It’s not only willpower; there are several other factors that determine the person’s recovery
Addiction is a chronic relapsing condition, just like diabetes or hypertension and requires the patient to undergo treatment and create a lifestyle that takes the focus away from the addictive substance. Most people expect that once treatment begins, the condition is ‘cured’ in a matter of days. However, recovery is more complicated than that due to the withdrawal symptoms, craving for the substance, and the patient’s vulnerability to relapse. Remember that it’s not just a matter of willpower, and there are several other factors that determine how soon you can get over your addiction.
Typically, the treatment cycle begins with a detox, where the patient stops taking the substance. During this stage, the patient experiences withdrawal symptoms. The doctor prescribes medication that reduces the effect of these symptoms. This prevents the person from using the substance again in an attempt to get relief from the withdrawal symptoms.
The doctor also performs a thorough investigation: what is the status of the patient’s physical health? Does he or she have any injuries? Are there any complications or other illnesses? Other medical tests such as Electroencephalography (EEG) or Electrocardiography (ECG) may be performed if necessary.
After the detox and investigation, the person undergoes counseling or therapy. The aim of counseling in rehabilitation is to motivate the patient to change their behavior. The counselor tries to find out why the person began using the substance, advises the patient about the pros and cons of dependence, and helps them decide if they want to quit. If the person wants to quit, then the counselor tries to find out the difficulties they imagine having to face (Eg., withdrawal symptoms, how to handle them, what to do when someone offers a drink or smoke). The counselor also helps the person understand their inner emotional cues – any emotional problems they may be trying to address by using the substance.
The patient is then given information on how they can avoid a relapse: acknowledging the warning signs, what action to take, seeking the support and family and friends. The patient is also advised to attend follow-up appointments family therapy, group therapy and take medication that decreases the risk of relapse.
Watching a loved one battle addiction can be a struggle for the caregiver. The caregiver has to cope with their loved one’s changed behavior, while battling feelings of guilt, shame and fear. Societal stigma makes it difficult for the person to speak to others about their problems. Not knowing how to handle the issue often makes things worse.
If you suspect or know that your loved one has an addiction, here’s what you can do to help them:
Learn to identify the signs, and speak to the person about their changed behavior. Do not wait for dramatic or violent behavior to seek help.
Learn more about the disorder. This can help you understand what your loved one is going through, and how you can support them.
Try to make your loved one understand that quitting can be an option. Ensure them of your support.
Be patient. Very often, a person with a problem may be in denial, and may take time to acknowledge that they need help.
Try not to blame your loved one or yourself for the addiction. Like all other mental health disorders, there is no single reason for the existence of the condition. It is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
Encourage their efforts to get over their addiction. Be firm, but try not to put too much pressure on them.
Offer to attend family therapy or group sessions with them.
As you support your loved ones in their recovery, remember that getting over an addiction takes more than just willpower. Addiction is not a choice, and your loved one may have to work hard to get over it.
If you think you’re overwhelmed, seek help from a mental health professional.
If you’ve identified that you have an addiction and have decided to seek help, you’re on the first step to recovery. The idea of not using a substance any more may sound daunting, but there are some things you can do to help yourself.
Speak to the doctor to understand what the path of your recovery may look like. Do not hide any details from your doctor about your addiction or habit. Provide any information that you think the doctor may need to make the diagnosis and create the treatment plan.
Be realistic with your expectations. Don’t expect results overnight. Recovery from addiction takes time. You might find it tough in the beginning, but don’t lose hope.
Remember that there is no single recovery time frame that fits all. Your recovery will depend on factors unique to you: what substance you have been using, how long you have been using it, how you follow your treatment, your physical and emotional health, etc.
Speak to your doctor about the possible withdrawal symptoms, and find out how you can cope with them. Is there a specific medication that your doctor can prescribe to alleviate the effects of the withdrawal symptoms? Are there any other aids you can use?
Try to identify situations that cause you the stress and anxiety that makes you begin using the substance again. For some people, going to a party where others are drinking or smoking may tempt them to get off their rehabilitation plan. Try to avoid these situations.
When you quit smoking, drinking or using drugs, there are bound to be times when you feel like reaching out for just one smoke, drink or dose. You can avoid relapses by having a plan ready for times like these. Most of these cravings and urges last between 15 and 30 minutes. Wait for about half an hour before you give in to the craving. Chances are that you will be able to forego it. If you still feel the urge, call up a friend or family member who supports your treatment plan.
Take up a hobby, or begin a new activity. This will help take your mind’s focus off the cravings and urges.
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition. When a person is addicted, the substance has caused changes in the part of their brain that is related to the decision-making process. Medication can help the person overcome their craving and withdrawal symptoms to quit using the substance. However, it is not enough for the person to just quit; they have to abstain from using the substance for the rest of their lives. This is when rehabilitation becomes necessary.
Rehabilitation helps the person develop skills to deal with the situations that caused them to get addicted to the substance in the first place. It helps them handle the stresses that may cause them to start using the substance again. These stresses could be internal (emotional issues that the person is trying to fix by drinking, smoking or using drugs) or external (interpersonal, social or work-related issues).
Addiction usually brings with it several other lifestyle problems such as neglect of responsibilities, absenteeism (from studies or work), stress, stigma and worry. In addition, there are several lifestyle issues such as lack of awareness on how to handle money, gambling, boredom or loss of purpose that could make the person start using the substance again.
The goal of rehabilitation is to equip the person with the tools to handle these issues and situations, and create a new lifestyle in which the substance (alcohol, cigarettes or drugs) is not the solution.
Support groups can greatly help a person’s recovery from addiction. In India, a person who is addicted may have to face social stigma, and not be able to reach out to his friends or other people to speak about their struggles. A support group can help you accept and acknowledge that you have an addiction problem. It also reassures you that you can be accepted by other people, instead of being judged as being a ‘weak’ or ‘bad’ person. The participants in a support group are more likely to understand what you’re going through, than someone who has never had a problem with addiction.
Listening to others’ struggles and successes can also help you understand that you are not alone, and there is hope. Your support group may also help you with a buddy or mentor who can help you when quitting seems too tough.
Myth: It’s easy for an addict to stop using drugs. All they need to do is say “no”. OR: It’s easy to quit, but they just doesn’t have the will-power.
Fact: Many people believe that saying “no” to drugs is all it takes to get over an addiction. Addiction is not just a matter of willpower. When a person is addicted, the drug has made changes to the decision-making part of their brain, and saying “no” to the drug is very difficult. They may say no, and the sheer terror of the cravings and withdrawal symptoms makes them use the drug again. This person needs more support in order to kick the habit. This is why effective treatment for drug addiction uses a combination of medication and therapy.
Myth: I have an addiction and I think it’s impossible for me to quit completely.
Fact: If you recognize that you have a problem, you are on the first step to quitting. Quitting is not impossible, rather it takes time and is quite possible with the support of a qualified medical professional as well as your family and friends. If you recognize the problems that arise from your habit, then seek help to live an addiction-free life.
Government organizations under the ministry of health and welfare
National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS)
General hospitals with departments of psychiatry
St Johns’ Medical College Hospital
Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences
M S Ramaiah Hospital
Chemical Addiction Information Monitoring (CAIM)
Centre for Research, Education, Service and Training (CREST)
Total Response to Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TRADA)
Nursing homes/ centers with identified interest in drug abuse management
Spandana Mind Medical Centre
*Source: Drug Abuse in Bangalore City, a project report published by NIMHANS, Bangalore. (2003)