As an addiction therapist, this question has been posed to me in a thousand different ways. Most often by people who have been struggling for a while with a certain substance and are finding their lives becoming far more impacted than they would prefer.
Typically when asked this question, I walk with people through their history of use and have them describe to me where their journey has taken them. Oftentimes, addiction started with recreational use or use in order to get back to a baseline- think taking pain pills after a car accident or drinking a glass of wine to be able to sleep. Many of the addicts and alcoholics I work with also have a family history of addiction and are able to point out 2 or 3 extended family members who are currently in the throws of addiction. Answering specific questions in regards to substance use allows one to determine whether the use is simply for fun or moving onto the spectrum of addiction.
The DSM 5, a manual used by professionals to identify specific criteria for each diagnosis, breaks down addiction into 3 separate categories: mild, moderate and severe. Ask yourself the questions below to determine if you may be caught in the cycle of addiction.
For every answer of "yes" give yourself 1 point. If you answer yes to more than one of the items above, you qualify as having a substance abuse disorder.
2-3 points: Mild Substance Abuse Disorder
4-5 points: Moderate Substance Abuse Disorder
6 or more points: Severe Substance Abuse Disorder
Why can't I just stop using?
Addiction has long been thought socially as a moral failing, for those people who simply aren't "strong enough" to quit. Recent studies paint a different picture, clearly showing that addiction is both a mix of genetic predisposition and a disease of the brain. Long term addicts actually change the neural pathways in the brain causing a significant change in the amount a dopamine, GABA and serotonin the body produces, causing one to feel sad, lethargic or jittery when they aren't using. With the change in the chemical make up of the brain, substance users are often forced to continue their substance of choice just to feel "normal". Habit, socialization and feeling better are all reasons that stop people from quitting their substance long after it has taken over their life. Though the journey to sobriety can be a long one, with the right tools addiction can be conquered.
How do I quit?
Stopping your drug of choice is never easy, but it can be done successfully with the support of professionals, knowledge about addiction and a desire to end the exhausting cycle. If you or someone you love is currently using substances and wants to quit, reach out to a professional, be honest about your use, and take the first step on the journey to a better life.
Amber Reed, LSCSW
Resolve - Counseling and Wellness Center
8340 Mission Rd. #230
Prairie Village, KS 66206