Abuse v. Addiction

Shaking and dripping with perspiration, Sarah sat on a hard-backed chair miserably enduring the withdrawal symptoms from her chronic addiction to alcohol. She was grateful for the protection of being locked up in the detox center as trained staff carefully monitored her body’s ability to work through the physical withdrawal process. Barely twenty-years-old, she looked worn down and pathetic in her faded hospital gown, cotton robe, and light blue footy slippers. Her long, tangled, brown hair showed her inability to perform even the simplest daily routine. The obsession for locating the next drink overshadowed any other need or desire in life. She was a walking shell, desperately seeking an end to the seeping emotional pain generated from the inescapable lies and disappointments that follow addicts and inadvertently harm the people who care about them. Sarah appreciated feeling so ill. It gave her something to focus on to ward off the searing pain that kept threatening to engulf her.

Seventeen-year-old Courtney stood across the room in a twin faded blue hospital ensemble observing Sarah with Brad, the counselor that was doing an extensive evaluation of Courtney’s current drug use. Her family was concerned that she might be on the road to addiction. Courtney was a beautiful young woman with shiny blond hair, rosy cheeks and a ready smile. Brad pointed across the room to Sarah and asked Courtney if that was how she wanted to end up? The next day, Courtney shared Brad’s comment with Sarah. What Brad didn’t realize was that demonizing Sarah only led to Courtney’s further admiration of her.

Evaluating the Problem

Keeping young people like Courtney from ending up like Sarah is an ongoing effort. Determining if someone is a drug or alcohol abuser, as opposed to an addict, is not clear-cut. Different stages of addiction were developed to help identify probable addicts. But this approach may inadvertently label people as addicts, when in fact they only experimented or abused alcohol and drugs for a given period of time. Factors such as: developing a tolerance to drugs (needing to increase the amount taken to get the same effect); having a preoccupation with using mood-altering products; or damaging relationships due to drug/alcohol use are attributed to addiction. Can this be misleading?

For example, there are many young people who drink heavily or binge drink in college. They may even experiment with illegal drugs. College or high school students can become preoccupied with partying, instead of studying. Many pay consequences for their behavior by doing poorly on exams or losing what could have been a valuable relationship due to obnoxious behavior when high. Yet, after college, some find that partying no longer holds its appeal and they either drink moderately or give up using drugs and alcohol altogether. Others may continue to party, but other than an occasional hangover, pay few consequences. For some, the use increases and they pay heavy consequences such as divorce, jail time or even death.

There are also people who don’t drink or drink moderately their entire lives, yet they develop addictions later in life. It can be triggered by: job loss; divorce; death of a loved one; dealing with chronic pain; or no apparent reason. Attempting to predict which path any given individual will take is difficult. Addiction is as diverse and complex as the people who go down its path.

Copyright 2010 Fawkes-Lee & Ryan.  All rights reserved.

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