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Signs of Addiction or Substance Abuse


Whether it is:

  • Alcohol : drinking too much, binge drinking or just a daily habit that you have excused
  • Drugs: you feel you need to take some kind of drug to just get through the day

How do you know when enough is too much ... how do you know when you are addicted?

Eight Signs of Substance Abuse or Alcohol Addiction:

1. Memory, Fuzzy Thinking and Headaches.

If you are taking drugs or drinking alcohol every day, do you struggle to remember things you really should be remembering, simple things, appointments, picking the kids up, calling someone, or forgetting arrangements you have made.

Do you struggle to think clearly? Perhaps you don't want to think clearly if something traumatic has happened. Perhaps thinking too much is getting you down. But is taking drugs or drinking every day going to really help, or will it make things worse.

Like it or not, the basic, honest truth is that addictive substances will affect and damage your brain unless you do something about it. If you need these things in order to cope then you need to seek help to deal with the underlying reasons why you need them.

Key Point: Addiction is never about the thing you are addicted to. It is always about what you are trying to avoid by taking that substance or keeping that habit. (This goes for gambling, pornography and other addictions also).



2. Using substances to help you cheer up and get through the day.

If you rely on alcohol or drugs to put you in a good mood, or simply to cheer you up or be able to cope with surviving for another day, I don't mean to be blunt, but you have a serious problem.

Why aren't you happy?What is making you miserable, sad or even depressed?What are your real struggles?

These are the underlying issues that are not being dealt with. They will not go away and neither alcohol or drugs will help you to answer those basic questions. Therapy can help you to look at the reasons for your unhappiness and enable you to take definite steps to deal with the underlying issues. When you are dealing with those issues and developing your life the way you want it, chances are the need for alcohol or drugs will take care of itself.

Key Point: It is a beautiful world, full of extra-ordinary life and vitality, beauty, people, new experiences. What is really stopping you from enjoying it?



3.  You've tried to quit but haven't been able to.

The problem with trying to quit anything is the 'trying'. There are two reasons for this. 

Firstly, if we are trying, what we often don't realise is that 'trying' is actually mental shorthand for "I'll try but I know I won't succeed." People who say, for example, 'I will completely stop smoking from tomorrow and never smoke another cigarette' are at least five times more likely to stop smoking.

Secondly, when we try to quit something, we are focusing on the very thing we are trying to give up, which makes us think about it more, and want it more. We need to change the focus onto a positive reason or outcome or alternative:

- my children, how much more fun we will have, our times together, their laughter
- going out more, as a family or with friends, the places we could go
- the things I could spend the money on that I will be saving

Key Point: 'There is no try ... there is only do or don't do.' (Yoda, Star Wars)


4. You feel that you need to drink or take drugs to fit in socially.

Lets be honest. We all need to fit in. We all want to have friends, and even be loved and accepted, especially if we are not 'naturally popular.' And sometimes we do have to go with the crowd, to fit in, to be accepted, to have fun. That's a part of life. And we don't want to be the 'killjoy'.

But there are times when we need to stop, think and look at the cost to us and those we love. 

Is my drinking or drug taking affecting my health?
Do I need these friends so badly I am willing to risk myself and my family?
What does it say about me if I need to do this to be accepted?

These are hard questions, ones that we don't like to ask ourselves, but if we don't ask (and answer) them, the consequences for us and those we love could be disastrous.

Will you be one of those people who watches their family and life disintegrate, separate, and then drink or take even more drugs to cope with losing the people you love?

Key Point: If you see your family life getting worse, and your habits affecting your loved ones, don't wait until it all falls apart before you seek help.


5. Are you ignoring health issues so you can keep on doing what you are doing?

Headaches. Insomnia. Waking up feeling wasted and tired. Stomach pains. Flushed red face. Aches and pains. Nausea and vomiting. Cravings. Chest pains. Cramps. Sexual dysfunction.  Not eating properly or healthily. Shaking and trembling. 

There are lots of reasons for health issues, and not all are down to addictions. But, again, lets be honest. We do know if it is or it isn't. Let's not lie to ourselves. We may make excuses to others, but lets be honest with ourselves.

If you know your drug or alcohol habit is causing you health problems, you need to do something about it now. It isn't going to go away. It won't get better if you continue doing the same things. And if, in spite of knowing how this is affecting your health, you still can't stop, then therapy and other medical support can help. Do not leave it until it is too late.

Key Point: Make excuses to others if you must, but don't lie to yourself. If your health is suffering, be determined to do something about it. No more excuses.


6. Problems with family members directly related to your drinking or drug use.

You know the pattern. It's like a script that you play over and over again. 

You drink or take drugs, knowing the consequences. Your family or loved ones express their concern (not always as positively as they could). You argue, use phrases like 'it's my life, I'll do what I want.' 

The argument escalates. Someone storms out. They feel bad. You feel bad. You hate what it does to the children. All those bad feelings. And so, the next day, or the next week, you do it all again, to get away from the stress, knowing it will only make things worse. 

But at least the drink, or the drugs (or other addiction of choice) will blot out the bad feelings and stress for one more night. 

And you even manage to convince yourself that it's not really your fault. Your family drove you to it, with their criticisms, innuendo's, pressure, nagging. 

If this is you, there is simply one very important question:

Key Point: Is your habit more important to you than your family and the pain that you are causing to the people who love you the most?   Is it time to heal?


7. Secrecy and Lies.

You know your habit. You know the problems it is causing. You even know the excuses you tell to yourself and to others. And most of all, you know the conflict it causes. You know, before you even drink or take that drug. You know what is going to happen. It is such a familiar pattern. 

And underneath all of that is something else, something you haven't even told your loved ones: your secret shame, how you really feel about yourself, about your addiction. They are so busy focusing on the drink, the drugs, the consequences, they don't even know what is really going on inside you.

And what makes it all worse is the lies, the secrecy. That is when you know you are really addicted, when you are so ashamed of what you are doing and so aware of the conflict and affect on your relationships, that you lie. And I am reasonably sure that you can probably remember those lies.

Key Point: If you have to lie and keep secrets you are doing something that you are ashamed of, and hiding an even deeper shame. Get help as soon as you can.


8. Withdrawal Symptoms.

You have tried giving up, but when you did manage to give up you experienced anxiety, sickness, couldn't sleep, couldn't stop thinking about it, craved it, wanted it so badly it was physical.

Your body has become dependant on the drink or drugs, physically dependant. Counselling might be able to help here, but what you really need now is medical help. There are so many organisations, so much support available.

Key Point: Do not listen to that voice that says 'I can't give it up.' Seek medical advice and support. Get counselling in addition to that. Put your life back on track. Do not give in. You are worth more than that.


So What Do I Do Next?

  • Be open, honest and vulnerable with the people who love you

  • Be determined to get your life back on track

  • Know and believe that you are important, that your life is important

  • Make a clear, once and for all decision to give up that which is harming you

  • Get medical advice and support

  • There are always underlying issues - get counselling and therapy

  • Stop lying to yourself and making excuses (I know this sounds harsh)

  • See the beauty that is in you, in your loved ones, in the world. Really see it.

  • Change those other habits that are keeping you stuck in your problems.


As a person and as a counsellor, I really hope you manage to make a way forward and find ways of dealing with your problems. I do genuinely believe it is a beautiful world and a life worth living. Please find ways of enjoying your journey and defeating the things that are holding you back.

And if you want counselling, you know where I am.

Garry Rollins
Gateway Counselling Leicester.

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