How Do You Know When It’s Time for Treatment?

By Edie Weinstein, MSW If you or someone you know is considering treatment for addiction, it may be because you or the person is faced with the undeniable evidence that, as a result of substance abuse or another behavioral addiction, your life or theirs has become unmanageable in one or more ways. Or you or the person may be in denial that it’s a problem at all. Many people who indulge in mind-altering substances or quick-fix coping strategies rationalize that as long as they’re functioning, going to work, and taking care of daily responsibilities, then all is well and there’s no need to address the issue. But there are staggering costs that addiction afflicts on the lives of individuals, families and the world. The National Institutes for Health estimates that “abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs is costly to our Nation, exacting over $600 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and healthcare.”

Addiction Recovery Treatment: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

Regardless of where you might be at the moment in considering addiction treatment, try a cost-benefit analysis. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, write all of the positive aspects of engaging in addictive behaviors. These could be pleasure, relief of physical or emotional pain, socializing or bonding with family and friends, managing stress, relief of boredom, habit, or reward. On the other side of the line, jot down what substance use or abuse and addiction have cost you. For some people, these could be loss of family and friends, incarceration, suspension of license, court fees, job loss, or damage to physical or mental health. Now ask yourself about return on investment in terms of your time, energy, and overall well-being. If the solution were as simple as acknowledging the facts, there would be no need for treatment, since logic would prevail. Unfortunately, addiction is “cunning, baffling and powerful,” and can be successfully addressed with the assistance of a professional team including experienced therapists, clergy, sober supporters, an inpatient addiction rehab program, and a variety of 12-step meetings.

Resisting Treatment for Addiction

Prior to entering addiction recovery treatment, there’s a period in which addicted people resist even contemplating the option, often protesting, “Why can my friends drink without consequence and I can’t?” The reasons are countless and could include a genetic predisposition to addiction, a history of trauma or abuse that substances are used to self-medicate, a neurochemical connection, a mental health diagnosis, or as social and cultural acceptance. I’ve often asked people in the midst of denial if they could imagine life without their drug(s) of choice. If they say they couldn’t, then I remind them that just maybe they have a problem. I then ask them what their lives would be like sober. Some say it would be boring, that they’d have no other way of relating to others, that they’d be lost without the accustomed routine. During a discussion with a friend who grew up in a family with addiction issues that she herself inherited, she admitted that smoking, despite its negative impact on her health, was a bridge that helped her approach people and initiate conversations because they had smoking in common. What I asked her, and what I’ve queried others about, is what it is they really wanted. They wanted to relieve boredom and create connection. Can that be done without substances between themselves and others? The answer is, “of course.” The next step is to address how they can go about achieving those ends through safe, healthy, legal and affordable means.

The Timing of Addiction Recovery Treatment

Is it true that someone has to want to “get clean” in order for addiction treatment to be effective? While entering rehab or an outpatient recovery program voluntarily is optimal, some people with addictions can better benefit by entering a door to treatment and recovery that’s opened by family, friends, or the legal system. When substances are no longer wreaking havoc, clear thinking has a chance to prevail and better decisions can be made. How bad do things have to get for someone with an addiction to seek out or be willing to accept help? The proverbial “rock bottom” doesn’t have to be reached. Addiction recovery can begin at any moment – miles above the pit of despair in which some people lose themselves. To understand substance abuse and to find out if it’s time to seek treatment, learn all you can about addiction and seek the help of family, friends, your doctor, or a mental health professional.

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