Is My Addiction Bad Enough?

When it comes to substance use disorders, it can be quite difficult to admit there may be a problem. When substance use and its eventual abuse begins to cause negative effects in your life, it is important to take time to reflect and review the objective facts that may indicate a potential addiction. The first step toward recovery is recognizing that there is a problem in the first place. Until this is realized, recovery is unattainable.

This step is typically considered the hardest for most; often resulting in years of struggling alone until eventually hitting “rock bottom.” For those who do hit rock bottom, it is often what ultimately drives them to enter treatment and make a change for the better.

According to SAMHSA’s 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, out of the nearly 41 million people over the age of 12 that needed help for a substance use disorder, only 1.4% received treatment.

Many people decide to forego treatment because they feel as though they have not experienced their rock bottom moment yet. Others simply don’t believe their substance use has become problematic in their lives. The truth of the matter is: if you have had any concerns that your substance use may be problematic, you’re probably right, and that means it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. This is true for all substances, especially when substances such as Heroin and other Opiates are involved, as they can have serious, life-threatening consequences given that the risk of overdose has grown significantly in the past few years.

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Understanding What Addiction Looks Like

If major elements of your life, such as romantic relationships, family, employment, health needs, or spirituality, among others, are being negatively affected by your substance use, these may be signs that a substance use disorder is present. Substance use disorders, also called SUDs, are diagnosed on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe. The way health professionals identify a SUD is by assessing a patient for certain criteria that is commonly associated with substance abuse and addiction. In total, there are 11 criteria that are used to diagnose a SUD, which are commonly grouped into 4 categories: physical dependence, risk usage, social problems, and impaired control.

  • Physical Dependence
    • Tolerance is needing more of a substance to achieve the same desired effect. For example, someone with a high tolerance for alcohol may need to drink 8-12 beers to feel a buzz, where someone without a tolerance would only need 1-2.
    • Withdrawal: Unpleasant symptoms resulting from dependence on a substance that can be life threatening and may require medical attention. These may include waking up with nausea, frequent headaches, vomiting, sweating, or feeling sick when not using for a period of time.
  • Risk Usage
    • Continued usage of a substance despite known problems and dangers. This could be using an Opiate despite knowing it is extremely dangerous, and even continue to do so after adverse effects such as an overdose.
    • Repetitive usage in unsafe situations, such as drinking and driving or using substances at work.
  • Social Problems
    • Continued substance use despite problems that cause harm to employment, family relationships, or social obligations. Common examples would be losing jobs, coming into work intoxicated, or forgetting important events like birthdays or anniversaries.
    • Arguments and altercations become more frequent, resulting in lost or damaged relationships. Family complaints of substance use become increasingly common as well.
    • Meaningful relationships and activities are reduced due to substance use. Spending less time with loved ones, isolating yourself to use.
  • Impaired Control
    • Using for longer periods than intended, like drinking all night, instead of just going out for an hour.
    • Wanting to cut down usage or stop altogether but feeling unable to. This may include attempting to stop, but starting again or having difficultly stopping once you’ve started.
    • Significant cravings to use that are intense and difficult to avoid. One may be constantly thinking about using and feeling anxious at the thought of not using.
    • Spending excessive time trying to locate, use, or recover from using a substance.

The severity of your addiction is determined by how many criteria you have met. For example, if you met 2 to 3 of the above-mentioned criteria, your doctor may likely asses that you have a mild substance use disorder. In order for a severe addiction to be present, you must experience at least 6 of the listed criteria. However, even if you have a mild diagnosis, it is still extremely important to seek professional care to reduce the risk of the disease becoming severe.

Comparing Yourself To Others

If you’re unsure that your addiction has become “really bad,” a good practice is to compare yourself to others in your life. This could be family, friends, or even coworkers who may be in a similar, or potentially worse, situation involving substances. While this may be helpful, it can also be a strategy to rationalize your behaviors and tell yourself they aren’t “that bad.” Here are a few questions to ask yourself when comparing your substance use to others:

Do they also use drugs or alcohol?

