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What is the truth about addiction?

Updated on August 4, 2015

Faith Changes Despair to Hope

Trust Goes a Long Way

We let our love blind us to the real problem

Bad habits lead to problems

What really is addiction?

People often joke about having an addiction to food, sugar, exercise, sex, shopping, even working. They are called by phrases such as shop-a-holic, sex-a-holic, work-a-holic, etc. But what is the real definition of addiction; I mean the dictionary version. The dictionary defines addiction as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma”. Realistically speaking, none of the above mentioned addictions would not fall into this category. Not to say that they can’t, just that it would be outside the norm.

I’m sure you’ve heard the age old adage a thousand times. It’s quite an anomaly when you think about the statement: she / he is nothing but a drunk or nothing but an addict!

It is at this point I have to ask: so what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Without the chicken there is no egg but without the egg there is no chicken. Thus in turn the words: “nothing but an addict" is illogical.

Many years ago I had a close friend whose husband committed suicide when her children were very young. She was left with ample funds to survive but void of any substantial help in raising her children. Her husband’s family rejected her and even blamed her for his death. She in turn rejected the help of her own family as she felt unable to live up to what she called “their standards”. When she failed miserably as a mother, she turned to alcohol for her solace. Her abuse lasted many years before it finally took its toll on her body and she died at the young age of 55.

I was devastated at her loss and in my mind I blamed myself, her family, her children, and especially my friend for allowing her addiction to destroy her life.

Now as the years have passed I’ve come to recognize that having an addiction of any kind doesn’t just happen. The person just doesn’t decide one day to take up drinking or drugs. So what is the truth?

I believe it is inherent that each of us has the ability or inability to deal with life’s devastation, illness, and grief. Perhaps it is a strength given by our creator or a weakness thrown upon us by our genetics or family background.

In most cases, the addict suppresses an underlying problem, an unfilled need, or a deeply rooted pain that never ends. That pain is so great that not even the person afflicted can pinpoint when it started or what will make it end. Thus, they turn to alcohol or drugs for comfort and at first a little goes a long way.

Let’s talk about pain medications

If you examine pain killers, for instance, these pesky pills start out as a seemingly innocent necessity for coping with pain due to an accident, illness or surgery. Then when the illness gets worse or the surgery doesn’t help, the pain continues and so do the drugs. The pain is smothered by the sedative effect of the drugs, but as time goes by the drugs must be increased as the dosage no longer works. A doctor will often change a dosage or type of pain medication in hopes of preventing an addiction, but unfortunately, all too often the damage has been done. The pain becomes two-fold – a pain caused by the inability of the drug to work effectively and the pain caused by the body’s withdrawal symptoms due to the lack of the drug itself. Now the patient is addicted and of course it is their own fault --- isn’t it?

The Drug of Choice in America

In America today alcoholism affects more than 14 million people; 4% of them women and 10% of them men. Alcohol has become the drug of choice by most people today. If you took a survey of how many people have at least one drink per day or one day per week that they drink, the results would be astonishing. We know teenagers turning the “drinking” age of 21, often binge on their special birthday and some have even died from alcohol poisoning. So are we a society that must have liquor to cope with life or do we enjoy life by having liquor?

An Abuser or an Alcoholic?

The question is interesting as one often coincides with the other. First of all, we must realize that alcoholism is a mental illness just the same as any other mental illness and should be treated as such. In most cases when it comes to drinking, the liquor starts out being a coping mechanism after a rough day at the office, or a romantic or family crisis. It is not uncommon for wine to be served with dinner in many homes as is a custom also in Europe. When one drink per night becomes two or more in order to bring satisfaction, it soon becomes an unbreakable habit.

Once a person learns to depend on the alcohol to relax, it can quickly turn to alcohol abuse and then addiction. The defining points become: alcohol abuse will involve maladjusted behavior as does the alcoholic but alcoholism will have withdrawal symptoms when the liquor is withheld and eventually it will become more and more difficult to achieve intoxication as the body will build up a tolerance for the alcohol.

Often there an additional mental disorder that causes or accompanies the drinking abuse. The mental disorder may be treatable with medication, therapy or both. Some people are plagued with mental problems the majority of their lives such as anorexia, bulimia, manic depression, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia. One problem triggers another and soon you have an intolerable situation of destruction. The person affected is overwhelmed with their mental disorder thus they become dependent on liquor to ease their pain. Unfortunately, our society does not allow for the original mental illness having triggered the alcohol abuse but centers on the person’s habit only and how it is destroying their life. It is a veritable merry-go-round. The use of alcohol for the mentally ill individual is deadly.

Can we stop the insanity?

So we have to ask the question: is addiction preventable? I believe it is but only if we educate ourselves as to the pitfalls and causes of addiction. Some helpful guidelines to follow:

1) If your genetics indicate a family history of alcohol or drug addiction you should not drink alcohol at all and be very cautious when taking any pain medications. Risk factors for alcoholism include depression, anxiety, and/or being physically or sexually abused as a child.

2) Tell your doctor if you feel you need medication more often than prescribed. This could indicate a risk factor for addiction to the drug you are taking.

3) Use alternative medications whenever available to ease pain and changing lifestyles.

· Sleep aids such as Melatonin, Valerian, Chamomile and Magnesium will easily replace addictive sleeping medications.

· Natural products such Chondroitin, Glucosamine, Quercetin, Turmeric, and Hyaluronic Acid give joints lubrication and ease arthritic pain and can be an alternative to the NSAIDS which are known to cause health risks.

· Use chiropractic, massage or acupuncture treatment to aid in relaxation and pain relief.

· Take good supplements such as Fish Oil, B-Vitamins, Vitamin D & E

4) Remember to use all medications with temperance and good habits. Do not overuse your prescribed drugs and consult your physician regularly when taking any medication.

5) If you begin to notice that you want a second and third drink with dinner or you need to drink on a daily basis, get some help before your abuse becomes an addiction.

If you think your loved one has an addiction talk to them about it with love and concern. An addict will steal from you, lie to your face and subvert the truth anytime they need to feed their habit. Helping them recognize their addiction is one of the most difficult things you will ever face in life, but don’t put it off.

Seek the help of a professional if needed or check out support organizations such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) and AL-Anon or Alateen. Talking to others in the same boat helps to prevent jumping over the side.

Tolerance for addictions is more difficult than supporting a cancer patient or dealing with a mentally challenged individual. If only the addict could understand that the tolerance ends when all hope ends. All hope ends when the abuse of the addict destroys the love and respect in a relationship; when respect is not given, and lies circumvent truth. Everyone has their breaking point, even a caregiver, a mother, a father, a husband, a wife, or a child. When patience is replaced by anger and love is replaced by fear, then all tolerance is lost and walking away is the only answer.

But remember when walking away, be sure you can live with the consequence of your choice. Don’t let the addict destroy you or one day you will find yourself in their place.


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    • Sandra Eastman profile image

      Sandra Joy Eastman 3 years ago from Robbinsdale MN

      Thanks Shelley. Yes the word truly is denial.

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 3 years ago

      Whew, walking down that road is so much more difficult than supporting a cancer patient. As there is always the underlying feeling that they are not doing enough to help themselves nor will they accept in help. Denial, denial, denial. So hard to squash your own feelings in the face of their pain. Thank for sharing, there are so many people who need this help. Up, interesting, and useful.