5 Ways to know your loved one may be secretly abusing drugs: Guest Post by Dr Nancy Irwin

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Addiction has many consequences, both on the addicted person and their loved ones. Something I see very often is that family members don’t understand how they did not recognize it sooner. They regret that their loved one got to such a dark place before they could see there was even a problem.

But the reality is that people abusing drugs learn very quickly how to lie and manipulate. Because they are regularly involved in illicit activities, they become pros at distorting reality. And it’s easiest to trick those they love, considering that they know their loved ones’ soft spots.

This is not a judgment on them. On the contrary, they are not liars by nature, and often they are trying to protect their families.

Around 10% of the US population abuses drugs, and it is therefore more important than ever to learn to spot drug abuse as early as possible. The good news is that even if the individual at risk is good at lying, there are warning signs that are fairly universal.

The following five things could be signs that a loved one is abusing drugs.

 

  1. Physical Factors

Perhaps the most obvious signs are physical. Individuals who are using increasing volumes of drugs show physical changes which may be hard to account for. Look out for the following:

  • Bloodshot eyes and/or dilated pupils
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain
  • Deteriorating physical appearance
  • Sudden decrease in hygiene
  • Unusual smells
  • Tremors or slurred speech

Of course, all of these changes can have many alternative sources. However, if an individual exhibits many of them at once, and they tie in with some of the other signs on this list, drug abuse may be the most plausible explanation.

 

  1. Problems at Work

People who have started abusing drugs tend to struggle at work or at school. Their attendance drops, they neglect responsibilities and make mistakes, and cause trouble with colleagues or peers. They may even do something so self-sabotaging that it leads to them losing their job or being expelled.

Once again, drug abuse need not be the first conclusion you jump to. There could be many reasons why an individual starts struggling with work or school, including mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

This is especially true with adolescents. Assuming they are using drug abuse without further evidence can decay trust between you, when they might be acting out because they are not coping for whatever reason.

When alternative possibilities are exhausted, or they exhibit other signs on this list, drug abuse may become the most reasonable conclusion.

 

  1. Sudden Financial Problems

Drug abuse becomes increasingly expensive as the person addicted becomes more and more dependent. Their tolerance grows and they start needing higher quantities of the substance on a more frequent basis. They end up spending more and more of their money on drugs, leaving them unable to finance other responsibilities.

These financial issues can be easier to spot with adolescents who are not earning money. They may start stealing money from you or get caught stealing from peers or from their school. In this case, it may be possible to track their theft directly to their drug abuse.

But you don’t always need as clear a sign as theft. If a loved one who is financially independent suddenly stops paying their debit orders, gets behind on loan payments, or starts asking you and other friends and family for loans, this is a sign that something is wrong. Look into why they suddenly cannot afford their way of life. If there is no legitimate explanation, and they are exhibiting one or more of the other signs, drug abuse may be the most logical conclusion.

 

  1. Behavioral Changes

Gradual behavioral changes are a sure sign that something is wrong. Of course, they do not necessarily point to drug abuse.

Sometimes, mental illness can be the source of the problem. Alternatively, they may have gone through a trauma or be in some sort of trouble.

However, if a loved one shows changes in personality, starts getting into fights, becomes secretive, and has extreme mood swings, drug abuse may well be the cause. Other behavioral warning signs include a loss of motivation, paranoia, as well as unexplained hours of euphoria followed immediately by a drop in mood.

They may begin to fracture relationships that have, until now, been strong.

 

  1. Lifestyle Changes

Drug abuse often becomes the centrepoint of the individual’s life. They need to spend time, money, and effort sourcing and taking their drug of choice. They therefore start spending time with friends who are also abusing drugs, hang out at places where illicit drug use is possible, and lose interest in hobbies and activities that were once important to them.

If a loved one starts displaying any of these warning signs, do not panic. Look at the possible reasons for these changes. In isolation, some of these changes are easily explained. Depending on your relationship with the individual, you may be able to discuss the causes with them.

Once you’ve started noticing any one of these signs, it becomes easier to spot the others. If you feel that drug abuse is a likely cause, speak to a professional immediately for advice on how to investigate further and help the person at risk.

 

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Dr. Nancy Irwin is co-author of “Breaking Through, Stories of Hope and Recovery” and a Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu World Class Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Center.

How I stopped Self Medicating my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- PTSD and found Recovery by Peter Lang


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Peter Lang shares his amazing story of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Trigger warning: please be careful when reading, talk of drug use. 
Most people think of veterans when they think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, I know all too well that PTSD can also affect civilians. PTSD is defined as the psychiatric disorder that happens following a traumatic event. While war is a common traumatic event that causes PTSD, it’s not the only kind of trauma. Traumatic events can include abuse, life-threatening illnesses, and serious accidents.

