One – social user
Many people I secretly think are an addict claim to be a recreational user – as though it was keeping them fit. Some call themselves a social user. Since it is self-diagnosis it is not for me to brand them as anything. Publicly I accept that what they call themselves is what they are. I may question their self-diagnosis in an attempt to get them to think about it more seriously, but I have to accept their answer.
The difficulty is that many people really will change their behavior before, or as soon as, it becomes a problem – as soon as they become an embarrassment to their family or at work. You might claim your using does no one any harm, but heavy using will still have cumulative mental and physical side-effects, even if you don’t notice. Further down the line people admit they are harming themselves but no one else. Often the second part is not true. And it seems to me the power of rational thought has already gone when someone admits they may be self-harming but it is OK because it is no one else’s business.
Two – regular user out of control
Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight and schooling in what to look for, I can see when a large group of addicts, especially alcoholics, graduate – when they can be identified and should be given a certificate. Many young people overindulge in a substance or substances but they stop at the family forming stage when the expense of a mortgage kicks in. This is when many an addict stands out. Some get married, some don’t but, when all their peers stop going out as much and lower their consumption, addicts just sail on using more and more. How can they afford it? They cannot. They overborrow on credit cards, steal from their life partners and family, turn to crime or cut down on all other expenditure and start leading the miserable existence of a full blown addict.
Many who admit to being a regular user are really in denial: they claim they could stop at any time, but they cannot. Their friends think their behavior is over the top and no longer funny. You admit this, and protest that you will quit. Work may be affected. You may use in the morning and/or through the day. You are sorry from time to time and tell your partner you want to stop. But you can’t stay off for long. When you get over a spree, you think you can drink moderately next time. If you display some of this behavior you are in danger. These are the signs of a real addict.
Three – raging addict, but you can be hopeful
I was somewhere between numbers two and three when I finally went to see my doctor and the chain of events started which culminated in finding AA. I can remember sitting on bar stools thinking I was free, that I could go anywhere. I always liked travel. But I might as well have been chained to the bar stool. I wasn’t going anywhere. Near the end I wanted to stop drinking, but couldn’t. (Now I have stopped drinking for 13 years I have real freedom to travel and am fulfilling my dreams instead of filling my head full of illusion and killing my body by degrees.)
If you are a raging addict you were once like number two, but you have gone much further. Now your friends have deserted you, you can’t keep a job and your home is a tip. The round of clinics and treatment centers (they used to be called asylums) has begun. Either you pathetically hang on to the idea that an early death is worth the escape you get from a fix or you badly want to stop. The chances of a twelve step program working in your case are good.
Four – far gone, yet you could recover
Maybe you are despondent after detoxing many times. You might be a violent or insane user. But no situation is hopeless. I know someone who had 27 detoxes and frequently drank on the way home from the clinic. He came to AA but couldn’t get the message, in spite of suffering delirium tremens, until this 27th time of asking. If he could get it so can you. Another member was a former gangland enforcer who ended up living in the local park for five years – losing a kidney in the process. The surgeon told him if he drank again he would die. He even followed him out of the hospital into the bar across the road. Desperate, my friend – a member of my home group in the UK – asked another fellow member to be his sponsor. “On one condition,” said the sponsor: “that you will be honest with me and with yourself.” Our friend was outraged at the suggestion that he might not be honest, but buckled down to the task and has now been sober for some years.
Don’t expect everyone to be skid row users at a 12 step meeting. You may never see one in many years of attending meetings. Addiction affects the complete spectrum of society from paupers to princes and presidents. The people at any meeting will seem a fairly normal bunch.
It really gladdens my heart, though, to see young people in a meeting. The sooner they decide they are an addict, the less harm they will do to themselves and others. They and everyone who knows them will be better off.