Nobody who is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction really wants to jump with both feet first into recovery with a big smile on their face. It just doesn’t work that way! The process of change is often slow and painful, and nobody wants to leave the “comfort” of their addiction.
So many addicts and alcoholics wonder what life will be like if they simply refuse to change, and stay on their current course.
Let’s take a look at what the consequences are of avoiding treatment.
Is addiction really a progressive disease?
Many addicts and alcoholics who are still relatively early in their journey can not see that their disease is, in fact, progressive.
When we say that addiction is progressive we are talking about the idea that it gets worse over time.
This can be very deceptive and hard to figure out on a shorter time scale, but it becomes painfully obvious if we are looking back over several decades of drug or alcohol abuse.
Unfortunately, it is not very helpful to people to wait several decades in order to see the fact that their addiction always gets worse and never any better. In several decades, many addicts and alcoholics will suffer severe consequences such as losing families, losing jobs, or even dying from their disease.
It is so tricky for the addict themselves to see this progression of their addiction because they are too close to the problem. They cannot see that things are slowly deteriorating and getting worse over time. This is largely due to their denial, where they tend to minimize the negative aspects of their addiction and glorify the positive aspects. They focus only on the benefits that they get from their drug of choice and do all sorts of mental gymnastics to avoid reflecting on the bad aspects of their disease.
For example, an addict may be caught smoking marijuana, and get charged with a crime. They become resentful over this and blame everyone and everything but themselves. Because they are an addict, they later end up experimenting with other drugs as well, and they use their resentment as justification for why they should do so. They are blaming others and justifying more drug use. Because of this logic they are using and their denial, they cannot see that their addiction is the thing that is causing them problems. Instead they blame the police and the unfair laws regarding marijuana. In reality, their addiction is what really got them into trouble, and their addiction continues to escalate and get worse over time, and it is only going to create more and more problems for them. But they cannot see this because they are stuck in denial, they are blaming others for their problems, and their mindset and attitude are set to justify more drug use in the future.
The alcoholic finds it difficult to see the progression as well, though it is pretty easy to see over a longer time frame. This is because the alcoholic can and will curtail their drinking at times.
“But” you protest “I thought that an alcoholic could not control their drinking!”
Ah, that is the tricky part. The alcoholic cannot control their drinking for any significant length of time. They cannot control it indefinitely.
But in the short run, every alcoholic CAN and DOES curtail their drinking at times. Every alcoholic can buckle down and cut back a bit, at least for a short while, when they have to.
The proof that they are still alcoholic is that eventually–and that is the key right there, EVENTUALLY the alcoholic will lose control and go off the deep end again.
And this is exactly why it is so tricky for the alcoholic to understand why they are trapped in a progressive disease. This is why it is so difficult for the alcoholic to see it getting worse over time.
As an outside observer of the alcoholic, it is easy for us to see the progression, because we tend to focus on the bad parts. We see that they get arrested, we note that a year later they got a DUI, we see that two years after that their spouse finally divorced them, and so on. We can see the progression and we can understand that it is driven by their addiction.
The alcoholic is too close to all of these problems to realize that alcoholism is the common thread in their problems. Their denial clouds them from reaching this conclusion. Instead, they have an excuse for everything, they were always the victim of these circumstances, and the world was just out to get them and aligned against them from the very start.
So the disease of addiction (or alcoholism) is most definitely progressive, but the addict or alcoholic is going to find it very difficult to see or believe that at first. It may take years or decades for the addict to admit that things have, in fact, gotten progressively worse for them. Their denial will cling to the fact that the world has done them wrong, over and over again, and that forces have conspired against them. THAT is what the alcoholic believes is what has gotten progressively worse, not their disease.
The tendency to experiment with different drugs over time
If the addict or alcoholic avoids treatment then there is a tendency to experiment with different drugs over time.
This is because of tolerance and the multiplicative effect of combining drugs together.
In other words, say that an alcoholic attempts to stop drinking for a short while. They notice that when they do so, they have severe anxiety, to the point where they can not really function very well in the real world. They have become entirely dependent on daily alcohol consumption in order to medicate their anxiety.