As a homeless drug addict, I experienced my share of traumatic events. I spent most of my twenties without a home: couch surfing with acquaintances and strangers all over the country, living on the streets of Philadelphia, and living on the beach in Maui. Throughout this time, I used every substance you can think of: alcohol, heroin, cocaine, meth, prescription medication. I drank so much, I developed avascular necrosis in my hips, which later led to a bilateral hip replacement after a car accident at age 30.

After I got hit by a car when crossing a street in Philadelphia, my mom asked me to come down to Georgia to stay with her. I spent the next two years in a wheelchair. Though I tried periodically to stop drinking and using drugs—with some success—I still struggled. I know now that one of the main reasons I was struggling was that I was trying to self-medicate my PTSD.

On the street, I experienced many traumatic events. There were so many times I got beaten up or taken advantage of or almost died. Once in Hawaii, I did die, and they had to revive me in the hospital. The doctor told me with the amount of alcohol I had in my bloodstream, it was a miracle I was alive.

In early 2016, I met a woman who changed my life. We fell in love almost immediately after meeting each other, and we got married a year later. We are about to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary.

She made me see that it was okay to ask for help with my PTSD. I didn’t have to feel like I had to take care of it all the time. She made me see that a great deal of my struggles with substances was because I was just trying to numb the pain from traumatic events I hadn’t dealt with.

At one point, I was prescribed benzodiazepines, which did help my PTSD. However, I was never able to take the medication the way I was supposed to, and they became just another substance for me to abuse as opposed to a helpful tool.

It was clear that in order to stop self-medicating, I was going to have to see a counsellor and confront my traumatic events. I started seeing a therapist regularly, and she has helped me immensely. She has helped me to open my eyes and stare the traumatic memories in the face, knowing that they don’t define me.

Another tool that was incredibly helpful for me was meditation. By meditating, I could learn how to become spiritually centered and stop identifying with the painful memories. I’ve also been greatly helped by Buddhist-based 12-step meetings, which have given me a unique perspective on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Now, I’m doing better than ever. My wife and I are ridiculously in love, we just moved into a nice house, and I’m working full-time as a freelance writer and marketer. I wouldn’t be where I was today if I was unable to deal with my PTSD. I would have never been able to stay clean and sober if I kept self-medicating.

I still struggle with my PTSD frequently. It hasn’t gone away. But now I have the tools to handle any episodes that do come up.

Many people suffering from a substance use disorder are also suffering from a co-occurring mental health disorder. You can treat one without also treating the other. Luckily, you don’t have to. There are plenty of resources that will help you to seek the treatment that you need. All you have to do is ask for it and be open to it.

Peter Lang is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia. He occasionally writes for The Recovery Village. In recovery himself, he has dedicated himself to helping others struggling with substance abuse.

 

7 Reasons for Alcohol and Drug Addiction Stigma: By Ryan Jackson

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Stigma is a set of pre-conceived false beliefs that people have against a particular group of people. According to the World Health Organization’s website, stigma is a major cause leading to discrimination and exclusion. Not only does it disturb the personal life of a person, stigma can also limit their chances of obtaining proper jobs and housing. The unfortunate thing about stigma is that it’s not based on facts, but rather on assumptions and generalizations that have been embedded into society.

7 reasons addiction carries a stigma

The American Society of Addiction Medicine characterises addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a ‘chronic, relapsing brain disease” that changes the structure and functionality of the brain.

So, why do so many people still think of addiction as a moral failing? Why do they still refer to victims of substance misuse disorders as meth freaks, alcoholics, junkies, crackheads and garden-variety drunks?

The answer is simple as it is depressing: because that’s the way it’s always been.

Addicts are scorned by communities, and celebrities with addictions are exploited or hounded by paparazzi. And, while the government purports to view addiction as a disease, it often works in opposition to that position through the “War on Drugs,” which counts most drug users as criminals. Even those of us in the treatment community still—consciously or unconsciously—employ stigmatising programming and language—such as when we focus on “dirty” urine.

So despite widespread agreement that addiction is best understood as a complicated behavioural-biological scenario that requires treatment, the system is hard-wired to prolong stigmatisation, and stigma contributes to addiction’s lethality.

Of course, there is a long history of mental illness being misunderstood and stigmatised,  in state hospitals or prisons, which was beautifully captured by the director Lucy Winer in her recent highly-acclaimed documentary, Kings Park. Addiction and mental health problems are still spoken of in hushed tones, and patients and their families are still blamed. This is changing, but there is still stigma. 