If this is the case, they may also be saying that their substance use (and by proxy anyone’s) is “not a big deal” or something similar. Oftentimes, these people have a problem themselves, only they don’t realize or want to admit it. If they’re someone that truly cares, they’ll support the decision to get sober because it’s what’s best.

Have you been hiding your substance use from them?

If the severity of your substance use has been concealed from them, they may not even be aware of the issue. This is probably the first time they’re hearing about it and can’t imagine how it could be true. They may say, “I’m your friend! How could I not know? You’re probably overreacting.” Take this as an opportunity to be open and honest with them. Family, friendship, and support will be crucial during the recovery journey.

What kind of environment are they in?

It can be tempting to ask friends and family for advice or to utilize them to make sense of concerns. However, one thing to consider is what environment they are in. It may not be the best idea to ask your drinking buddies at the bar or co-workers who “work hard and play hard” for advice on matters involving substance use.

It is best to utilize close family and friends who truly care about your health and safety as core elements in decision making. It is also advised to take this a step further and talk with a trusted healthcare provider such as a family physician or behavioral health professional for further information.

Remember That Addiction Is A Progressive Disease

Since addiction is measured on a spectrum, it’s true that a mild diagnosis may not be as bad as a severe one. Because of this, many find it easy to say things like, “I could be worse.” However, it’s important to remember that addiction is a progressive disease, meaning that if no action is taken to address it, it grows even more severe. Substance use disorders do not “get better” without long lasting intervention and the consequences for not addressing the disorder is life threatening.

Addiction is a chronic disease, much like asthma, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and many others. If you were diagnosed with stage 1 cancer, it would be expected that you would seek some form of treatment to prevent it from getting worse. No one needs to hit rock bottom to get treatment; it’s available now regardless of how severe it may be. Remember, it is never too late to get the help you need.

Hiding Your Addiction Behind A Successful Career

Many people fall victim to the mentality that if they have success, they are doing “just fine.” While it can be possible to have a successful career, appear to fulfill family duties, and maintain friendships while also struggling with a substance use disorder, this does not mean that treatment isn’t needed. People in this situation are commonly referred to as a high-functioning addict. High functioning addicts often are able to maintain a level of success professionally while facing a constant battle with addiction behind the scenes. Essentially, it feels like running on a hamster wheel daily while also trying to live a secret life. However, this situation often results in an implosion of both career and family as secrets come out and consequences occur.

Eventually, alcohol and drug use will catch up to a high-functioning addict.

Some people struggle with substance use disorders and even severe addiction for years before the facade begins to fall apart. This often includes family arguments, disagreements due to substance use, and can even lead to serious events such as divorce. For others, it can take a life-changing event, like getting a DUI or an accidental overdose, to force them to address the issue. Instead of waiting for one of these life-changing events to happen, it’s much safer to get professional help as soon as possible.

Rehab Offers A Chance For Recovery

If you or someone you love has a potential substance use disorder and want to find a way to make a change, treatment may be one of the best options. Ending substance use by entering recovery requires not only eliminating the physical dependence but also addressing the behavioral issues. Simply quitting cold turkey will not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Recovery from addiction involves changing the way you think, feel, and behave. It can be difficult to properly address the psychological side of addiction without help from a behavioral health professional.

To eliminate the physical dependence, many need to safely detox or remove the substances from the system under medical supervision. Medically assisted detox is considered a much safer option than trying to detox alone due to the potential risk of death from withdrawal symptoms. Not all rehabs offer medically assisted detox, but it’s important to find ones that do if your are physically dependent on a substance.

Addiction is a lifelong disease. Going through the treatment process will provide you with new insights into how to stay in recovery one day at a time. If you need help finding a treatment program and beginning to build that network, contact a treatment provider today.

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Author

Travis Pantiel

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  • Travis Pantiel is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a National Board-Certified Counselor with specialized expertise in the co-occurring disorder treatment field.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

David Hampton

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  • A survivor of addiction himself, David Hampton is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach (CPRC) and a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).

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