An estimated 20 million Americans struggle with addiction. Other estimates state that just over half of the adult population of the United States has tried at least one illicit substance in their lifetime, and the overwhelming majority of Americans have tried alcohol, while up to half of the nation is drinking regularly. Substance use is deeply embedded in society and is a fact of life for countless men and women.
Despite that, it remains relatively taboo for many to speak up about their addiction and reveal that they’re having a problem. Others yet don’t even realize that they’re struggling with addiction. Part of the problem lies in the fact that addiction is so poorly understood for many, that it becomes difficult to distinguish between, for example, heavy alcohol use and addiction.
An estimated one in six Americans regularly binge drink once a week, drinking an average of seven drinks worth of alcohol in a single session. However, only a fraction of the people who binge drink are addicted. Understanding what addiction is, can help you figure out when you need help, and why.
When Is It Addiction?
There’s a relatively simple distinction that, while easy to describe, is not always so easy to identify. The difference between drug use and addiction is how voluntary one is compared to the other. Both eventually lead to someone getting hurt or ignored, but if a person is in full control over their actions and they realize how their drug use puts their loved ones in harm’s danger, or has otherwise hurt others, if they have any empathy at all they will either quit or start quitting.
On the other hand, someone who is addicted will try, but usually fail the first attempt. Addiction is hard, and among other things, it robs you of choice. It always starts with a choice – one that all addicts eventually learn to regret – but it turns into the inability to trust your own word, losing faith in yourself as others question your integrity, as you find yourself irresistibly drawn to doing things you shouldn’t be doing because deep down inside, you just can’t stop.
That’s one way to tell. But many successfully repress those thoughts and don’t even realize that their behavior is something they can’t completely control. They find ways to excuse it, or worse yet, their family enables them without meaning to. Either way, addiction can only be treated if the person who is addicted firmly decides to get help. While you can force someone into rehab or into a sober living home, they have to want to get better. And sometimes, that can take some convincing.
Seeing the Signs
There aren’t too many signs that clearly correlate with addiction, and it’s generally impossible to know if someone is an addict unless you spend enough time with them while having the professional expertise and experience to make that call, but if your loved one has been showing any of the following signs, you’ll want to try to convince them to get some professional help regardless of what they’re dealing with.
- Unexplained behavior
- Physical signs of drug abuse (bloodshot eyes, track marks, frequent nose bleeds, dental problems)
- Poor hygiene/massive weight fluctuations
- Trouble with memory
- Chaotic sleeping cycle
- Problems at work
- Physical evidence of drug use (drug paraphernalia)
Note that these don’t necessarily point only to drug use. While some do – like paraphernalia and track marks – others are much subtler, and can often imply any number of other issues, from a different disease or disorder to other behavior that might be breaking a person’s trust (in other words: lying).
If you’re going to help your loved one and believe that they may be struggling with an addiction they haven’t admitted to, then trust is critical for moving forward. They have to believe that you have their absolute best interests at heart, and that what they’ve been doing violates that trust, and hurts you.
Regardless of whether or not they’re addicted, if your loved one’s drug use is bleeding over into your life together, causing problems and pain, you need to convince them to get help. It starts with talking about the pain caused by the addiction – then, it’s time to talk about what can be done to fix the problem together.
Again, trust is important here. If you’re partners, then you standing with your partner will be very, very important. It should never be your job to babysit your partner, but your support will matter greatly in helping your loved one get back on their own two feet and maintain their sobriety for months and years to come.
If You’re Asking Yourself, Get Help
If you’re wondering if your drug use counts as an addiction, chances are that things have gone far enough that you’re considering at least some of your actions to be outside your control, or that something happened to make you reconsider your behavior. It’s a good idea, if you’re worried about your mental health and the possibility of an addiction, to just book an appointment with a doctor specializing in addiction or with a psychiatrist to get a formal diagnosis.
Yes, the tell-tale sign of addiction is when your drug use interferes with your daily life in a significant way. When your behavior begins to harm others and you can’t do anything to stop it, it’s clear that you’re no longer in full control over your own choices.
If you’re asking yourself whether you’re addicted or not, the smart thing to do is get help and figure it out through a reliable, professional diagnosis. Addiction is treatable, and although it is considered a chronic disease, regular treatment and a commitment towards getting better can net you incredible results, and have you living a normal life.
Things arguably won’t ever be “back” to how they were, but they can be different – better, in fact, than ever before. It takes a little faith in the professionals who help you and a lot of trust in the people you know and love, but addictions can be overcome with time and the right treatment plan.