Until someone you know is affected by addiction – either becoming an addict or living closely with one – it’s an issue that seems far from home. It’s not easy to understand unless you come face-to-face with what addiction really looks like.
Addiction is mentally and physically destructive. It causes people to do horrible things they never would have considered otherwise. Some people steal from their own family including their parents and kids. Others lash out, and some just disappear, abandoning all their responsibilities. There’s a desperation that underlies every action and reaction, and to the addict, no matter how many people love them enough to help, they often see no way out.
How did they get addicted in the first place? Why would anyone choose to take drugs that clearly create chaos in someone’s life? Didn’t they pay attention to those anti-drug programs in school?
While it’s easy to think every addict was persuaded to take drugs by some shady stranger lurking around a corner, that’s more of a fairytale than reality. While shady people do lurk around corners, people usually get their drugs from friends and family.
People become addicted in many ways, and often it’s accidental
Opioids are heavily prescribed to people for pain after surgery and to cope with serious injuries and chronic pain. The problem is these drugs are highly addictive, and it doesn’t take long to develop an addiction noted by symptoms of withdrawal when they run out of their prescription.
This easy addiction puts patients and doctors between a rock and a hard place. Doctors who notice signs of addiction or abuse often end a patient’s prescription and urge them to seek rehab in a detox program.
Withdrawal symptoms are severe and can include extreme depression, severe fatigue, insomnia, agitation, cramping, trouble breathing, headaches, and some people may even experience a heart attack or stroke.
Experiencing both chronic pain and withdrawal symptoms at the same time often causes people to commit suicide. They’re unwilling to seek help because they feel stuck. They don’t believe they can be helped.
Aggressive over-prescribing doesn’t help
It’s a known fact that doctors over-prescribe pain killers. Nobody wants to be in pain, but opioid prescriptions aren’t as tightly controlled as they should be. Many patients are not just given free reign on refills, but they’re given full bottles of high-dose pills. Their tolerance increases gradually, and as a result, they remain on a high dose for many years.
Thankfully, in 2016, the CDC started cracking down on doctors and issued official guidelines for treating chronic pain, including advising against high doses of opioids. As a result, the prescribing of high dose opioids dropped by 41% from 2010-2015.
Addiction has a monetary cost
According to government statistics, drug abuse is an issue that costs the US over $740 billion each year due to crime, lack of work productivity, and health care needs.
Compared to heroin or meth, it’s difficult to think of tobacco as a drug that costs billions of dollars per year, but it does. In 2010, health care costs related to tobacco abuse cost $168 billion. In 2013, prescription opioids cost $26 billion in healthcare related costs.
Addiction is addiction regardless of the substance
Ask any former smoker how long it took them to quit smoking tobacco and most of them will tell you it seemed to take forever. Many tried to quit fifty times before they could last more than a week without a smoke. Although the withdrawal symptoms from quitting tobacco are less severe than opioids, it’s still a struggle.
Instead of judging an addict, support them gently
If there’s an addict in your life, understand that regardless of how they became an addict, they are worthy of support. If they’re in a place where they aren’t willing to meet you halfway, don’t push them into a corner with ultimatums or threats to withhold your love and support. That’s only going to drive them further away.
Sometimes you do need to walk away from an addict, but if you’re still involved in their life, the best thing you can do to support them is to let them know you care. Make lighthearted suggestions to enter a detox program, but remember that they need to make the decision to get help in order to experience recovery.