When you took your first drink or smoked your first joint or even popped your first ecstasy tab in a club, did you think about the possible consequences? Of course not. Life’s for a living, having fun with your friends, partying. When you’re young, you’re untouchable, you are eternal. You look at your peers, and you copy them. You look at adults, and, yes, you copy them too. Youth – you can’t beat that feeling of forever it gives you.
I’m no killjoy. I loved a good time and had a good time with the best of them. For a while, at least. I still love a good time, don’t get me wrong. It’s just now it can’t be driven by chemicals I drink or smoke or ingest for the sole purpose of affecting my brain. It’s as simple as that. Why? Because I’m an addict. I suffer from the chronic brain disease that is an addiction. Back when I was younger, left untreated, I would probably have died. Actually, the evidence was and still is quite clear. Somebody else would be writing this.
Addiction doesn’t care about the personal or social or physical or mental consequences of being in your life, being right there in your head, today and every day. As an addict, you don’t care either. You only care about chasing that feeling, that removal from the real world, that got your hooked on your substance of choice in the first place.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not drunk, high or wasted. Right now, I’m me. Years of abuse came to an end with months of treatment in a rehab center, and now years of hard recovery, out here in the real world, one I can’t afford to escape or hide from anymore. Treatment is about getting clean; recovery is about staying that way.
What follows are 6 essential facts you need to know about addiction. They will educate you (hopefully), but they will offer no guarantees that you won’t become an addict yourself. By the same token, they won’t predict your future when dealing with addictive substances or behavior.
- Addiction is Non-Discriminatory
So why do some people become addicts and others don’t? As an addict, I can’t tell you, and that’s the truth. If I were a fully-qualified, medical professional, even specializing in addiction and its causes, I could not (repeat, not) give you a definitive answer either. I could speak to you about the possible factors involved, and the potential indicators of a predisposition to the disease, like genetics, history of sexual or physical abuse, the age you start, and so forth, but that would be it.
No-one, absolutely no-one, can look at you, speak with you, and examine you and say, “Don’t ever drink. You will 100% turn into a drunk,” or “Never smoke a joint. You’ll be on crack before the year is out.” Addiction doesn’t discriminate – it doesn’t care who you are. It also doesn’t care that it is a potentially fatal disease, and you could well be its next victim.
- Addiction Has No Cure
Addicts, once clean, have only one option – to stay clean. There is no secret pill to remove the disease of addiction from your brain and your life, no-one to cast a magical spell and it’ll all be over. You have the disease, and only staying clean, living with it in acceptance every day, will protect you from its harm.
I’d like to share this with you. When I left my rehab, at our last group meeting there together, the others wrote messages on the whiteboard, to wish me well on the next part of the journey. I remember them all, but one got it just right:
“If you can, you won’t be back.
If you can’t, you won’t be back either.”
- Substance Addiction = Brain Damage
Many of the substances that people become addicted to are the result of the impact of their constituent chemicals upon the brain. In other words, how they make you feel, your “buzz.” However, long-term use of these drugs will damage the way your brain functions, even the brain’s physical structure. It can well lead to physical problems in other parts of your body, simply because your brain is unable to function properly.
The potential damage to your brain includes:
- Mental Health Disorders, such as
- Anxiety and Depression
- Sleep Disorders
- Possible psychosis
- Memory Impairment, eg. blackouts
- Actual Brain Shrinkage (caused by the brain’s inability to repair damaged cells)
- Hepatic Encephalopathy (caused by cirrhosis of the liver)
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: Initially, Wernicke’s encephalopathy, followed by Korsakoff syndrome; symptoms include:
- Severe memory loss
- Confabulation (or invented memories)
- Lack of perception
- Inability to converse
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Impairment of brain development in unborn children
- Addiction is Financial Costly Too
The impact, in terms of the damage to those affected by addiction, is incalculable. You have the addicts themselves, their families, their friends, their work colleagues, the societies and communities they were once part of, and the list goes on and on. However, look at it in strictly financial terms, and it is calculable.
Google the term “cost of addiction in the US” and you’ll get plenty of results, with all of them running into billion-dollar sums. For example, the financial cost of alcohol addiction alone in the U.S. is $249 billion every single year. Look at the problem of U.S. drug misuse, and the figure gets higher. Addiction and abuse of drugs cost an estimated $484 billion every year, including such things as healthcare, lost wages, crime and associated criminal proceedings, to name but a few of the knock-on effects.
- Addiction Could Even Be Waiting in Your Bathroom Cabinet
When people think of addicts, they think of “no-hopers,” pretty much like the one I used to be. Now, however, I’m a recovering addict and I have hope. They probably won’t look at the guy across the street, in real pain with his back for months now, and think the same thing. However, with addiction’s non-discriminatory nature, that guy’s at risk too.
The rise of opioid abuse through painkilling medication in the U.S. over recent years has been astronomical. People living in physical pain are at high risk of becoming addicted to the very painkillers, prescribed by their doctors, that are meant to alleviate their physical suffering. Worse still, many opioid addicts will move on to heroin, due to tolerance factors.
- The Good News: Addiction is Treatable
Addiction has no cure. However, you can receive a special treatment for it. There are many types of addiction – substance (drugs, alcohol, nicotine, etc.), gambling, and sex are the most common – and all have treatment programs available, designed and modified from years and years of study and research.
Your chances of success are yours, and yours alone. Yes, there is medicated detox, one-to-one and group therapy, counseling, regular “anonymous-type” meetings, exercise regimes, new diets, meditation classes, and so on, but, in the end, it is your life, your choice, and your recovery.
So, those are your 6 essential facts about addiction – facts you need to be aware of: it’s non-discriminatory, there is no cure, substance abuse is brain damage, it’s costly in so many ways, it can even be lurking in your bathroom cabinet, but, and I repeat, but, it is treatable.
This has been a stark article to write, but what is written above is important to get across. If there are other points you think need to be made or examples of your own experiences with the disease of addiction, please share in the comments below. Do you think, for example, there will ever be a cure for something like alcohol addiction, or are we always destined to live under its potential shadow? Please, let us know your thoughts.
If any of the above has made you think seriously about your alcohol consumption, you social drug use, even a particular behavior you constantly seek to make happen, please speak to someone, a friend, a family member or your doctor. Remember, addiction can be treated, and that will never change.