Signs of Addiction:

Where is it? Your tall boots, under the toilet cover, in your daughter’s old doll house? If your answer is “yes, I do hide my stash of booze (or drugs),” or if someone you love is demonstrating this concerning behavior, please read on.

If your relationships are suffering, your spouse is embarrassed by you at parties, your kids are avoiding you, you’re too hung over to make it to work the next day, or you consume until you black out, you may have a real problem. Below are some facts that may enlighten you; as you know, knowledge is power.

First of all, please know that when someone is overindulging in a drug like alcohol or now legal cannabis (THC/weed), or other illicit drugs, they are most likely self-medicating an uncomfortable feeling or thought. Typical reasons why one may self-medicate include issues like Anxiety Disorders including Social Anxiety (especially trauma, otherwise known as PTSD, when addressing women’s needs or Veterans), Clinical Depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, or Thought Disorders. According to Scott Stossel, author of My Age of Anxiety, about 35 years ago, anxiety did not exist as a diagnostic category, now it is the most common form of officially classified mental illness.

“Nearly one in five American adults, or 43.7 million people, experienced a diagnosable mental illness in 2012, according to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration). Less than half (41 percent) of these adults received any mental health services in the past year.” Research shows that the majority of these people who have an untreated mental illness abuse alcohol and/or drugs.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lV-TR, here are the signs that you or someone you love may have an addiction:

1) Difficulty quitting, despite trying

2) High tolerance to alcohol and/or other drugs (it takes more of it for you to get high)

3) The usage has impacted family life, work or school and/or other relationships.

4) Withdrawal symptoms like nausea, tremens (shakes), and/or sweats, when trying to eliminate the use of alcohol or drugs.

Even though cannabis is legal in Colorado, it can be addictive and you can experience the symptoms above; it can have adverse effects. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, repeated use of any drug, alcohol included, can change the brain and “hijack” the brain’s reward system. This means that Dopamine increases, creating a false high, cravings become more intense, and one may not do things that were once enjoyable.

On top of this, Drugabuse.gov reported that teens who abuse cannabis showed that he or she may lose as much as 8 IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38. For people starting out with average IQ scores, a loss of 8 IQ points could drop them into the lower third of the intelligence range.

So now what? Do you or someone else you know need help? Are you or someone else you know self-medicating with alcohol or drugs? It starts with the above facts that you now know, most importantly that he/she/you are self-medicating something. That something could be fears which lead to anxiety, depression, past trauma, and/or that pulling sensation to feel high and numb. Now is the perfect time to intervene and break these patterns. Patterns of hiding your use, lying about it, denying it or rationalizing it are all real problems that can be addressed and changed.

Your first step is to find professional support, a clinical therapist, inpatient or outpatient, depending on how severe the symptoms are now. Moreover, informal supports like emotional support from family, friends, and/or clergy can be invaluable. 12 Step Groups are also good informal supports, the groups are facilitated by others who have struggled with addiction and now serve as a sponsor to new members. Basically the person needs to be surrounded by supportive people who don’t encourage alcohol and other drug use. Recovery happens in connection, not isolation.

Another key is finding activities that are enjoyable and healthy. Sometimes this means going back in time and recalling when you found joy without drugs and alcohol. It may mean reconnecting with nature, exercising, joining a team, taking a class, or creating art. Essentially we all need to find meaning in our life; you may need to reevaluate your career and find work that you love and brings you joy. Perhaps that alcohol/drug use was another way to escape from the job which you dread; now that change is possible. You or someone you love does not need to hide; one can only live their best life if they are open, not hiding something and then living in shame in guilt. Treatment works.

Belina N. Fruitman, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Additions Counselor lll, owner of A Woman’s Way to Recovery in Denver, former Adjunct Professor of Social Work at Metropolitan State University of Denver.