No one wakes up in the morning wanting to be dependent on substances, yet it’s a problem that affects numerous individuals in one way or another.  A better understanding of addiction can break the pattern and create an opportunity for a healthy happy lifestyle.  Though there is debate on whether addiction develops as the result of genetics, personal choice, or both, how it evolves may be even more complex.

Early warning signs

Exposure to substances in a family or social setting seems innocent, but it plants the seed of use as socially acceptable behavior. Use becomes viewed as a way to relax or increase enjoyment. For some, this can unintentionally create the idea that using substances is an acceptable way to manage emotions. The problem typically begins in response to life challenges. Without the emotional skills to handle life stressors, individuals may begin using substances or engaging in certain behaviors to alter their mood. This coping skill works initially, but unfortunately sets a pattern in motion that may be difficult to stop. 

For example, one may use alcohol or take prescription medication to manage anxiety.  Successful removal of the feeling through substances is both good and bad. Here, the anxiety is effectively treated, but the problem—the actual cause of the anxiety—remains. This is where addiction can begin.  So, the habit of substance use to manage emotions begins to grow, interfering with the development of other coping skills.

"Exposure to substances in a family or social setting seems innocent, but it plants the seed of use as socially acceptable behavior. Use becomes viewed as a way to relax or increase enjoyment."

 Addiction evolves gradually and often goes unnoticed until the pattern of dependence is set and causing problems in relationships and daily functioning. Look for early warning signs such as changes in behavior, isolation from others, and lack of motivation or interest. Emotionally, you may see mood swings, depression, anxiety, and irritability.  As addiction progresses there is compulsive use, more time spent using, increased tolerance and symptoms of withdrawal.  Individuals with addiction problems may also struggle with issues in relationships along with poor performance at work or school.  In some cases, extreme health or legal problems also manifest, signifying an immediate need for action.

The road to recovery 

The road to recovery begins with support rather than criticism. In these complex situations it can feel difficult to be caring, but it is essential to reducing the defensiveness of the loved one struggling with addiction. It’s possible they recognize that their behavior has become unmanageable, but are too ashamed to admit it. Do not enable continued use and support sobriety wholeheartedly.

Obtain information to develop a plan of action, engaging the help of others to show support. Utilize resources such as treatment centers, hospitals, doctors, and mental health professionals for help and stay persistent. Be prepared for resistance and relapses as they are natural parts of the process. Most importantly, encourage your loved one to begin taking responsibility for themselves and their behavior. Remain positive, hopeful and supportive, as recovery is a lifelong process of increased self-awareness and accountability in order to promote a healthy lifestyle.