What is the penalty for ignoring drug addiction? What will the outcome ultimately be if someone does NOT seek help for their drug or alcohol problem?
The addict themselves may have wandered here with this very question: “Where am I headed if I just continue to indulge my addiction and ignore the prospects of recovery?”
We all have a vague notion that the outcomes are not going to be good, and we are told incessantly by the treatment industry that the final outcomes are “jail, institutions, and death,” but how we still have to wonder how our story will really unravel.
And of course, every addict at some point goes through the phase where they think “Maybe I am different. Even though addiction has the same negative outcomes for other people, perhaps I will prove to be the exception. Because I really love my drug of choice….”
So let’s thoroughly explore the outcomes of addiction and what happens when you continuously ignore the idea of treatment. These ideas also apply to any addict who continuously relapses, even though they may be making a token effort at getting clean. Many addicts do this, going in and out of treatment centers, without a real desire to stop using or a full level of surrender.
Addiction is a progressive disease
We all know the saying: “Jails, institutions, and death.” This means that if we continue on with our current path in addiction, we will end up at one of those three outcomes.
What a lot of addicts do not necessarily realize is that their addiction will get progressively worse in a very steady manner.
This is true even if the addict has stopped using for a while and remains abstinent.
This is very, very counter-intuitive, and therefore can be very dangerous too. You would think that any addict who has temporarily cleaned up their act and stopped using their drug of choice would actually be making positive progress. You would think that if such a person went for several months or even years without touching drugs and alcohol, that they would then become a bit “less of an addict,” or at the very least, their addiction would remain the same over this dry spell.
But what happens with addiction is rather shocking. There are scales that can be used to measure addiction and dependence, and what we have found is that the addict actually still progresses in their addiction, even while they are abstinent. Their addiction gets worse even while they are NOT using drugs. Insane, right? But this just goes to show you how addiction really is a progressive disease.
If you want further evidence of this, simply go hang out at the local AA or NA meetings and ask around a bit: “When you relapsed, did your addiction get worse, or was it pretty much the same as it always was?” If you ask that question a hundred times to a hundred different addicts, every single one of them that answers will tell you, very enthusiastically I might add, that it got WORSE when they relapsed. They will all express, and with a deep sense of amazement themselves, at how much their addiction had progressed in such a short time.
This is because the addict themselves is bewildered and amazed that their addiction could actually progress and get worse while they are clean and sober. Suddenly they relapse, pick up their drug of choice, and within a matter of weeks or even days they are right back to their old level of consumption or even worse. Every addict is genuinely shocked at how quickly this happens and how much worse it gets for them. Because they are shocked they tend to talk about it, to try to share the information, and to try to warn others. They have experienced a relapse and they know that it always gets worse from first hand experience, and they want to warn others in recovery that they do not have to do the same experiment for themselves. No need to! It always gets worse, never better, and if you pick up your drug of choice, you will pick up with the same chaos and misery that you left off from when you had first quit.
And in fact, it will get more miserable and chaotic than it was, in a hurry. This is the progressive nature of the disease. This is just how it works.
The end of personal growth and accomplishments
If there is one thing that addiction is NOT, it is personal growth.
The great illusion that many people have when they are first starting out with drugs or alcohol is that the experience of getting high is enlightening to them. Of course it is not really enlightening, it is just merely different for them–a new and unique experience that they have not had in the past.
So many addicts equate this with a spiritual journey. They believe that the high they are experiencing gets them closer to their higher power, or unlocks new realms for them, and so on. They may feel morally superior to non-addicts based on their drug-fueled vision and “journey” that they are on.
Of course the reality is that this “new and unique perspective” that a drug gives you wears off completely within a matter of weeks or even days. What was once new and exciting to explore becomes just “the same old buzz.” Once addiction sets in, there is nothing spiritual or enlightening about simply getting high on your drug of choice and self medicating every day in order to avoid withdrawal. Drug use shifts to a maintenance phase, rather than an enjoyment phase. Addiction becomes a grind, a mere tax on your life, something you HAVE to do rather than something you want to do.
Our ambitions slip away over time as we replace them with the drive to get and use more of our drug of choice. Seeking and procuring more of our drug becomes our main focus. Finding the time and the right setting to use our drug becomes more important than making positive changes in our lives.
