If your loved one is using drugs, do not continue to confront them. Looking for and throwing away their drugs or following them will not make them stop. However, any enabling behaviors will allow them to continue their addiction. Enabling is eliminating any consequences of their addiction, making excuses to others for their negative behaviors, and taking on their responsibilities. Examples are a father bailing out his son who is arrested for drug possession so he will not spend the night in jail, calling the boss of a spouse to make false excuses for why he/she will be absent from work, giving money to a loved one who recently bought a round of drinks for his/her friends, and/or completing a loved one’s household chores or family responsibilities because he/she is high or hung over. Set limits and maintain boundaries by saying no to these requests of help and verbalize your expectations that he/she attend treatment and fulfill their responsibilities. Going to Alnon will help you learn more of how you can take care of yourself and support your loved one.
As a Community, What Can We Do About Addiction?
As citizens and professionals in the community, we can address addiction in an educated, nonjudgmental, and empathetic way. Addiction is not bad, unlawful behavior of the immoral and uneducated poor that should be punished. Rather, drug use is often unintentional behavior resulting from the physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of an unforeseen disease. Most people who become addicted would never have lied, stolen, prostituted, assaulted others, or put themselves or families at risk if they did not have the compelling urges of their physical dependency. Breaking through the denial and realizing that addiction is happening in the communities where we live and providing education, community resources and services are the first and most significant steps. These steps will reduce the stereotypes and myths of drugs addicts and increase empathy for the suffering of recovering addicts. In order to address addiction, statistical research in local towns is necessary to reveal the demographic of which populations (age, gender, ethnic, and socioeconomical) are using certain types of drugs. Only then reasons for use be discovered so resolution can be possible. Developing and implementing annual plans to provide education and accessible resources in local communities and considering funding in town budgets would be the initial strategies to reduce drug use and the fatalities of this this baffling, and complicated disease of addiction. As more communities’ address addiction, the national economic problems related to addiction will decrease.
I would like to hear other experiences regarding addiction and mental health as well as any suggestions that would help others in their recovery. However, be aware that this is a public forum. I thank those who have shared their own experiences and insight with me over the last 30 years. You have made me a better person and psychotherapist by giving me knowledge which helps me provide guidance, compassion, and hope to others who seek my counsel.
Angela Beckerman, LPC, LADC
Psychotherapist and Addiction Specialist