Alcohol addiction is so common, and develops so frequently into a life-threatening problem, that no matter where you live, it’s highly likely that recovering alcoholics reside in your area. Simply talking to one of them, perhaps by attending a local meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, may help to give a sense of perspective and point a problem drinker in the direction of an effective alcohol treatment program. Sometimes, this will be AA itself or perhaps an alcohol rehabilitation center that is set up to handle the early detox stage of treatment.
Many people have a ready community around them in their religious fellowships. It’s a rare church, mosque or synagogue that doesn’t have some kind of outreach program aimed at connecting members with help for compulsions such as alcoholism. Whether it’s something handled within the context of the faith, or something as simple as a list of phone numbers and a friendly member of the clergy who wants to help, religious communities are frequently the shining gate to acknowledging a problem with substance abuse and to making the choice to begin a life of renewed sobriety.
Alcohol abuse isn’t a minor matter. According to the National Institutes of Health, around 18 million American adults have trouble with their drinking, while the Journal of the American Medical Association found that over 15 percent of American adolescents show signs consistent with a lifetime of alcohol abuse. Signs of alcohol addiction include:
• Cravings, as if you need a drink as opposed to having a more manageable interest
• Loss of control or an inability to stop after a single drink
• Dependence, where not drinking causes shaking, nausea and/or excessive sweating
• Increased tolerance, where people need larger volumes of alcoholic drinks to get the same effect
Addiction is a complex disorder characterized by compulsive drug use. While each drug produces different physical effects, all abused substances share one thing in common: repeated use can alter the way the brain looks and functions.
• Taking a recreational drug causes a surge in levels of dopamine in your brain, which trigger feelings of pleasure. Your brain remembers these feelings and wants them repeated.
• If you become addicted, the substance takes on the same significance as other survival behaviors, such as eating and drinking.
Changes in your brain interfere with your ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control your behavior, and feel normal without drugs.
• Whether you’re addicted to inhalants, heroin, Xanax, speed, or Vicodin, the uncontrollable craving to use grows more important than anything else, including family, friends, career, and even your own health and happiness.
• The urge to use is so strong that your mind finds many ways to deny or rationalize the addiction. You may drastically underestimate the quantity of drugs you’re taking, how much it impacts your life, and the level of control you have over your drug use.
MYTH 1: Overcoming addiction is a simply a matter of willpower. You can stop using drugs if you really want to. Prolonged exposure to drugs alters the brain in ways that result in powerful cravings and a compulsion to use. These brain changes make it extremely difficult to quit by sheer force of will.
MYTH 2: Addiction is a disease; there’s nothing you can do about it. Most experts agree that addiction is a brain disease, but that doesn’t mean you’re a helpless victim. The brain changes associated with addiction can be treated and reversed through therapy, medication, exercise, and other treatments.
MYTH 3: Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can get better. Recovery can begin at any point in the addiction process—and the earlier, the better. The longer drug abuse continues, the stronger the addiction becomes and the harder it is to treat. Don’t wait to intervene until the addict has lost it all.
MYTH 4: You can’t force someone into treatment; they have to want help. Treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to be successful. People who are pressured into treatment by their family, employer, or the legal system are just as likely to benefit as those who choose to enter treatment on their own. As they sober up and their thinking clears, many formerly resistant addicts decide they want to change.
MYTH 5: Treatment didn’t work before, so there’s no point trying again. Recovery from drug addiction is a long process that often involves setbacks. Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that you’re a lost cause. Rather, it’s a signal to get back on track, either by going back to treatment or adjusting the treatment approach.