At some point every person who is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse has to ask themselves:
“How bad is my drug or alcohol problem, really?”
How bad does it have to get before you decide to take serious action?
How we rationalize and justify our consumption habits
Nearly every addict and alcoholic has a long history of justifying their drug or alcohol consumption to themselves. They have to do this in order to continue to abuse their drug of choice. Without this rationalization and justification, they would not be able to continue to live with themselves in the face of consequences.
So in the beginning when their drug or alcohol is still fun, there is no need for justification, because they have essentially suffered no real consequences yet as a result of their addiction. But later on, when things in their life start to slide, they have to start doing mental gymnastics in order to live with their decision to continue to use drugs or alcohol.
The reason I call it “mental gymnastics” is due to the process that they use and the type of logic that the addict employs in order to rationalize things. They start with the idea that “I am going to continue using my drug of choice no matter what,” and then they try to twist things around to make that OK. The same is true when they are attempting to justify consequences that have occurred in their lives. They start with the idea that it was not the drug or the alcohol’s fault, it had to have been something else. Then they scramble frantically for any explanation at all that might justify the crappy results they are getting in their life, taking pains to avoid blaming their drug of choice. They protect their drug of choice because they are so afraid of having to admit to a problem with it and face life without it.
So the addict or alcoholic justifies their addiction in any way that they can, placing blame on anything and everything other than their own drug of choice. The world is out to get them, the world has conspired against them, they are just really unlucky, or whatever…..but it is NOT the drug’s fault! Anything but that!
If you had my life, you would drink or drug too!
One of the more popular justifications for addictive behavior is this one: “If you had my life, you would drink or use drugs too!”
People who make this argument are generally doing so to justify their addiction in one of two ways:
1) Having lots of emotional pain and chaos in their life, and thus needing to self medicate to cover that pain up.
2) Having lots of physical pain in their life, and thus needing to self medicate to cover that physical pain up (such as with opiate painkillers or heroin).
It does not really matter which of these two scenarios is true, because the bottom line is that the addict is still making an excuse, a justification, and they are attempting to justify their death spiral of addiction by playing some sort of victim role, rather than to take responsibility and do something healthy about their situation and get help.
Many addicts who live with physical or chronic pain take the approach that there is no possible way that they could live and exist in this world without constant opiates dumped into their body, that there is no alternative to treating physical pain, and that to take their opiates away would be the cruelest thing that anyone could ever do to a person.
Such an argument does not hold water, and is just another attempt to rationalize and justify. The fact is that there are rehabs out there and specialists in addiction who are willing to find alternative solutions for people living in chronic pain. There are all sorts of methods and things that can be tried. The goal is not to live as a vegetable, being so medicated and high all the time on opiates that you lose your quality of life. The goal is not to live in excruciating pain either. The truth is that there is a tolerable solution somewhere in the middle that is going to take some effort in order to find it, but it will allow someone with chronic pain to live a higher quality of life without being doped up into oblivion all the time.
You may have to go to rehab in order to find this new way of life. You may have to seek out more than one doctor or specialist who can help you with this. NOT doing so is just an excuse to abuse more drugs. Not taking on this responsibility to find a solution for recovery is not acceptable. There are people out there who are willing to help you, your job is to take action and put your first foot forward and start taking steps towards a better life in recovery.
People who argue that their emotional pain and turmoil is justification for their addiction are fooling themselves as well. Just because you have had pain and chaos in your life does not give you free license to slowly self destruct by abusing your drug of choice for the next few decades.
You may believe that you have earned the “right” to self medicate with your drug of choice to your heart’s content, but in the end you are only hurting yourself with the negative effects of your addiction.
You believe that you have found the perfect way to medicate your emotional pain or deal with your self pity, but in reality you are still trapped in a negative spiral that will only end in (you’ve heard this before I’m sure) jails, institutions, or death.
There are people who have had bad things happen to them, there are real victims in this world, and I am not trying to take away from those tragic events or minimize them in any way. All I am pointing out here is that if you are hanging on to bad things that happened to you in your past and using them as an excuse to justify your addiction then you are only hurting yourself.
