Addiction is defined as a recurring, long-term pull to use a substance, to the point the brain can think about nothing else, even in spite of negative consequences. It is a very specific brain disorder, and does not necessarily affect everyone who uses a particular substance.
Some casual users may be able to use a substance at certain times and then get on with other areas of their lives, even though over time the way the drug affects the brain may create addiction. If you are concerned about your use of drugs or alcohol, here are some criteria that can help you recognize troubling patterns that can become addiction.
1) Your use fills a valuable need or gives you a way to deal with stress.
Drugs and alcohol can dramatically affect your behavior, and change the way you perceive reality. You may feel more confident, extroverted, or relaxed under the influence of your substance of choice. Over time, you might think you “need” it in order to be with other people, relax at the end of a long day, or deal with troubling thoughts or feelings.
When the effect of the drugs wears off, you may experience a sudden “crash” of feeling low, to the point that you begin to feel you can’t function without it. The bad feelings or struggles or stresses don’t really go away, but are only pushed further deeper within yourself, and are now coupled with a dependency.
2) Sometimes, your use is all you can think about
The use of alcohol and drugs, even at levels problematic to your health, is not in and of itself an addiction. For example, many people can drink alcohol at chosen times, but are also able to have other activities, interests, and relationships. Addiction is a serious brain disorder, in which you are always obsessed over satisfying your craving.
It may feel impossible to go on with normal life or think about other things, because getting your next “fix” is the only thing on your mind. If you find yourself strongly wishing you could be intoxicated when you’re not, or making elaborate internal plans to use as soon as possible, it could be a sign your use is taking over your life.
3) You keep using even when it becomes harmful or interferes with your life.
When the obsession to keep using interferes with all other aspects of your life, it makes it difficult to appreciate the ways in which your use is harming you. While the exact effects on your health or changes in your behavior will vary depending on which drugs you are using, all addictive drugs can wreck a great deal of havoc on your physical health, your brain’s ability to process information, your finances, and your relationships. Under the influence of substance abuse, you may be unable to recognize how much danger you are putting yourself or others in, or you may find the pull of the substance so strong that you stop caring about that harm.
4) You try to “cut back” or control your use, but end up doing more or over a longer period of time.
Maybe you do realize that your substance use is becoming problematic or excessive, and you make an attempt to control your use, or even stop. However, you find your addiction is simple too strong, and it may feel like you are out of control. The limits you try to set get overstepped, and you end up going on a dangerous, extended “binge” without meaning to.
With many drugs, regular heavy use will build up a sense of tolerance, as the body and brain adjusts to your use, and you now need much higher amounts to get the same effects. This can cause you to escalate your use, increasing the danger of a life-threatening overdose.
5) You lie to others and minimize the extent of your use
Addiction is something that is tremendously stigmatized in our society, and this can make it hard for someone to admit they have a problem. People struggling with substance abuse may hold such a strong negative stereotype of “addicts” or judgmental attitudes, and this keeps them from realizing they have a problem. You may feel a deep sense of shame about your use, so that you end up hiding it from others.
The most powerful form of deception is self-deception, and you may find your brain creating many rationalizations and excuses as to why your use is justified, but deep within yourself you may wonder if you have a problem and need help.
If you are struggling with addiction, it’s not your fault, and there is no reason to feel shame that would keep you from seeking help. Sobriety is not a matter of simple willpower, but it is something you can achieve through a combination of hard work on your part and a good program that can help you in your healing. Starting the process of recovery can be a liberating way of no longer being controlled by your addiction.