Addiction is one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions in the world. As it stands, there are plenty of existing stigmas regarding mental health, most based on the widespread circulation of misinformation. Many of those that have never experienced a mental health condition firsthand mistakenly believe that depression and anxiety can be boiled down to a lack of willpower. “Oh, come on, what do you have to be sad about,” someone might say to a friend struggling with a depressive disorder. “Everything is fine. Just get out of bed and get some fresh air – happiness is a choice.”
This misguided mentality couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to MentalHealth.gov, one out of every five American adults struggled with a mental health disorder in 2014. According to the same report, one out of every 10 young adults suffered from depression, and one out of every 25 adults struggled with a severe mental health condition like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Drug addiction and alcoholism are amongst the most common mental health conditions worldwide. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 30 percent of American adults admitted that they had engaged in binge drinking within the past month. 14.4 million adults were reported to to suffer from an alcohol use disorder (AUD), and under 8 percent of these men and women received professional help.
The sad truth is that because mental health is so stigmatized, many individuals don’t seek the professional help they so desperately need, and end up engaging in a vicious cycle of alcoholism, drug addiction and relentless self-medication because of it.
Alcoholism – The Facts
What is alcoholism? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists 11 symptoms of alcoholism. In order for someone to be considered an alcoholic, two or more of these symptoms must be present. These symptoms are as follows:
- Alcohol is consumed in greater quantities than intended. For example, you might say to yourself, “I’m only going to have one,” and then find that you lose control completely after the second drink, waking up in the morning how you let yourself get out of control once again. You also might vow to lay off drinking for a week after experiencing a personal consequence, only to find yourself cracking open a beer the very next evening.
- There is an ongoing desire to cut back on drinking, coupled with an inability to do so. This means that although you want to quit or cut back, you find yourself unable. You might stop drinking for a short stint of time, but you’ll always be compelled to go back to drinking no matter how dire the consequences.
- You spend a good portion of your time engaging in alcohol-related activities. Basically, this means you spend a lot of time (a disproportionate amount of time) obtaining, drinking, and recovering. You might find that you change your friends and your environments in order to surround yourself with like-minded people (people that drink as much as you do, and won’t judge you for it).
- Craving alcohol. When alcohol isn’t available, you think about it. You physically and mentally crave it. You might even experience anxiety when alcohol isn’t accessible.
- Alcohol use comes in the way of performance at work or at school. You can no longer fulfill basic obligations because of your alcohol use. Maybe you call in sick to work when you’re hungover, or your grades start to drop, or you drop out of extracurricular sports.
- You experience social issues, and issues within your interpersonal relationships. Your old friends might start distancing themselves from you, or you might start distancing yourself from them. You might fight more with your significant other, or find that your family relationships have become strained.
- You discard activities that you previously enjoyed. Say you used to enjoy reading, and you couldn’t wait to snuggle up in bed with your favorite book every night. Or you used to love going surfing on the weekends, and looked forward to Saturday all week. Alcoholism strips you of your passions and disallows you from enjoying activities you used to covet. You will ultimately lose your sense of self, and lose touch with the things that make you YOU.
- You put yourself in physical danger repeatedly. Maybe you frequently get behind the wheel after a night of drinking, or you walk home from the bar alone while intoxicated. A telltale sign of substance dependency is repeatedly putting yourself in harms way, regardless of potential consequences.
- You continue drinking regardless of physical and physiological problems. Maybe your doctor suggests that you take a break from drinking because you’re starting to damage your liver, and you find yourself unable. Maybe you lost a relationship because of your drinking, but you fail to give it up the bottle despite some brief efforts.
- Your tolerance increases. This means that you require an increasing amount of alcohol in order to achieve the same effects. Maybe you used to get drunk off of two beers – now you need five in order to feel a buzz.
- When you stop drinking abruptly, you experience symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms can range from a headache and nausea to delirium tremens, a severe withdrawal-related condition that can be lethal if not medically treated.
If you are experiencing two or more of the above-listed symptoms, it is important that you reach out for professional help in overcoming your alcohol use disorder. It can be easy to disregard these symptoms and say things like, “Everyone loses control of how much they drink,” or, “I don’t have a problem, I just like to get drunk.” The truth is, alcoholism is a serious mental condition that is far too often overlooked. Shockingly, a recent report confirmed that 34 out of every 35 alcoholics have never sought treatment.
Drug Addiction – The Facts
Drug addiction is often even more misunderstood than alcoholism, especially concerning the sudden rise in heroin abuse and overdose-related death. Many mistakenly believe that addiction has to do with a lack of willpower or with weak moral standing. In reality, drug addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease – one that can only be cured long-term with ongoing therapeutic intervention. Drug addiction actually changes the chemical composition of the brain, making quitting cold turkey all but impossible. Seeking and using drugs becomes an uncontrollable compulsion, and the addicted individual loses control of his or her actions. Not everyone who experiments with drugs will become addicted. Addiction relies on a combination of factors, including biology, environment and development. The more risk factors that a given individual has, the more likely developing a drug addiction becomes.
It’s important to understand that alcoholism and drug addiction are not signs of weakness. Those who have developed these mental health conditions likely had risk factors, like genetic predisposition, working against them. People don’t choose to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, just like they don’t choose to suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorder. Addiction is not a choice – but recovery is. At any point in time, you can choose to reach out for help and begin your personal journey of recovery. For more information, reach out to us today. We’re standing by and will gladly answer any and all questions you might have.