The idea that those with addictive disorders are weak, deserving of their fate and less worthy of care is so inextricably tied to our zeitgeist that it’s impossible to separate addiction from shame and guilt. Addiction comes with a second punch in the gut: the burden of being treated like a second-class citizen and expected to act accordingly. Stigma impacts us all, both consciously and unconsciously, and is perhaps the single largest contributor to the mortality rate. Consider these eight points:

  1. People fail to seek treatment.

Most people who struggle with an addictive disorder fail to seek treatment, in part because of their concern that they will be labeled an “addict” and that the stigma will stick. 

Often, a crisis precipitates treatment, so the problem is already well-advanced. If we removed the stigma, guilt and shame from the equation, people would find it easier to make a realistic, objective assessment of their substance misuse and discuss it openly with a health care provider.

  1. The medical profession fails to treat addicts properly.

Can you think of other situations in which the health care system abdicated responsibility for dealing with a health care issue that afflicts such a huge segment of the population? For far too long, those people who did seek treatment, often following a crisis, found no appropriate reception from the medical community. Doctors were slow to recognize addiction as treatable, and so patients were encouraged to find help outside of the medical community, in 12-step programs that based on non-scientific practices, normally anathema to physicians.

12-step programs helped many, but those that did not succeed there found themselves in the unenviable position of having been directed to a place by their doctor, having the recommended solution ineffective and being reluctant to return to their physician for further help. A better paradigm? The medical community should recognize addictive behavior as part of its purview and would apply evidence-based approaches in their practices.

 

  1. The mental health profession ostracizes people with addictive disorders.

It is routine in some mental health settings for persons with substance misuse problems to be discharged from treatment when substance misuse is revealed. They’re told that the drinking or drug use renders them “unavailable” for the work of psychotherapy and that they need to “get clean” first by going to a chemical dependency or substance abuse treatment program. They are told that whatever issues seem pressing and paramount to them are “just the drugs talking’

It’s common for clinicians to believe that before they can help a patient with the various traumas, interpersonal conflicts, intrapsychic issues and other problems that other people are  helped with in psychotherapy (and which are, of course, related to their use of substances) the patient needs to first become abstinent from substances. Many patients who are sent to traditional drug treatment programs that are abstinence-focused end up neither “clean and sober” nor receiving good psychotherapy.

  1. Funding for addiction treatment is discriminatory.

In spite of the huge impact and cost of addictive disorders on society, the way that addiction treatment is funded (in America) is disproportionately low. Despite passage of Federal Mental Health Parity legislation, mental health and substance use disorders continue to be treated differently—and often poorly—compared to “medical” illnesses.

What if there was no stigma in addiction? Given its huge cost to society, addiction should be funded and paid for on a level playing field with medical problems.

 

  1. Addicts get sent to jail.

Where substances are concerned, people go to jail for the possession of something that is part and parcel of their addiction. Most of the money that governments spend on “drug control” is spent on criminal justice interdiction rather than treatment and prevention.

Here again, clearly, is a system with stigmatisation at its roots: blaming, punishing and making moral judgements instead of providing treatment and other help that would change behavior. The more of a stigmatising stance one takes towards substance misuse the more likely one is to support criminalisation of drug offenses and the less likely is to support insurance coverage and treatment for drug addiction. Taking the stigma out of addiction argues for prevention and treatment as opposed to prosecution and incarceration.

 

  1. Even when people do get to treatment, stigmatization can continue and contribute to poor treatment outcomes.

It is critical to recovery that treatment programs not send messages to patients that are blaming (for relapse) and shaming (for being weak). People enter treatment at a vulnerable moment, psychologically and in terms of their brain chemistry. Addiction comes with a hard-to-escape sense of failure that recapitulates prior disappointments and works in opposition to growth.

Patients have spent a lifetime trying to silence the “inner critic” that repeats “I’m-not-good-enough” messages, so it’s critical that the culture and language of treatment provide a healthy soil in which patients can grow seeds of hope that are vital to recovery. In an optimal treatment setting, patients aren’t expected to play the role of one-who-should-be-ashamed. Instead, they are intrinsically involved in planning their own treatment, helping to choose the goals and techniques of treatment.

  1. They confront stigma-based roadblocks constantly.

Those in recovery from addiction face ongoing stigma and discrimination. People in recovery are faced with obstacles, especially those who have been in treatment or in the criminal justice system for chemical dependency. Employment, education, insurance and the ability to vote are all fraught with uncertainty and discrimination for those in recovery.

People in recovery have a harder time finding and keeping jobs, getting licenses, food stamps, benefits that help their children.  In other words, important aspects of living that are so critical to a stable recovery for persons who have been treated for addiction, such as employment, housing and providing for one’s family are that much harder to get. Things need to change. Having struggled with addiction in the past should not make life that much more difficult now. End the stigma.