“I have an addiction to chocolate- I love it so much!”
“I don’t think I could live without my morning coffee- I must be addicted!”
Statements like these about addiction can sound like harmless, playful jokes and for many Americans, they are just that. However, for many others- addiction is a painful reality that affects every part of their lives.
Addiction is medically defined as a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and personal life experiences. Simply put, addictions often begin from substances that were supposed to be harmless and turn into something that feels like you cannot live without. This is why addiction is a dangerous disease, particularly when you are addicted to a substance like drugs and/or alcohol. An addiction to drugs and/or alcohol is commonly referred to as "substance abuse addiction". For the purpose of this article, we will refer to "substance abuse addiction" as "addiction" and focus heavily on alcohol abuse and opioid prescription abuse.
Serious discussions of addiction can come with a lot of stigmas and bring up uncomfortable feelings- but they are necessary, particularly following the devastating mental health effects of the pandemic. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, within the past 30 days, 60.2% of Americans aged 12 years or older have abused drugs and/or alcohol. This statistic coincides with the growing percentage of Americans struggling with their mental health and emotional well-being. According to a report written for the Kaiser Family Foundation, “in January 2021, 41% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder”. In addition, the same report states, “13% of adults reported new or increased substance use due to coronavirus-related stress” and, “drug overdose deaths were particularly pronounced from March to May 2020, coinciding with the start of pandemic-related lockdowns.”
Prescription opioids and alcohol are particularly devasting as both are technically legal to consume and easy to obtain. In fact, opioids alone have become such an American health crisis that in 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a national Opioid Epidemic. Due to its prevalence, there is a high probability of you knowing someone who is being affected by addiction, and/or of you being at risk yourself. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs of addiction and understand available treatment options.
SIGNS OF OPIOID ADDICTION:
Opioids are often prescribed as a pain management tool by your doctor following a surgical procedure or any event that has caused moderate-to-severe pain. Besides relieving pain, opioids also have the tendency to make you feel relaxed. According to the American Society of Anestigoloists, these effects occur because opioids are able to block pain signals sent from the brain, while simultaneously releasing large amounts of dopamine (the feel-good hormone). This release can strongly reinforce the act of taking the drug, making it a highly addictive substance. Signs that you, or someone you know, might be developing an addiction to opioids following an injury, surgical procedure, etc. can include:
The inability to control opioid use (taking too many at one time, taking another dose too soon, etc.)
Erratic emotions, moodiness
Unexplainable drowsiness, fatigue
Changes in sleep habits
Frequent flu-like symptoms
Lack of self-care and healthy hygiene
Isolation from family and/or friends
Stealing from family, friends, or businesses
New financial difficulties
SIGNS OF ALCOHOL ADDICTION:
Just like with opioids, alcohol releases large amounts of dopamine- making it highly physically addictive. In addition, studies have shown that your genetic factors can come into play regarding alcohol consumption. Some people’s brains release more pleasure chemicals in response to alcohol, making them more susceptible to physical dependency. Alcohol also has a powerful emotional addiction component as it can temporality, albeit unhealthily, relieve stress and anxiety. This coping mechanism can feel impossible to break away from. An easy way to assess if your alcohol consumption is becoming unhealthy is to take inventory of how many times a week you’re drinking and how much. According to the CDC, drinking alcohol in moderation means:
2 or fewer drinks per day for men and;
1 drink or fewer a day for women.
Heavy alcohol drinking, defined by the National Institue on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism refers to:
consuming more than 4 drinks on any day, or more than 14 drinks per week for men and;
for women, consuming more than 3 drinks on any day, or more than 7 drinks per week.
Like opioid addiction, there are many potential symptoms and signs of alcohol addiction. These may include:
Experiencing temporary blackouts or short-term memory loss
Erratic emotions, moodiness
Making excuses for drinking- relax, deal with stress, or feel “normal”
Choosing to drink alcohol over other responsibilities and obligations
Isolating and distancing from friends and/or family
Drinking alone, or in secrecy
Feeling hungover even when not drinking
Feeling like you have to drink, or the amount you consume is out of your control
In addition to the above signs and symptoms, there is a self-administered questionnaire, known as CAGE, that you can take to help you decide if alcohol is becoming, or has become an addiction.
If you answer “yes” to two or more CAGE questions, you should seek professional medical assistance:
Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?
Experiencing addiction can also make you feel isolated, shameful, and unworthy of help. If you, or someone you know, is currently struggling it’s important to try and realize that you are 100% worthy of a life free of addiction and shame. The first step on the road to recovery is admitting that you have an addiction in the first place. After that, each next step will look different for every individual depending on how severe your addiction has become.
The severity of addiction can actually be measured by referring to an addiction spectrum. According to the Addiction Center the criteria for addiction can help you determine if your addiction is mild, moderate, or severe. There is a total of eleven criteria:
Lack of control
Desire to quit but unable
Spending a lot of time trying to get the substance
Lack of responsibility
Problems with relationships
Loss of interest
The severity is determined by how many criteria you meet. For example, if two or three of the criteria apply to you, you would most likely have a mild substance use disorder. But, even with a mild diagnosis, you should still seek help to get sober.
WAYS TO TREAT ADDICTION:
Finding a Rehabilitation Program: A popular and effective treatment modality for addiction is some type of addiction rehabilitation program. These programs can be out-patient (attend scheduled meetings and treatment settings) or in-patient (around-the-clock support) and sometimes insurance can help offset the personal financial cost.
Entering into a Detoxification Program: Detoxing can help you safely withdraw from drugs and/or alcohol. Doing so on your own can be dangerous depending on the severity of your addiction.
Being open with your doctor about potentially helpful medications: Throughout recovery, your doctor may decide to prescribe medications that can help manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and even decrease feelings of anxiety and/or depression. Therefore, it’s important that you discuss your addiction recovery with your doctor.
Talking it out with a therapist who specializes in addiction: Talking can be incredibly healing. However, not everyone is equipped with the right tools to help you process through your addiction and potential mental health struggles. Finding a therapist that specializes in addiction, and who you feel comfortable with, can help you greatly on your recovery journey.
Seeking out a recovery group: Finding the right group provides a community that can be motivating and inspiring to stay committed to sobriety. Examples include 12 Step Programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Annyonomus, SMART Recovery, and even Recovery Yoga programs like the free one available right here at St. Andrew’s Family Fitness specifically for women on an addiction recovery journey.
Remember, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment plan for addiction recovery does not exist. Your needs and wants might look completely different compared to someone else’s. Whichever path you choose, be sure that it has everything you need to be successful … because you are worth it.
If you, or someone you know, needs help with addiction, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health and Services Administration by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA’s National Helpline (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.
Also, visit the online treatment locators.