So what do they do? They go to their doctor and complain of anxiety. They may or may not mention their drinking, most alcoholics will have a tendency to minimize their drinking problem at this point, and their logic is that they only want help for their anxiety so that they can attempt to get their problem under control themselves.
So their doctor prescribes anxiety medication, usually something that is also an addictive sedative type of medication.
Now herein lies the dangerous part, the progressive part of the disease.
What will happen is that the alcoholic may well stop drinking and start using the anxiety medication. This may work out fine for a certain period of time. They may then run out of the pills and go back on the booze. This pattern may continue for weeks, months, or years. Two different drugs (yes, alcohol IS a drug) being exchanged to help a person self medicate.
But at some point, the progressive nature of the disease will kick in, and the alcoholic will come to have both of these drugs in their system at the same time. Eventually it will happen, even if the alcoholic is careful and strict with themselves never to combine the two. And when it happens–watch out.
Combining the anxiety medication with the alcohol will result in a whole new monster, a whole new level of addiction. Now the effects of both drugs have been multiplied, and the person is now in very dangerous territory because they are putting so much more powerful chemicals into their system.
What is even more dangerous is that when the person attempts to stop drinking, stop the anxiety medication, or stop both at the same time, their withdrawal will be extremely dangerous due to this multiplicative effect, and the detox could even kill them outright. Most people who have progressed to this point with their disease will, at the very least, experience some hallucinations during the detox process. Sometimes this can be controlled in a supervised detox with medication, but sometimes it can’t. Sometimes the withdrawal is so severe that even with strong medications from a supervising doctor, the alcoholic will still experience very dangerous symptoms.
So this tendency to branch out from our drug of choice should clearly show the progressive nature of the disease. A heroin addict may graduate to speedballing and combining their heroin with cocaine some day. A marijuana addict may try other drugs in order to supplement the high that they get. And so on.
Many addicts and alcoholics have caught themselves over the years saying things such as “I will never do that in my addiction” or “I may do drugs, but I will never shoot heroin” or “I may drink a bit much, but I will never use other drugs,” and so on.
In addiction recovery programs, these sorts of statements are called the “yets.” These are things that we have not done in our addiction YET. The reason we call them “yets” is because they always come true eventually, IF we continue to stay stuck in our addiction. This is the price of avoiding treatment, eventually we must experience all of our “yets.”
Our yets almost always come true if we do not treat our disease, because the misery of addiction causes us to throw caution to the wind and experiment more. We get miserable, care less, and get reckless. Again, this is part of the progressive nature of addiction.
The danger of increasing tolerance and what consequences this can have
Another thing that happens with long term drug or alcohol addiction is the increase in tolerance. As the addict or alcoholic continue to self medicate, they will start to notice something over time:
It takes more and more of their drug of choice in order to get the same effect that they used to get by taking less of the drug.
This is because of an increase in their tolerance to the substance. Their body is getting used to being heavily dosed with the drug over and over again, so it compensates for it by reducing the effects that the drug has on the body.
So the alcoholic who starts by drinking a six pack every night will eventually need a 12 pack in order to get the same level of buzz.
The alcoholic who finds that they need to drink a pint of liquor each night in order to sleep will eventually need a larger quantity in order to pass out.
This is how tolerance increases.
Why is this an issue?
It’s an issue because there are limits to what the body can handle, but your addiction does not really care much for these limits, and as your tolerance increases over time, you will start to push up against these limits. This is dangerous.
For example, drinking large amounts of liquor in a short period of time can easily kill a person. So if you work your way up to “needing” a half gallon of liquor every day, this can become extremely dangerous and hard on the body. You are pushing up against the limits of what the human body can process and tolerate.
The same is true with other drugs, and so the threat of overdosing becomes very real. People try to get the same effect that they used to get, they want to feel that first high that they ever got with the drug, so they take greater and greater quantities to try to recreate that perfect buzz. Their increase in tolerance prevents them from getting that first perfect buzz that they used to experience when they were just starting out with their drug of choice.
In extreme cases, alcoholics eventually experience reverse tolerance, where their disease progresses so much that it starts to take less and less for them to get drunk or black out. Eventually the alcoholics tolerance will reverse until they will black out from a single drink. This is rare though because the vast majority of alcoholics die or quit drinking before they get to this point.
