An addiction is when a person uses substances or engages in activities in a compulsive manner to the point that it interrupts their day to day functioning. The substances and activities are pleasurable but the continued use and engagement in it has a negative impact on the person’s health, family, job, and other basic life responsibilities.
If you’ve never been addicted to anything before then it may be more difficult to understand the behavior of those who are battling an addictive disorder. Many people wonder why the person who struggles with addiction doesn’t just stop. It’s really that simple, right? Stop drinking, stop smoking, stop having risky sex, stop gambling, and stop overspending on shopping sprees – Just stop! Right? The problem is – it’s really not as simple as it seems.
Often the addiction causes a physical reaction when the person tries to stop using a substance because the brain has become accustomed to it. This is what you probably know as withdrawal. Along with this physical addiction is the brain’s overreaction to cues related to the addiction. For many people who struggle with addiction, whenever a cue associated with the addiction is present, the brain will experience a stronger urge to engage in the activity that will give them the euphoria. This is why people who struggle with alcohol addictions should stay away from bars and parties where there is alcohol. Remember, this isn’t about will power; it’s about brain chemistry and difficulty refraining from substances and activities, even when they know cognitively that it can be harmful.
Addictions can be treated in both an outpatient and inpatient setting and experts have differing opinions about the best approach. However, rehabilitation should consist of several components. First the person struggling with the disorder should be separated from the addictive substance or activity. When this happens the body may have a physical reaction such as chills, vomiting, sleeplessness, shifts in heart rate, depression, anxiety, and many other withdrawal symptoms. The person being treated will then move into the therapeutic stage where they get to the root of what is causing the addictive behavior so that they can learn more effective coping strategies. Cognitive therapy has been known to work well. They also learn or relearn skills that will help them function better in the society such as how to find a job, conflict resolution, and other skills that will help them reestablish a healthy lifestyle. Many rehabilitation programs also include the family so that families can learn how to support their family and friends as they transition back into a normal life.
However, when people return to normal life that doesn’t mean the triggers go away. Unfortunately what triggered them before rehabilitation will likely be the same triggers after rehabilitation. Often for the person who struggles with addiction to alcohol, this time of year can be particularly difficult. With holiday parties galore and alcohol so prevalent, from the egg nog to the punch, your friend or family member may need a little extra support during these weeks. Here are some things that you can do to help your friends stay sober through the New Year:
• Throw or attend a nonalcoholic New Year’s party.
• Encourage your friend to spend more time with a supportive group of people who won’t be engaging in drinking activities. Church services are wonderful. Get-togethers with other people who are in recovery for a “Recovery Party” is another great option. Support groups like Alcohol Anonymous generally have sobriety themed parties during the New Year festivities. Your friend might benefit from having more engagement with his/her Sponsor during this time, as well.
• If your friend starts to romanticize about past experiences where they seemingly had a lot of fun while drinking, bring them back to reality by reminding them of all of the bad times that resulted from their drinking, as well.
• If you and your friend do decide to attend a party where alcohol is being served, and this is NEVER recommended during the early stage of recovery, encourage your friend to practice saying no before arriving to the party. Also call ahead to make sure that there will be some nonalcoholic beverages – and if not, be sure to bring your own. And bringing some addiction recovery reading material would probably be a good idea too. But most importantly, if it becomes overwhelming for your friend – LEAVE!
This time of year can be quite stressful for the person in recovery so be sure to give as much support as possible as they transition into another amazing year of sobriety.