Believe it or not, most people are trying to make their lives better when they start using drugs or alcohol. For instance, someone might snort cocaine or stimulants to make more sales at work or feel invincible around people. This may meet a person’s social or psychological need to increase self-esteem and fit in with others. Some will use heroin, opioids, Xanax, or alcohol to combat anxiety, depression, or insomnia as in my case. This is often an attempt to meet emotional needs or fill the emptiness in our lives. Others may abuse prescription drugs to deal with physical issues like chronic pain.
At first, these substances can provide some relief for underlying problems. But as addiction sets in and hijacks areas of the brain and body, it is likely a person will not be able to reverse their addiction without getting help. This signals a turning point when a person will experience a deterioration in their quality of life. When diagnosing addiction, things clinicians look for are dependence or tolerance and decreased quality of life. While there are many other signs of addiction, these may be the most notable.
I was interviewing a friend of mine the other day who has been sober for 16 years. His addiction started innocently enough drinking as a teenager. He ended up transporting drugs for the cartel and was almost killed. Prior to hitting his bottom, he holed himself up in his house and smoked crystal meth. He told me he didn’t leave the house for an entire year! Everyone’s story is a little different, but it usually starts out with the hope of making something in our lives better. Where it takes us can end up being places and situations we never dreamed of or signed up for.
Here are some of the ways addiction can decrease or even ruin our quality of life.
Chronic drug and alcohol use begins to break down the body. The organs will start to shut down and complications can occur like heart disease, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, stroke, dental problems, kidney failure, and liver or lung disease. I had a few friends who lost their lives due to liver disease and kidney failure caused by their addiction.
Professional problems generally escalate the further a person sinks into an addiction which means they are less likely to hold down a job. Obviously, drugs and alcohol impact our ability to think clearly and remember appointments and meetings, etc.
Unemployment causes enough problems for the addicted person. Then factor in the cost of using the substance daily and sometimes multiple times a day, and this is where deeper problems can come into play. Things like inability to pay rent, homelessness, and even petty theft or crime to feed the addiction. My mother grew up poor due to my grandfather’s alcoholism. Like many people who struggle with addiction, he was a wonderful man until the substance took over and his life deteriorated. They lived in a trailer and my little grandmother worked at a department store to try and pay the rent. Before my brother’s death from his addiction, he would often get caught for petty crimes like stealing alcohol from the grocery store to feed his addiction.
Isolation and Emotional Problems
Often people with addictions have what’s called Co-occurring disorders. This means they are suffering from addiction along with other psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression, or a personality disorder. Attempting to treat the disorder with a substance further complicates things as you might imagine. Shame and stigma from the addiction can cause a person to isolate and keep secrets. Destructive behaviors from drug or alcohol use often drive friends, family, and loved ones away, further escalating emotional problems and isolation. This is the most devastating impact of addiction. In my case, I was treating the underlying issues of anxiety, insomnia, and low self-esteem. The years of substance abuse combined with not dealing with those issues complicated things when I got sober. It took longer than it should have to unravel everything.
The good news is that it can be done, and recovery is more than possible. The first step is asking for help and coming out of shame and isolation. As human beings, we are powerless over many things. It is not shameful to be powerless over addiction. It doesn’t make you any better or worse than anyone else. You are simply human. Hope is available and I encourage you to reach out for help today. Getting well does take a lot of work, but I can guarantee you this…sobriety will bring you everything drugs and alcohol promised.