Having an addiction is like having an ongoing battle with yourself. There’s no winning unless you surrender. There’s no conquering the destructive pull of addiction unless you lay down your weapons. Perhaps that’s the reason for the way Alcoholic Anonymous participants begin their introductions. “Hi, I’m John, and I’m an alcoholic.” They admit that they are powerless to the alcohol. They admit to being helpless in the face of the addiction. They surrender.
Making the choice to live without alcohol and seeking out substance abuse help or entering a halfway house treatment program is the first step to pulling back the fingers on the grip that addiction has on you. It’s a way wriggle out of the suffocating grasp that the compulsion of drinking has on your life. You see, an addiction is the repeated activation of the brain’s reward system, which is the key to the drug abuse cycle. You experience a high, or rush in the brain, which leads to ongoing physical and psychological cravings. These cravings get so strong that alcohol becomes the sole focus of your life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities.
And, this is how compulsive behaviors begin. A compulsion is an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against your own conscious wishes. It is defined by a loss of control where you find yourself spending large amounts of time engaging in alcohol-related activity to the point where you are neglecting social, academic, or familial responsibilities. You’re not only drinking but you’re thinking about drinking. You’re planning your day so that you can drink. You’re planning your financial life so that you can be sure to have enough money to buy alcohol throughout the month.
In fact, you might find that an addiction is present if you see the following behavior:
- Obsessive thoughts about alcohol that disrupt functioning at home or work.
- Inability to refrain from drinking or engaging in alcohol-related behavior
- Avoiding time with friends or other typical family activities to instead spend time drinking.
Below are the clinical criteria you need to be diagnosed with an addiction. If you have 2-3 criteria your addiction might be mild; 4-5 criteria indicate a moderate disorder; and 6 or more of the 11 criteria indicate a severe disorder.
- Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than the you meant to
- Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance
- Cravings and urges to use the substance
- Not managing to do what you should at work, home or school, because of substance use
- Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships
- Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of substance use
- Using substances again and again, even when it puts the you in danger
- Continuing to use, even when the you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance
- Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance)
- Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.
As you can imagine, entering a halfway house or drug rehab facility isn’t an easy choice. You’re finally laying down your lies and your longing to get drunk. You’re finally saying no to those cravings and turning the other way. You’re turning away from the monstrous grip of addiction and instead of trying to fight it; you’re walking in a new direction – towards recovery.
That’s a big step! The process of recovery will require all of you. It will require your emotional, psychological, and at times, even spiritual maturity. Pat yourself on the back for making the choice and following through with it. One of the biggest lessons of freeing yourself from an addiction is the power of making your own choices. You’re no longer prisoner to the alcohol, which required having to schedule your life around it, and having no choice in the whether you’re going to drink or not. Instead, by entering a halfway house and/or treatment program, you’re finding your own power, the power to make a choice.
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