The New Year provides us with time to reflect on the things we want to continue doing from the past year and, also, on the things we want to change. Many people make a commitment to improve health and wellness in the new year, by focusing on diet, exercise, and self-care. When we look back on years past and reflect on our healthy and not-so-healthy habits, one area that is often overlooked is our alcohol and substance use. Take a minute to think about your use of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs.
A lot of people avoid looking at their own substance use, in fear of learning that their behavior is not quite healthy. There is a lot of shame associated with examining the consequences of using drugs and alcohol and it can prevent people from taking a realistic look at their own pattern of use. This avoidance also prevents people from taking personal responsibility for living a healthier lifestyle.
All of us have preconceived notions about what an addict is… a homeless person, drinking out of a bottle in a brown paper bag under the overpass, the emaciated beggar on the street corner, or the criminal who broke into your house last week. Typically, these preconceived notions are loaded with judgement, making it especially challenging for someone who is questioning whether or not they have a problem with drugs and/or alcohol to admit that there is a problem. It’s human nature to want to avoid that type of judgement and the accompanying shame! But, remember, there is nothing shameful about being an addict once you begin to take positive action.
As you are setting goals, intentions, and resolutions to improve your health and wellness for 2018, I challenge you to also take a look at your habits regarding drug and alcohol use.
Read through the following list of symptoms and identify which, if any, you can relate to.
Using larger amounts of substances or for a longer period of time than you initially intended
Unsuccessful attempts to reduce use of substances
Spending excessive time getting, using, and recovering from the effects of substances
Cravings that are so intense, it is difficult to think about anything else
Problems with work, school, or family/social obligations (i.e. attendance or performance issues at work or school or inability to complete responsibilities at home, like cooking, cleaning, or caring for children)
Problems in relationships with family, friends, or colleagues (i.e. arguments related to substance use or loss of friendships)
Lack of interest or involvement in social, recreational, or leisure activities
Putting self in dangerous situations (i.e. driving while intoxicated or going to dangerous neighborhoods to pick up)
Continuing to use substances, despite the awareness that it causes or worsens a medical or psychological condition (i.e. diabetes, hepatitis, asthma, anxiety, depression, or psychosis)
Tolerance – needing to use more of a substance to achieve the same effect
Withdrawal – experiencing unpleasant (and sometimes fatal) physical and psychological symptoms after abruptly stopping substance use
If you identify with two or more of these symptoms, consider scheduling a formal substance abuse assessment to determine the extent of the issue with drugs and/or alcohol and discuss any treatment recommendations with the assessing clinician. You may also want to check out the Am I an Addict? Literature from the NA Fellowship or attend a local recovery-based community support group like AA, NA, SMART Recovery, or Celebrate Recovery (click on the links for more information and local meeting schedules).
Remember that withdrawal from alcohol and some drugs can be fatal. Always consult with a medical professional before attempting to stop alcohol or drug use after a period of heavy and continuous use to ensure that quitting is as safe and comfortable as possible.
If you are concerned about your substance use or that of a loved one, I may be able to help. Please contact me to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to discuss your concerns and see if therapy might be a good fit.
I wish you health and happiness in 2018!