This is painfully obvious to see when an active person finds drugs and starts to ignore the things that they used to do for fun. For example, kids who participate in sports almost always drop out and lose interest after they have become seriously involved with drugs or alcohol.
The addict quickly re-prioritizes their life based on what is “fun” for them. Whatever they used to do for fun and recreation gets replaced with their drug of choice. Simply being high is fun at first. Most addicts also go through a phase where they will get high and actually do something, such as go play disc golf or go to a movie. But eventually their idea of “fun” shifts completely to drug addiction, and the tendency to isolate sets in (more on that later).
Life takes on new meaning for the addict. They seek the next high, the next buzz, as their ultimate goal in life. This replaces other goals and ambitions that they might have had otherwise. So there is no incentive left for personal growth, there is no desire to set a new goal and achieve, other than to procure more drugs and get high on them.
The ultimate experience for the addict becomes an unlimited supply of their drug of choice, unlimited money, and a care free life with no responsibilities. This is the general fantasy that plays out for every addict, and their ultimate aspiration is simply to keep getting high.
For the typical addict, personal growth is measured only in terms of how much supply they have and how easy it is for them to get more drugs and use them. This is their measure of progress and their standard of growth.
Obviously in recovery we can set goals, achieve them, look at our lives and take action to make positive changes, and so on. We can improve our lives incrementally through positive growth in recovery. This is just not possible (or desirable) in active addiction. Any kind of personal growth effort just gets in the way of getting and using more drugs.
Increase in tolerance and danger
One of the biggest problems that comes along with continued addiction and a lack of recovery is the increase in tolerance.
Tolerance can actually be mapped out on a scale over time, and in fact, near the end of a person’s addiction (or life of addiction) their tolerance can actually reverse. But this is an advanced stage of addiction that is actually quite rare, and for the most part, addicts generally show an increase in tolerance over time.
This means that the addict must take more and more of their drug of choice in order to get the same buzz that they used to get from taking less of their drug.
So this can create all sorts of problems and complications. This tendency to increase in tolerance means that:
* Drug addicts take higher and higher doses of their drug of choice over time, which increases the risk of accidental overdose. It becomes more and more likely that they will take a fatal amount of drugs due to their increase in tolerance.
* Drug addicts are going to have to spend more and more money in order to get enough drugs to properly medicate themselves and avoid withdrawal. This can also lead to behavior that they might otherwise have never engaged in, just so they can get the money in order to get their drugs. An increase in tolerance drives the need for more money and thus can create more desperate and reckless behavior on the part of the addict.
As tolerance to the drug increases over time, the risk factors increase as well. Addiction becomes more and more dangerous the longer a person has been addicted.
At some point it is a little bit like drawing numbers. If you keep abusing drugs for several years it is like pulling white balls out of a bag, hoping not to get the black ball that represents overdose, or prison, or a fatal drug induced car accident, or whatever. You may get lucky for several years and keep pulling out white balls, but eventually your addiction is going to have you pull out a black ball. It is a simple numbers game for those addicts who stay addicted for decades on end. Sooner or later, something really bad happens.
This would be the case even if an increase in tolerance to the drug did not make things progressively worse. But as it is, the tendency for tolerance to increase over time makes it much more dangerous to stay addicted for years or decades on end.
If the addict is rationalizing “I can always just take it easy and keep using drugs for a few more years, then clean up later on….” then that is a really bad strategy. Tomorrow is too late when the consequences are things like prison, death, etc.
The tendency towards isolation over time
If an addict continues to self medicate and refuses to get help, one of the most depressing consequences of this is the tendency to isolate. Over time, the addict will associate less and less with other people, and socialization will be kept to a bare minimum.
This happens for a number of different reasons.
One reason is because the addict starts to slowly cull their friends based on their tendency to use drugs or not. So people who do not use the same sort of drugs as the addict will slowly be culled from the herd. The addict will not necessarily do this consciously, and they may regret that it is happening, but the shift will still occur over time nonetheless.
Even if the addict has some close and dear friends that do NOT use drugs, they will slowly drift away from those relationships, and the addict will appear to be powerless to stop it. The addict will not want it to continue but they will be sad that they are drifting apart. In classic denial mode, the addict may not even realize that it is their addiction that is creating this rift in their relationships.
