Addiction

Addiction is a bad disease. A really bad disease. Addiction is sneaky and patient; it waits for its victims and subtly takes control of their lives. An addict (an alcoholic is just an alcohol addict) is someone whose life is controlled by drugs, someone whose thinking is dominated by thoughts of drugs, thoughts of how and where to get more, thoughts of when to use and get high next. Most addicts do not even realize they are thinking like this...it has become part of them.

Here's what I know:

About 10% of people become addicted to mind and mood altering substances. There is a genetic component, and addiction is a disease of feelings. The best definition I know is "if alcohol and/or other drugs are causing a problem, then you probably have a problem with drugs or alcohol".

Normal people, non-addicts, can "take it or leave it". Let's use alcohol as the example, although this applies just a well to other drugs, (yes, alcohol is a drug). An alcoholic (alcohol addict) cannot take it or leave it. He or she meets the definition of addiction if ANY of the following apply:

1. Compulsive use, such as saying: "I will not drink, because ..." an important event the next day, perhaps an athletic event or exam, request of family member, or just wanting to take a day off from drinking. The non-alcoholic can do this, not drink, for any reason. The alcoholic MIGHT do it, but is equally likely NOT to do what he says he wants to do. He cannot reliably not drink.

2. Inability to control the amount used. A non-alcoholic can stop by the bar and have A DRINK with friends and then go home. An alcoholic MIGHT do that, but is equally likely to stop by the bar, telling his family he will have one drink and be right home, or telling his friends he will meet them after a drink at a movie or bowling alley. He or she then does not show up for friends, and gets home a week from Tuesday. The alcoholic is not able to predict what will happen once he has one drink.

3. Continued use in spite of adverse consequences. I do not know any alcoholics who stop drinking because they get a DUI. They might stop drinking and DRIVING, but this is not enough to get their attention. Most sober people would think a DUI is an adverse consequence of drinking.

Another common adverse consequence is the disintegration of relationships. Family conflicts and general dissatisfaction with relationships is a frequent result of alcohol use. It is impossible to be present in a relationship, with a partner, friend, coworker, or anyone else, if your first love is alcohol. Relationship problems? Think alcohol is the solution? Try looking at alcohol as the problem, or part of the problem. If it is not part of the problem, go back to drinking after trying several months of sobriety.

It is important to note that alcohol in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is an inanimate object. The problem is what we do with alcohol...and what we let it do to us.

If you think you have an alcohol or drug problem, or if you have general problems with family, friends, work, or school, try being emotionally present, clean and sober, for starters. If we are clean and sober, we get to do life on life's terms, not life through a haze. If it is impossible for you to stop and stay stopped, and be happy about it (This is the clincher), get help from others who have been there and understand the dilemma.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have chapters in almost every area. Check the phone book or mental health clinic for the one nearest you.

Dr. Obrecht is an M.D. addiction medicine specialist, the only one on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Her office is in Steamboat Springs and she does consultations and referrals to anywhere in the country.


 

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