Addiction and Recovery Primer

Trying to determine if you're addicted to an activity or substance can be very difficult, and sometimes it can take years. Occasionally, people can overcome an addiction with little effort. For example, it takes time to build up an addiction to most drugs, and there is a window of time when you can walk away without needing help to overcome your budding addiction. At some point, however, the window closes and once a strong addiction takes hold, it requires a lot of support to stop using the substance.

Making an informed decision about alcohol and drug use should include understanding the risks to your mind and body. The risks of alcohol and drug use are not only becoming addicted, but with the newer drugs and combinations, such as GHB and Special K, other risks have developed.

Cocaine addictions sneak up on people, whereas an addiction to crystal meth can pounce on you. After several months of partying on weekends, there can be a blah feeling for a day or two after a night out. The "Monday morning blues" is nature's way of telling you that certain chemicals in your body have been depleted and that you're beginning to crave the drug to re-supply those chemicals. Other warning signs after a night of partying include feeling fatigue, irritable, or anxious. After a few more months or years of partying on weekends, you may decide to take a bump to get you through Sunday or Monday. Or, you may drag through the week and can't wait until the weekend. Once these things happen on a regular basis, the cycle of addiction has begun.

Learning if you're addicted to alcohol can be tricky because alcohol addiction is different from addiction to other drugs. People who are addicted to alcohol often believe that they are not addicted because they can go days, weeks, and even months without drinking. Alcoholism doesn't work that way: you can go for a while without drinking – sometimes even weeks or months. Alcoholism can be determined by the amount of alcohol you drink at one sitting (i.e., binge drinking), what happens to your personality when you drink, and how relationships with other people are affected. It is also characterized by the inability to stop drinking once you've had one or two drinks of beer, wine, or hard liquor.

Signs of a developing addiction

To learn if you're addicted to alcohol or other drugs, notice how much time you spend getting it, doing it, and talking about it (“Wow, we were so smashed last night”… “I don't know how I got home”… “I didn't remember that!”…). If you have a lot of conversations about drinking, who got drunk, and what happened while drinking, these are clues that you may be addicted to alcohol. Other signs include DUI’s and having trouble at work, with friends, and with your partner either due to drinking alcohol or using drugs or while you're drunk or high.

Pot is an addiction worth noting because to this day there's common belief that pot is not addictive. People will tell you in all seriousness that they've been smoking dope every day for years but are not addicted. Yes, they may not be physically addicted, but pot has a strong psychologically addictive component, and psychological addictions can be as hard to break as physical ones (a physical addiction includes needing more of it to get high and withdrawal when you stop).

Food and sex addictions can be difficult to determine because both hunger and sexual impulses are basic, essential human drives. Eating too much food or wanting sex because you're lonely, bored, or anxious are similar to drug addictions, and the treatment for them is similar to other addiction treatments.

Resources

There are many places to turn to figure out if you might be addicted. Recovery groups give people support and encouragement to stop an addiction. In food and sex addiction recovery, however, no one wants you to stop eating or having sex. Rather, recovery is about stopping these activities from being self-destructive.

There are many types of addictions, and it's important to determine if you're developing an addiction or have an addiction. The Internet is another good introduction into finding the help you need. There are many self-help, 12-step and treatment sites, but a good place to start is a site called the Healthy Mind.

Resources for LGBT individuals

In most cities, there are many 12-step groups for LGBT individuals. If there isn’t one in your city, keep in mind that 12-step groups typically tend to be welcoming to all people. As for treatment centers, although few places are geared specifically for the LGBT community, many in-patient and out-patient centers are gay-friendly. When I have referred addicted clients, I have called treatment centers to ask if 1) the staff, including their therapy team, is educated on LGBT issues 2) the staff is knowledgeable and gay-friendly, 3) there are any LGBT staff members and therapists, and 4) there currently other LGBT individuals under their care. All of these questions should be asked when you consider going into treatment. A good resource to consider is Sober Recovery. If you're LGBT and suffering from an addiction, go to the website Recovery Village for additional resources.

Millions of people have been helped to overcome their addictions through self-help groups, therapy groups, and through individual therapy. If you're an addict, it's good to know that you are not alone and that help is readily available.