When do I know i’m an addict?

It’s remarkable how everyone has a different perception about addiction and what it actually means. What is an addict? Is it someone who uses consistently but not all the time?, someone who is dependant to the point the cant function? someone who does something repetitively to satisfy an urge of any sort but isn’t physically dependant? or someone who literally feels on the brink of suicide because they feel that there is no way out unless they fuel their habit?

First of all there are a wide variety of things that you can be addicted to such as the obvious and dangerous things like drugs, alcohol, tobacco & gambling, to what we see as the lesser addictions such as sex, shopping, food and more recently in the modern era the internet and social media, which is something that seems to be rapidly increasing and gathering momentum yet probably goes under the radar.In fact I once read a lovely piece of poetry called ‘Sporadic Addicts’ by a very talented young lady called Sarah Louise King:  http://www.petrieinventory.com/sporadic-addicts/, which very eloquently describes our addiction to modern technology but I could instantly relate to this as I always thought of myself as a ‘Sporadic Addict’ with my drug use, which leads me on to the second point which is at what point do we class it as serious addiction?

It seems to still be the issue that its only considered a danger when its something that can be seriously detrimental to your health, but is it at that point or is it much sooner and when and how do we get to the point of identifying that moment?

I actually believe addictive behaviour is there in many people and in many forms however it’s not always identified because the ‘addictions’ are maybe not harmful or don’t meet the usual stereotypes of that genre of addict, for example, relating this ideology to my own story of addiction, I didn’t believe that I had a problem because I didn’t meet the stereotypes of a ‘drug addict’ because I had a job, was paying the bills, living my day-to-day life relatively normally but because I wasn’t lying in the gutter with a heroin needle hanging out of my arm so I didn’t class myself as an addict, because I was functioning. This was actually my own perception and I know i one that is shared with most in society, especially those who have never come in to contact with addiction, just like the stereotypical alcoholic is perceived as being asleep on a park bench with a can of lager or cider in their hands, and its this type of perception which is dangerous and why so many people suffering with addiction go untreated, without support or even unrecognised by themselves or medial professionals.

It was only when I accepted the fact that I was buried deep in addiction did I realise in my residential rehab centre that not only had I been an addict for the last 2 years (like I suspected) just because it had been spiralling out of control with my usage, finances, relationships etc, but I’ve actually been an addict for the last 12 years and maybe further back than that if you take drugs out of the equation, however it was down to my perception of it all which determined whether I saw myself as an addict and no matter how many people around me told me, advised me, suggested ideas, it would only change when I accepted that and decided that I needed to change my behaviour.

I first experimented with drugs in the early 2000’s and by the time it got to 2003 I was using on a recreation level once a week maybe twice on a social basis, with the boys, at festivals and clubs etc, but yet 10 years later I was still using at the weekends, in my mind this was fine as (yes it’s that word again) I was functioning, but if you would have asked a 100 people randomly in the street what would you call someone who uses cocaine or ecstasy pills every Saturday once a week, for 10 years, most would label you an addict, and that for me is probably correct to some extent as the signs of additive behaviour were there, otherwise why would I continue to have been pulled in, week after week?

But at what point do we know? Is it the first time you miss work or an all important meeting, or miss a mortgage payment, or is it when you collapse because of an overdose or liver failure, or even worse when you end up in a box?

When I explored rehab, my social worker pretty much made it clear in black and white that in order to get funded by the NHS you pretty much had to lose everything, now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t at that stage but I was close, real close, and unless I had a spare £30k (which my cocaine habit didn’t allow) then I was up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Low and behold 6 weeks later I actually did lose everything, relationships, finances, cars and business’, lock stock the lot, and then and only then was I was given my opportunity in Rehab. Thankfully.

It was an innovative, modern approach to recovery, a CBT Rehab (Cognitive behavioural therapy) based in South Wales called Brynawel http://www.brynawel.org/ which looks at behaviours and not specifically the individual addiction itself, in fact it was never called ‘alcoholics or drug addicts’ just addictive behaviour, and treated with equal focus and severity.

The basic philosophy is that the brain has been trained to deal with responding to internal emotions which have been triggered by external situations out of our control (and sometimes in our control), and our coping mechanism/s are to self medicate. The key component of this theory is that if the brain can be trained to deal with things in this way then it can also be reversed by learning new behaviours and identifying triggers to create better self-awareness when future issues arise, using the vast array of tools that we are given.  If you look back at my story I used once a week, it was controlled, but when the external situation of my Mothers death happened it created a multitude of internal emotions, fear, sadness, anxiety, depression, loneliness, anger, hate etc so  I decided to use every day to numb the pain, and take the anger and anxiety away, this became my coping mechanism, and soon became my new habit and it was only then could others and myself identify me as an addict. But was this too late? I’m hoping not and battling everyday to make the most of this opportunity that I’ve been given.

With the question of ‘is it too late’ in mind how do we identify these behaviours before it is actually too late? If the signs are there, and clearly they are (in so many cases) then what is available to educate us of these signs to potentially help protect ourselves in the future? I had the signs of using once a week, and you may say that the writing was on the wall but whether its drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex, there needs to be better education and better information available about the mind, the behaviours along with better services to bridge the gap between drug and alcohol misuse workers, hospitals and rehab, because there seems to be nothing in the middle, it’s very ‘all or nothing’ which ironically enough is a thinking trap in the CBT field. For me I was either in a Psychiatric unit for depression & attempted suicide fuelled by drugs, or in rehab, but in between these I nearly died three times as there was nothing else…. nothing else at all.

I believe that a better online presence with a more contemporary approach with good online education & services available to help people, especially younger people understand earlier then there would be better awareness which is vital especially giving that the younger generation seem to be drinking from an earlier age and experimenting with new drugs like MCAT and herbal drugs, to which there is still no sustained evidence of the long-term damage that can be caused, hence a case to say that addiction could escalate over the next 25 years and beyond.

I am in the process of rebuilding my life, through blogs, current rehabilitation, SMART groups http://www.smartrecovery.org.uk/ and my own recovery website, but so many people don’t get this opportunity, I’m thankful that I have it and I refuse to waste it, further to that I want to try to help as many people along the way as possible.

Everyday for the past 3 months I have been re-training my brain in the same way that a baby learns for the first time, and in the same way I trained it to self medicate by teaching myself new tools to deal with life’s tricky and unexpected situations (which will always arise), and this will continue for the rest of my life. I have identified that I showed addictive behaviour (of some sort) from probably 13 years ago or beyond, however didn’t identify it as being ‘destructive’ until it nearly cost me my life 3 times earlier this year.

I will no longer call myself an addict as I am in recovery. How long do we stay in recovery, who knows? it could be 2 years, 5 years or 50 years. I will always think of my previous mistakes, but I’ve accepted them, accepted responsibility for them (I’m not proud) as I showed all the negative, stereotypical traits of someone in addition, lying, deceptive, aggressive and a whole lot worse, but I’ve decided where and how I want to move forward with my life, stop persecuting my self and moved on, with clear direction.

I urge anyone who feels those addictive pulls, those urges, those excuses we give ourselves for ‘permission’ and the justification for instant gratification of any sort to challenge yourself and do something about it, at the earliest possible moment….

Before it’s too late.

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