Instead, the addict will–at least at first–start associating with hard core drug users who use drugs just like they do. This will happen naturally, and it will ease the transition away from the “real” friends who do not use drugs.
Later on in their addiction, the addict will cease to tolerate other people altogether, and will usually prefer to be left alone. There is the problem of sharing drugs with others, and this of course can create issues about what is fair and so on. The addict will–at some point–prefer to medicate themselves without having the issue of sharing involved.
Then there is the idea of control, or lack of control. Every addict or alcoholic who uses for long enough and progresses far enough along the addiction scale will eventually tend toward isolation for this very reason: They lose control when they are on their drug of choice.
Tolerance forces this issue on the addict. You see, in the beginning, the addict can take a little bit of drugs, or use a little bit more and get a stronger buzz on, but in most cases they can still handle themselves, and they can still enjoy themselves.
If you take too little, you don’t get high.
If you take too much, you lose control and bad things happen.
But in the middle–at least early in addiction–there is a huge gap that allows for plenty of different amounts of self medicating. The addict can take a little amount, be happy, take a little more, be happier still, and so on. They have plenty of room to work with, plenty of room for error.
But later on in their addiction–and this is the whole key right here–after their addiction has progressed, this gap of “successful self medicating” starts to narrow. It starts to shrink.
What this means is that the addict will find that when they take a little bit of their drug, it just doesn’t really do it for them any more. And in fact, when they take quite a bit of their drug, it really does not quite get them to that “happy place.”
In order to get really properly medicated at this point, the addict must take a whole lot of their drug of choice, and risk losing control, overdose, and so on. The gap has narrowed. Trying to take just the right amount to be “pleasantly buzzed” becomes almost impossible.
Just ask any long term alcoholic how easy it is to get to that “happy place,” versus all the times that they either black out or just stay undrunk and miserable. Any alcoholic who has been drinking for decades knows full well that their “happy place” in getting drunk is almost completely nonexistent now. They are either angry and miserable and trying to get drunk, or they are completely blacked out to the point where they can not enjoy themselves or remember their buzz anyway. They are so far gone now with alcoholism that they have to choose between being sober and miserable or totally tanked and in a blackout. The in-between, the happy drunk place, is entirely gone. Even as their tolerance shifts in the later stages of alcoholism, finding that “happy buzz” is nearly impossible, and blackouts become more and more frequent.
A case of the “yets”
The person who abuses prescription drugs may say “I’ve never used heroin my whole life,” but what they are really saying is “I have not used heroin YET.”
The alcoholic who says “I have never had a DUI” is really saying “I have not had a dui YET.”
If you talk to addicts who have been in recovery for years and years, they will tell you that all of those “yets” are all but guaranteed to come true IF you avoid recovery and stay stuck in addiction.
We know this to be true because people in recovery can see it happening before our very eyes. People who go out and relapse experience several “yets,” then they come back to recovery and tell their story.
Nearly everyone who has relapsed in recovery (and makes it back alive) tells a story that includes them experiencing one of their own personal “yets.”
They had never been pulled over for drunk driving….until now.
They had never blacked out from drinking….until now.
They had never used needles before…..until this time around.
They had never used (insert random drug name here) before, until now.
They had never lost a spouse or a relationship before, until now.
They had never crashed a car or lost their home, until now.
They had never been homeless before in their entire life, until now.
These are all possible yets. There are a lot more of them out there. And people who relapse or continue to stay stuck in addiction, they eventually experience more and more of them. The disease is progressive. That is just how it works.
Things always get worse in active addiction, never better.
A lifetime of denial and resentment
The bottom line is that if the addict continues to stay stuck in their addiction and they refuse to seek help or treatment, they can only expect more chaos and misery as things unfold.
In the short run, we can easily fool ourselves into thinking that things are getting better, but the disease is very patient. In the long run, it always gets worse, never better. Remember that it is progressive.
It can be so easy to just ignore the problem for the short run, and continue to self medicate with our pattern of abuse. But at some point we have to take responsibility and correct course for the long term. Sooner or later, every addict will pull out a black ball rather than a white one.
If the struggling addict in your life is ready to stop ignoring their problem and take action, you might be wondering what exactly your treatment options are, and which one is right for your situation.