Thinking About Addiction

Of all the disorders that I've learned and subsequently had a hand in treating, addiction is one that I just can't get my mind around. Yet addiction is the one thing I keep running into, and I turn tail and run for the nearest exit just as soon as I find one.

I think I have the makings of an addictive personality, as the books call it, based just on the fact that I've smoked cigarettes most of my life and have no wish to quit. With that deduction made, I've managed to stay within control or completely away from other addictive substances. Either I'm damned lucky or not an addictive personality at all since I was successful always. Except for cigarettes. The one time I did try to quit, it was the physical withdrawal that won. My only saving grace is the fact that nicotine is not a mind-altering substance.

(Wait a sec while I light a cigarette and ponder where I'm going with this. Ah, there... Nope, that's not doing it. I need caffeine. I already finished a pot of coffee, but there is Pepsi in the fridge. Got it. In a few minutes my eyes will pop open and my brain will kick in. Ahem. Where was I?)

I always run into people with serious addictions. I must be an addict magnet. I once dated a man for 9 months before I figured out that he was a serious alcoholic. He managed to hold off until lunch to start drinking, go back to work, go back to the bar after work and stay there until the bar closed for the night. Every day. I think he was able to hold off until lunch because he was still drunk from the night before. On Christmas Day, he came over without having had any alcohol, and by 3 p.m. he was pale and shaking like a leaf. He was a Vietnam vet with untreated PTSD. The VA hospital psychologist told me that with the dual diagnosis of PTSD and alcoholism, the man was a bomb waiting to explode, and when he did, he'd take out everyone around him with him.

What always catches me by surprise is how well addicts can hide their addiction and go through day to day life without missing too many beats. Well, at least until that monkey brings them down. I was never around one close friend of mine I've known since high school when she was hooked on some substance or other. She'd disappear when the claws got her. I came to describe her as one who just has to look at a drug to become addicted. Another friend told me she was an alcoholic only after she had been sober a number of years. I think both were genetically predisposed.

Maybe I couldn't see these addictions because the people were close to me. Lately, a friend of mine has taken on the care of two kids because their mother is in prison for intent to deliver methamphetamine. This woman has an air-tight story she spouts out almost word-for-word every time she opens her mouth. She's very well practiced with that story, and that's the first thing that sent red flags off in my head. She brags about her addiction and is still proclaiming innocence on the intent to deliver, even though she was caught red handed.

This woman's poor children are the victims in this story. Both seem to have psychiatric disabilities that have netted Social Security Disability - for the oldest, so far. It seems a bit convenient that the woman's children provide a solid income with SSD and child support along with a cornucopia of prescription drugs that they don't always get even though the scripts are always filled. Mama went into rehab three years ago and just got her kids back from DHS less than a year ago, yet she continued on using and dealing right from her home until she was finally arrested and put in prison.

That extreme state of rock bottom is way beyond my ability to empathize with. I have no way of comprehending it. Because I can't, I have no advice, no words of wisdom and no understanding to offer. No, I'm not perfect or squeaky-clean or lily-white myself, yet I can't relate to that level of selfishness no matter how hard I try to imagine it. Without hitting rock bottom, without coming very close to total self-destruction, addicts don't have the incentive to come clean, to honestly face life for what it really is.

That must be a very difficult path to walk. And that's as close to understanding as I can get. It's shameful for me not to be able to find a way to help. Do you have any words of wisdom?


  1. Well...I have the same addiction as you--cigarettes and (not coffee) but Diet Pepsi. I am way too old to be smoking and I did quit 18 months ago for 6 months--then my Dad was placed in Hospice and died and that brought the "need" for the calming effect of a cigarette (?) back to me. I KNOW I need to quit, but...

    I have never drank alcohol--have always been afraid that with my addictive personality I would become a serious drinker in no time.

    What are we to do?

  2. What do we do? Why, we celebrate that we have the control to keep ourselves out of real danger! My grandfather smoked filterless cigarettes all of his life with no ill effects whatsoever. Though the statistic is high, only something like 22% of smokers ever develop any of the health maladies associated with smoking. I think what is more unhealthy than the tobacco itself is all the crap they add to cigarettes to make sure they are good and addictive.