Without treatment and abstinence from your drug of choice, you are bound to experience this progression with your tolerance over time. The only way to avoid this is to get help and maintain complete abstinence. If you attempt to stop your tolerance from changing by controlling your intake, you will find that it is impossible to do so. Thus is the nature of addiction. It always progresses and gets worse over time if the person is not abstinent.
The tendency to isolate more and more with prolonged addiction
There is a huge tendency to isolate more and more over time if you stay stuck in your addiction.
There are many reasons for this, and even if the addict or alcoholic is really a “people person” and cannot imagine their life without other people in it, they will still eventually gravitate towards isolation if they stay trapped in the addiction cycle.
Addiction drives away people, especially those that we love. It cannot help but do this, because for one thing, it hurts other people.
Over time, the addict or alcoholic will realize that their disease is hurting others, so they will attempt to shield these other people from the pain by simply avoiding them.
Then there is the idea that the addict or alcoholic can no longer trust themselves.
They start to realize that there is a balance with their drug or alcohol intake. They could be doing one of two things when they use their drug of choice:
One is to go all out, lose control, and really enjoy themselves. They place no limits on how much of their drug they consume and they allow themselves to go completely off the deep end. No limits.
The other approach they may take at times is to try to hold back a bit, keep things under control, and just take enough of their drug of choice in order to feel decent, feel good, but without going totally nuts.
The addict will realize that when they are using this second approach, when they are trying to control themselves, they cannot have any fun with their drug. They are not enjoying it. In fact, they will come to realize that they are quite miserable when they are trying to control it and simply “maintain.”
The addict will come to resent these times when they have to control their intake. If situations come up that force them to maintain control, they will resent those situations.
So this pushes the addict or alcoholic further and further into isolation. The only time that they can really enjoy themselves and their drinking is when they are totally alone and isolated from the world.
This also has to do with consequences. The addict will notice over time that isolating is safe. They get into less trouble when they isolate and drink or take drugs by themselves. It is only when they go out into the world that their addiction gets them into trouble. So they will have a tendency to isolate over time in order to better avoid consequences of their disease.
All part of the progressive nature of addiction. It forces us to isolate over time, for various reasons…..
When self medicating stops working
If you continue to avoid treatment and you refuse to give abstinence or sobriety a chance in your life then you will eventually get to a point where your drug of choice stops working for you.
Now what do we mean by “stops working for you?”
What I mean is that at some point you are going to be using your drug of choice and you will not really be able to get high with it. You will not be able to get to “that happy place.”
You will think back to the early days of your drug use, when it was truly fun, and you will wonder why you cannot recapture those moments. Why you cannot get high like that any more.
Or you will clearly see that in all of your drug use and chasing that high all the time, it is only for a tiny fraction of time that you are actually happy any more.
You will realize and clearly see that, in the beginning, your drug use was fun ALL the time, every time you used it. But now, after progressing this far with your addiction, you will realize that you are miserable 99 percent of the time these days. You still get that occasional high or peak experience with your drug, but it is rare.
It’s not fun any more.
You realize this fully, you see the futility of it all, and you realize that it is just not fun any more.
It used to be fun. It used to be a blast.
When you first discovered your drug of choice, it was the most fun you had ever had. It really was.
But those days are gone. You cannot get them back, and at some point, you will realize this fully. You will accept the fact that it’s just not fun any more.
That is the moment of surrender. When you realize that it HAS gotten worse, a lot worse, and that it is never going to get any better.
Unless you change.
Progressive, incurable, fatal
They say that the disease of addiction is progressive, incurable, and fatal.
They’re absolutely right.
Nearly anyone on the outside looking in at addiction can easily see that these three things are true.
Addicts and alcoholics really DO get worse over time, never better. This is true even if they experience brief periods of abstinence or control with their drug.
Addicts and alcoholics can NOT cure their disease. All attempts to curtail or control their intake eventually fail and they return to full blown addiction.
Addicts and alcoholics will eventually die from their disease, given enough time. The only way to prevent this is to embrace recovery and change their entire life.
Are you ready to take the plunge and start changing your life? You may want to find out what your options for treatment are next.