There is still a better way to live that does not involve self medicating with chemicals. There is a better way to live where you learn to cope and to deal with your past issues rather than to self medicate your feelings all the time.
Again, this take action on your part. You cannot just wish for this to happen. You have to actually make it happen, by taking real action. Asking for help is always a good start. Picking up the phone and calling a rehab is another good way to kick start this new life. But it’s not going to happen simply by hoping things change for the better. Without taking any action, things are never going to change at all, and in fact they will slowly get worse over time.
Rehab is for REAL drug addicts and alcoholics, not me!
Some people have a labeling problem when it comes to addiction and alcoholism.
They are preventing themselves from getting help for their addiction, because they have this stereotype in their head that prevents them from putting themselves into the category of people who might need rehab at all.
For example, take someone like Daryl. Daryl is a professional, a schoolteacher who has never before had any problem with drugs or alcohol in his life. He has never experimented with illicit drugs. Maybe he gets some sort of pain or injury, maybe a bad burn in the kitchen or something, and they put him on opiate pills for this.
Suddenly, for no apparent reason, and even though Daryl did not give his permission for this to happen, he starts really liking these pills. He can’t help himself from taking more than what it recommends on the bottle. He finds himself taking them before going in to work, and during work. They just make him feel so good.
He fakes an injury and gets more of the pills. Before you know it, he may even be looking to buy them from other sources as well, from anyone he can find that might sell them to him.
This really can happen to people, supposedly “normal” people who have never had a drug or alcohol problem before. And yes, it can happen later in life as well, at nearly any age.
So think about Daryl’s logic that he is fighting with as his problem continues to escalate. At some point, he may see a need to correct his problem or get some help. He can no longer deny that his life is spinning out of control. He may even be facing heavy consequences at his teaching job due to his addiction. At some point, denial crashes into reality, and Daryl has to at least admit there is some sort of problem here.
But…..what is Daryl going to think about rehab? Rehab is for drug addicts, right? Daryl himself is a professional, he has never had any substance abuse history or problems, so he just does not fit into that particular mold. Does he really need rehab?
The same thing can happen with alcohol. Many alcoholics still function, they still hold down a job, they still have their family life in intact, but their alcoholism is raging out of control and is threatening to destroy them.
They face the same “labeling problem” that Daryl has. They have this image in their mind of what a true alcoholic is, and it is a bum who has a paper bag with a bottle of cheap wine and he has been homeless for over a decade now and living in the back alley. They can’t possibly be an alcoholic because they don’t come anywhere near to fitting this mold–they still have their job, their income, their family, and so on.
These people who are “functional” addicts and alcoholics have a problem, because they do not believe that they truly qualify to be a full blown addict or alcoholic. Therefore, they do not seek help, they do not believe that they really need inpatient rehab, they do not believe that they need to take serious action in order to stop using drugs or alcohol.
It’s not that bad because I still have a job, a family life, a home, etc.
The addict or alcoholic may point to any number of things in their life to prove that they are still functional enough to be able to continue to freely abuse their drug of choice.
Employment is a big one. Anyone who is holding down a job and bringing in steady income will generally argue that they are holding things together. Any job requires effort, and so the addict or alcoholic is bound to feel justified in their life, that they deserve to reward themselves however they see fit, and they will point to their successful employment as proof that they are “not that bad.”
The problem with this sort of logic is that it is full of “yets,” and it is easy to just keep moving the line over time.
The yets are pretty simple: “I have not lost my job yet due to my addiction. I have not been divorced yet. I have not wrecked a car yet. I have not been in jail yet.” And so on.
All of these things are justifications on the part of the addict, because they can look at other drug addicts and point out how much worse they are. “See, so and so crashed their car, got divorced, and went to jail due to their addiction, and I have not done any of those things yet! So THEY are a real addict, whereas I am clearly NOT!” And so on.
But then there is the idea of “moving the line.” What used to be someone who was bad off with an addiction becomes much more normal as the addict starts to deteriorate. What does this mean?
