What Addiction Really Says About You
Substance use disorder is a complex and complicated medical concern. It can envelop your life, strain relationships and drain your bank account. Whether you or someone you love struggles with alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs, these substances don’t have to define you. Society’s depiction of addiction isn’t always reality. It’s not something that only takes place in dark alleys or with wayward strangers. It’s a reality that affects people from all walks of life and could even impact you and me.
What Addiction Doesn’t Say About You
If you or a loved one has dealt with substance abuse or addiction, you may struggle with feelings of inadequacy or shame. Social norms often dictate how we feel about certain actions or life-long battles. But the stigma associated with substance use disorder and mental illness doesn’t have to define you — and neither does addiction. Drinking past your limit doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Misusing prescription medications doesn’t mean you’re destined for tragedy. And becoming dependent on illicit drugs doesn’t mean you’re dirty. Addiction has the power to overshadow the beautiful intricacies that make you unique, but it doesn't mean they aren’t there.
Addiction doesn’t mean you can’t bring joy to yourself and others. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your children with all your heart. It doesn’t mean you’re incapable of being creative or fulfilling your passions. Substance use disorder is a bump in the road that can define how you spend your time, money and life for a time, but it doesn’t have to define your character or future.
While it may try to define you, a substance use disorder is only a small part of who you truly are. Addiction is a chronic disease with biological, genetic and environmental contributing factors. Substance use disorders go far beyond simply making a choice to use drugs or alcohol. And healing from addiction often takes more than stopping. It can involve examining why you turned to substances in the first place.
What Addiction Can Reveal About You
Addiction isn’t an abstract moral failing, as society might suggest. But it can mean that you are dealing with a difficult situation or season in life. It can also indicate that you are self-medicating to treat past trauma or psychological issues. While the biological aspects of addiction are influential, so are the emotional and mental factors that contribute to substance use disorder.
So while substance use disorder doesn’t say anything about your religion, politics or capability to love, it can offer clues to other aspects of your life. Here are some examples of what addiction can say about you:
You Have Co-Occurring Disorders
A co-occurring disorder (sometimes known as dual diagnosis) refers to the diagnosis of multiple issues at once, like depression and substance use disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 7.9 million American adults experienced both a mental illness and substance use disorder in 2014. These illnesses can range from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety to depression and eating disorders. When combined with substance use disorder, it can be difficult to determine which problem came first.
In many cases, substance use is a means to cope with more burdensome mental health concerns. Mental health is at the forefront of our overall well-being. By acknowledging the importance of mental health — and the roles substances can play in disrupting mental health — we can move toward a better understanding of our neurological needs instead of masking symptoms.
You’re Dealing With Trauma
For some people, addiction can be a form of self-medication for untreated or recurring trauma. Childhood abuse, graphic experiences and personal loss can all springboard a substance use disorder under certain circumstances. But just as addiction doesn’t have to define you, neither does trauma from past experiences.
Addiction doesn’t normally happen overnight, and neither does overcoming grief and trauma. It can begin slowly: drinking a glass of wine each night to distract you from feelings you’d rather not experience, taking more prescription pills than necessary to move past the pain of loss, or taking a stimulant at a concert to feel free again. Trauma is, unfortunately, a reality for many people around the world. But by tackling trauma head on, you can move past these experiences to thrive without the need for drugs or alcohol.
You Have Immense Self-Worth
Substance use disorder can be deceiving. It can tell you that you’re worthless, or that you don’t deserve love. It can tell you that you’re not good enough and that you’re wasting your life. It deceptively comforts you when what you really need is someone who cares. Addiction doesn’t mean you’re weak, but it can mean that you’re hurting, struggling, or in need of help. No matter what you’re dealing with on a personal level, you are worthy of a life free from the binds of drugs and alcohol. These substances have the ability to incapacitate you and make you forget who you truly are.
But if there’s one thing addiction can show you, it’s how much you are loved and cared for. Life is worth living — without substances. Even when it doesn’t seem possible, you are never alone. There is someone rooting for your healing, whether it’s a loved one, friend, doctor, or others in recovery.
Don’t let addiction get the best of you. You are far more than a medical condition. You are an individual, with unique likes, dislikes and a story to tell. By sharing your experiences and learning from all the personal attributes that addiction can reveal, you can help yourself and others lead full lives without drugs and alcohol.