Speaking from experience, drug and alcohol addiction touches everyone (directly or indirectly) over the course of their life. While I feel fortunate to have avoided these debilitating illnesses in my life, I know people that have suffered from addiction.
It's easy to tar everyone with the same brush if you haven't suffered with addiction yourself. You often hear addicts described by ill informed people as 'selfish' or 'weak'. Certainly a trend towards criminalisation of addicts rather than treatment hasn't helped to address this misconception.
I think the most important factor in tackling addiction is to understand what the causes are, and therefore how family and friends can best help those in their time of need.
Whether the Cause or the Symptom, Isolation is a Part of Addiction
Isolation can be a cause of addiction. It's also a common symptom. It might be a chicken or the egg argument, but addicted individuals tend to isolate themselves in order to hide their addiction. On the other hand, isolation can also be the trigger that leads people down the road of substance abuse.
For example, the Editor of the Reach Out Recovery shares:
"In preschool I was given a diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.), which increases illegal drug addiction risk by a factor of three. My difficulty regulating emotions and over-sensitivity attracted bullies. Then, isolation led to despair..."
Her sense of despair eventually led her to drug abuse.
It is often logical that we try to look for outward symptoms of someone changing their behavior when it comes to addiction or mental health issues. The biggest sign could be something far less obvious - their absence. When someone is trying to hide something or finding it difficult to cope, they tend to distance themselves from those close to them. You could easily pass it off as them working a lot more than usual, but it could be the sign of a far more serious problem.
The Importance of Maintaining a Connection, without Enabling
One of the greatest helps to those suffering from addiction is stable connection with friends and family members.
An experiment done on rats by a scientist named Bruce Alexander in the 1970s appeared to show that rats that were left in a cage alone drank 4 times as much drugged water than rats that were caged with other rats, and had toys as distractions. This theory was also anecdotally supported by the fact that 95% of soldiers addicted to heroin during the Vietnam War made a full recovery without the help of any rehab or treatment programme on their return to home soil. Although both of these examples don't provide conclusive evidence, and every case is different, it is clear that a connection is important.
A connection involves regular communication of the fact that an individual is loved and supported by their family. But, that connection cannot become an enabler. If someone is failing to follow through on the steps they need to take in order to get past their addiction, any financial assistance becomes a pathway to support their negative habits and harmful addictions. It is therefore important to be emotionally supportive whilst maintaining clear boundaries and limitations when it comes to recovery.
Recovery Comes in Different Forms
Recovery is different for everyone, and for many they may need to maintain certain other habits as a crutch to help them on their path to recovery.
As many as 23% of mental health patients were not advised to quit smoking by a healthcare professionals while recovering from substance abuse issues. Tobacco smoking, or vaping, is a common coping mechanism for recovering addicts. It's certainly not encouraged, but quitting smoking can make recovery from substance abuse much more challenging.
Trying to tackle both addictions at once is too much to handle, and so it can be an easier transition to continue with the less harmful habit whilst you're going through the hardest part of withdrawing from the addiction.
The Many Faces of Addiction
In the digital age, there are a number of new addictions that have manifested themselves.
Digital addiction is a real threat to a workforce glued to their devices. Surveys in the U.S. and Europe have shown between 1.5 percent and 8.2 percent of the general population are suffering with 'Digital Addiction Disorder', whilst in Asia estimates are up to 30%.
And, outside of the workforce, the digital playground is a dangerous threat. For example, Steven Spielberg has claimed he is addicted to Microsoft's Flight Simulator, having logged more than 3,000 hours playing it. It might be odd that he's chosen to invest in the gaming industry as a result, but we all have our own ways of coping with our vices!
Regardless of the type of addiction, recovering individuals need love (without enabling bad habits or poor choices), positive reinforcement, and the freedom to decide how many battles they're ready to fight in a given day.