This posting is provided by Michael Mariano a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor. He has worked at First Hospital Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, Beth Israel Medical Center Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program in New York City, and is currently at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Northeast New Jersey.

Addiction can be loosely defined as a behavior that you cannot manage, is done impulsively, and results in major areas of your life becoming unmanageable. The longer and more often you use drugs and alcohol will make it increasingly more difficult to have a stable and healthy life.  

Most drugs are physically addicting (presence of physical withdrawals) while others are more psychologically addicting, such as cocaine and marijuana. No matter what the substance, recovery from addiction requires developing a recovery plan uniquely designed for you. Regardless of how you became addicted, there is a high probability it started with some form of physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. Other than that common core, there is no discrimination when it comes to addiction. I have treated those from all socio-economic backgrounds, races, ages, vocations, and educational levels.  

Addiction is a progressive disease that gets drastically worse before most sufferers seek treatment. It can start as innocently with having a drink after work to take the edge off a stressful day. Before you know it, whenever you feel stress you reach for a drink and develop a physical dependence. It can start from getting injured and receiving narcotic medication for pain. When the prescription runs out, you go through withdrawal symptoms and resort to buying them illicitly on the street.  

Street purchasing becomes expensive, and a “friend” tells you about heroin, how it is a fraction of the cost but with all the “bang.” The downward spiral begins into the pits of addiction, where many struggle and die before making it out alive. The facility where I work has lost over 30 patients in the last 5 years, mind you, this only accounts for those that we know of and only account for the ones that I have directly worked with. The number is much higher considering we lose over a 100 individuals a day to drugs and alcohol. Believe me when I say, we are dealing with a life and death issue that requires effective coping skills.

The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk for addiction. Here are some of the more common risk factors I have seen over the years: Lack of formal education, family history of drug and alcohol problems, poverty, lack of parental supervision, unstable parental relationships, sexual abuse when young (one of the strongest risks), and mental health issues. Three other clear warning signals are: using drugs at an early age, little social support from reliable friends and family, and a lack of available treatment programs and facilities. 

There are also protectors that can reduce and even cancel out the adverse effects of  risks. These are like a protective armor that shield and strengthen you. Examples would be: successful formal education, emotional support from a financially stable family, exposure to drug educational programs in school, engaging and healthy hobbies, social support from mentors and peers, self confidence, and presence of meaningful relationships. 

One of the hardest things about addiction is that it is almost impossible to treat if you don’t want the help. Finding that motivational kick is a highly individual matter, but again, many of the other entries in this book give you specific actions to take charge of your life. One thing is certain: the earlier you begin treatment, the better your prognosis for success.

 For many, the strongest motivator to seek help is the legal system. Unfortunately, that motivation usually lasts only as long as the legal issue itself. Fortunately there are other, more permanent strategies and I will discuss these in Part II.


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