Updated: Oct 4, 2022
I’m fresh off of a continuing ed seminar about non opioid addictions- of course we talked about opioid addiction as well, along with myriad substances including nicotine, alcohol, marijuana and more and the devastating consequences that addiction causes.
While addiction has many contributing factors, one thought that came to mind as I listened to the instructor was a sobering reminder about how many people deceive themselves with the following lies:
“I just need a couple of drinks to fall asleep at night”
“Everyone drinks too much, at least I don’t pass out and I still have my job”
“My doctor said it was ok to take this much_____ ( fill in the blank ) so it must be ok.”
“I know I shouldn’t mix alcohol with my prescription meds but everyone does it, so once in awhile can’t hurt right?”
If these are your thoughts, perhaps you might take a fresh look at how you are thinking about your relationship with drugs ( prescription and non) and alcohol.
The instructor provided valuable insight into the messages we’ve received from ads since back in the early turn of the century- how women and children (even toddlers) were cast as depressed, in crisis with hysteria, or otherwise unhappy and needing to boost their moods or spirits. Many of these ads took aim at women.
Our propensity to pop a pill for all that ails us has been with us for a very long time. Our natural inclination to want to move toward pleasure and away from pain is compounded by advertising, physicians and big pharma who fuel our desired fixes readily with great ease. Don’t like how you feel? Pop a pill or have a drink. Somewhere a click away there’s an ad to remind you that you deserve to feel better and that there’s a quick fix for your pain be it physical, mental, emotional or relational.
I think it is safe to say we all know of at least one person affected by addiction. It may be your functional alcoholic boss, or a family member that is struggling with opioid addiction. It may be a distant relative that was prescribed pain meds after surgery and got addicted.
Or perhaps it is you who struggles or has struggled with some form of dependency on a substance. Addiction comes in many forms.
It is heartbreaking to know that 20 years ago physicians were told it was safe to prescribe opioids. Today we are in a drug/alcohol addiction crisis of epic proportions. We’ve lost more people to drug addiction in the last 12 months than in all of the Vietnam war.
How did so many people become adversely affected by addiction? It’s complicated of course and has too many complexities to adequately address in one blog. Suffice to say there are genetic factors, sociological factors, as well as encouragement from physicians and pharma to take whatever we need to feel better… even when they know full well the hazards and risks of side effects, one of which is becoming addicted.
Part of the problem is that people who are dependent on a drug or alcohol often look like you and me. They are standing in line with you at the grocery store, sitting next to you at your kids’ soccer match, working alongside you at the office or sitting next to you at church.
Part of the problem is our own silence. Additionally, we’re not really connecting with others to find out how people really are. While there are certainly common factors such as early exposure to drugs or alcohol that can strongly influence the path to addiction, one of the key factors is people not getting the mental health help they need, and society at large ignoring the problem until it personally touches them.
We know that many people take prescription as well as illegal drugs or alcohol to self medicate. We know that people self medicate from the pain of abusive relationships, undiagnosed mental health issues like depression, anxiety or ADD or other traumatic experiences that they are trying to “forget”.
While the practice of numbing emotional pain is common, it is important to note that there is mental health help available to help with managing stress, depression, anxiety and ADD in addition to healing from trauma.
An additional compounding factor is there are too many parents who have no idea who their kids really are let alone what they are actually doing. Too many young people are living a life that they want to escape from. And it’s not just them. They readily find the prescription drugs that are hanging out in America’s medicine cabinets, and the alcohol that lives in countless liquor cabinets. Too many parents are modeling a life they want to escape from and our children are watching. Kids either learn positive ways to cope with stress and difficulties, or they learn how to numb out. Parents teach them every day by their actions.
Addiction has touched my family in a big way. Some of my family members got help and are drug and alcohol free, and, it was a long and painful road to get there. Sadly, I still have one brother who has not been ready to come to terms with his addiction yet at great pain and emotional expense of his family members.
Everyone has a story. What is yours?
While there are myriad factors that lead one down the path of addiction, let’s address just one here. It is the parts of your life that you have control over.
What if you created a life you don’t feel like you need to escape from? One where you don’t need a drink or two or three to “fall asleep at night”. One where you wake up and feel gratitude for what you have and where you are at? A life that is and feels aligned with who you are as a person, what matters most to you, that includes emotionally safe people?
I talk to a lot of people who are not happy with where their life; marriage, career or other circumstances have taken them. They want to escape from their current life.
What if instead of dulling that pain, you use it as a wake up call to pay closer attention. What about your life is causing you to feel stressed, frustrated, angry or out of control? Who is in your life that is creating extra difficult or painful circumstances? How are you contributing to unhealthy cycles of behavior? What specifically do you want to be different?
Then consider these additional questions to ponder and reflect on:
What are you doing that brings you joy ( not substance use related) every day?
What are you doing for daily self care that reminds you that you matter?
What is one area of your life that if you took control of even one aspect would cause you to feel empowered, valued and awakened to the possibilities of your life?
In other words, you have the power to change your life- health- relationships and your circumstances, rather than just escape them.
If you can’t relate to any of this, that’s ok. I strongly suspect you know someone who can.
We want you to know that there is help available. You don’t have to deal with your addiction or mental health issues alone, or the addiction of a loved one by yourself. In addition to groups and programs like Alcoholics Anonymous which has been around for years, there are myriad professionals and places that can help you break addiction cycles and equip you with new tools to cope and change your life for the better.
The next time you are sitting next to someone at a game, in church or at work- stop to ask them how they are really doing. We all need a strong support system where we can love and support one another through the difficult pieces of our lives. Numbing out and attempting to dull your pain with substances leads you down a road that sacrifices your own health and wellbeing and makes it all worse in the end. We all need one another.
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