It means that, over time, the addict or alcoholic is going to start experiencing those “yets.” They are going to have some consequences, maybe not the exact ones that they talked about, but bad things will slowly come to pass as a result of their addiction. For example, they might get fired, but quickly find a new job to recover from this. Or they might get arrested, but quickly scramble to cover up any legal issues that result.
So when these bad things start to happen, what does the addict or alcoholic do? Do they face the facts that their addiction is causing them problems, and that they are now experiencing all of those “yets” that they used to talk about?
Probably not. Instead, what they will do is to simply move the line. They will point out even WORSE examples of other addicts who are much further gone than they are. They will simply rationalize and justify their addiction by moving the line.
Sure, they have experienced some minor consequences maybe….but it’s just not THAT bad, yet!
Drinking problem versus alcoholism – which one better defines your situation?
So now that we have thoroughly examined how addicts and alcoholics rationalize and justify their disease, how do we really pin down when it is addiction or alcoholism, versus just regular old drug abuse, or teenagers having fun, or whatever? How do we really know when it is going to be progressive, fatal, deadly addiction?
My experience is that you have to define your problem. In order to do that, you have to get honest with yourself. This is an exercise in self assessment.
Does your problem get worse when you take your drug of choice? Or does it get worse when you take it away?
Really think about that question because it contains a profound truth. But of course, you have to get really honest with yourself if the question is going to do you any good.
1) The problem drinker or the casual drug abuser is not set to have a lifetime struggle with addiction. They can walk away from the drugs or booze at any time, without consequence. They have a problem when they take the drug. They have problems when they indulge too much. Their problems are based on abuse, not addiction.
2) The addict or alcoholic who is destined to have a lifetime of struggle with addiction is different. They cannot walk away from the drugs or the booze at any time. They generally don’t have huge problems unless you take the drugs and the booze away from them. Their life falls apart if they try to get clean and sober on their own, without any help. Their problems are based on addiction, because they do not know how to be happy and content without self medicating.
Carefully read over those two definitions a few times and really think hard about which one better describes you.
There are people who abuse drugs for a short time in their life and go on to live a “normal” life without being addicted. You have to ask yourself:
Are you really one of those people?
If so, then why not walk away from drugs and alcohol for a year? Just take a year off and see how it goes.
If that sounds like a death sentence, then maybe you need to ask for help, or get serious about what your situation really is.
Have you had treatment before, and relapsed?
If you have had treatment before and then relapsed, then the truth should be staring you in the face by now. Anyone who has been to rehab and made a concerted effort to stay clean and sober, then relapsed, should realize that they are going to need serious help in order to stop in the future.
My theory is that you should always go one step more intensive than the treatment options that have failed for you in the past. So if you have just done outpatient treatment in the past, try inpatient treatment. If you have failed to stay clean and sober after several stays at an inpatient facility, then try long term rehab.
A failed treatment episode should be a wake-up call, in my opinion. Those who have been to rehab and failed need to realize that their problem is very serious, because they took action in the past to correct their problem and now they are finding themselves back in the deadly cycle of addiction again.
Sometimes people in this situation will argue that “I have been to rehab before and it did not work for me.” This is an argument to avoid taking action, and it is self defeating as well. What the addict must realize is that it is not the fault of the rehab that made them relapse, but it is the fact that they had not yet surrendered when they attended that past treatment. The answer is not an alternative treatment necessarily, but instead, it is that they must surrender, and then ask for help.
A progressive disease is an emergency
Realize that addiction is progressive, and thus is an emergency situation. Because it gets steadily worse over time, and never gets any better, you should take action to get help as soon as you admit that you have an addiction.
Knowing full well that it only gets worse over time should be incentive enough for you to take action and ask for help.
It is possible to live a new life in recovery, but you have to work for it, you have to create it, you have to get that ball rolling by asking for help. This is how the process of recovery begins.
You may also be wondering what will happen if you simply ignore your problem and continue on without any treatment. Instead of doing so, take positive action and start on a new path in your life.
No matter how far down the scale you have gone in your addiction, you can recover and live a new life.