When you’re an addict you can’t envision a life without drugs. You try to think of what life looked like before you started getting high, but you don’t remember anything of that previous life. If you can’t remember what life was like before getting high and you don’t know what life could be like not high, what's the point of getting sober? I get it. I know exactly how you are feeling. I was there, where you are, 14 years ago. My life consisted of getting money, buying drugs, getting high, maybe eating and maybe sleeping. There were days where I would say I had enough, but you know it didn’t last. The demon that lies inside of the addict is too strong and powerful. The demon tricks you into one more time. The demon is the one who said this would be the last time. The demon will use whatever tricks it has to keep you hooked and coming back. I use the term demon because I can’t think of a more scary, evil name to call the addiction. The addict that lies inside you, isn’t you. The addict does things you would never imagine doing. The addict makes you hurt the people you love. The addict doesn’t care about anything other than getting high. The addict will destroy every positive thing around you to keep you in despair. The addict will call you worthless and a loser. The addict will make you feel so bad about yourself you will have no choice but to get high. You get high so you can silence the addict, so you can silence the demon.
What does an addict look like? Don’t all addicts live under the bridge and push grocery carts filled with cans? The reality is an addict looks like you and me. Addiction doesn’t discriminate against race, ethnicity, age, man or woman, social status or any other way you wish to describe a human being. If you are living and breathing you are at risk of becoming an addict. We are in an epidemic of addiction in America. People are dying every single day due to overdose or addiction related complications. In 2019 70,000 people died from drug overdoses. I have attached a graph from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Figure 1. National Drug-Involved Overdose Deaths—Number Among All Ages, by Gender, 1999-2019. More than 70,000 Americans died from drug-involved overdose in 2019, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. The figure above is a bar and line graph showing the total number of U.S. drug overdose deaths involving any illicit or prescription opioid drug from 1999 to 2019. The bars are overlaid by lines showing the number of deaths by gender from 1999 to 2018 (Source: CDC WONDER).
How do we begin to help people when we as a society have made addicts feel so shameful for their addiction? With addicts looking like you and me it makes it that much harder to spot an addict to get them help. This may sound harsh but it’s the truth. By the time you look at a person and can tell that they are an addict it’s going to be that much harder to get them help. If we can start to identify the signs early on we can act quickly to get that person help. What are the signs that someone might be abusing drugs or alcohol?
Withdrawing from family gatherings
Spending more time alone
Having issues with money
Having a hard time keeping a job
Missing school days
Weight loss or weight gain
Changes in personality
Wearing longs sleeves even when it's hot
This is just a general list and each drug has different signs and symptoms. The biggest one I would look for would be short temper, change in personality and body changes. When I was in the beginning stages of drug use I remember getting angry often and that wasn’t like me at all. I was a happy kid from the moment I was born. When my family started noticing I was getting angry often and I wasn’t my usual happy self they knew that something was going on.
Your approach is everything and I mean everything. You can’t approach an addict with accusatory language. You never want an addict to think bad about themselves. Remember, the reason they started using drugs or alcohol is because there is some part of them they aren’t happy with. They are struggling emotionally, so coming off in an aggressive way is a quick way to shut down any possibility of a conversation.
The biggest thing you can do is ask good questions and really learn to listen. So often I wished that someone would have asked how I was doing. Asking the right questions has the ability to get to the root of the problem. The right questions open the door to positive conversations. These are some of the questions I use today when I’m talking to someone I think might be struggling.
How are YOU doing?
How’s your relationship?
Are you having fun at school?
Have you been sleeping well?
Do you take time for yourself?
How are YOU feeling?
Do you like who you are?
There are many more great questions you could use to get the conversation started but these are some great starters. What I have found that also helps is to refrain from using the phrase “I feel.” You want the main focus to be about them and not about how you are feeling because of what they are doing.
The biggest problem I see that addicts have is the ability to ask for help and this is where you and I come in. We have got to take action and start the conversation. Once we get the person to drop their guard and open up to us we have a better chance at helping them. Even if they don’t come out to you that day, they see you as a resource and as a person they can trust. We have to start paying more attention to those around us. If you are a parent, I beg you to start to pay attention to your child. If you don’t have family dinners anymore make it a point to bring them back. If you find your kid skipping off to their room rather than taking the time to hang out after dinner, PAY ATTENTION, this could be a warning sign. Are you constantly working even at home? Does your child have to call for you several times to get your attention? Your child needs you more than you know. How do I know? Because I was a child that watched her family fall apart and nobody bothered to ask if I was ok. Be the person that others can trust and confide in. Be the lifeline to someone who’s floating downstream and can’t swim. You have the power to help change lives, all it takes is you paying attention, and listening.
(I wish someone had told me this when I was struggling)
Recovery is possible, life is worth living and you are worthy of every gift life has to give.