If you’re drinking or using more than you’d like, have tried and failed to quit, and otherwise spend a considerable amount of time thinking about, using, and recovering from drug or alcohol use, you have a problem. Most importantly, you’re not alone. 18.5 million Americans have a drug or alcohol use disorder, colloquially known as an addiction. Millions of Americans struggle with the same problems you’re facing, and all of us can get help.
Often, the first step to getting help is to ask for it. Reaching out, talking to the right people, and making plans for your future will help you to recover. Friends and family can help you to get into treatment. Your medical professional can offer advice. And people can help you to stay accountable and on track as you move into recovery.
1. Talk to your Friends and Family
Talking to your friends and family is a big step and it may be one that you want to leave till later. But, it’s important to do. If your friends and family largely use themselves, you might want to skip. However, chances are, they don’t. And, chances are, they are aware you have a problem and they are aware you are struggling. Some of them may even have tried to reach out to you in the past.
The important thing here is to broach the subject in a way that you can manage, that they can understand, and that you are comfortable with. Almost no one walks up to their loved ones and goes “I am addicted to heroin”. That’s hard to say, it’s painful, and without a diagnosis it can feel like a lie. So, what can you say?
“I’ve been struggling with alcohol, I can’t seem to quit”
“I just wanted to use it once or twice but it’s gotten out of hand, I don’t know how to stop”
“I really feel like I’m losing control and I don’t know what to do about it”
Most people will want to know a) how much you’re using, b) when it started, c) how it started, d) how often you’ve tried to quit, etc. Importantly, while many people will push you to just go “cold turkey”, that can be dangerous. If you’re struggling with a substance use disorder, quitting and detoxing won’t cause the behavioral addiction to go away. You’ll have the substance out of your system and you’ll lose tolerance, which puts you at greater risk of overdose if you relapse – which is almost inevitable without treatment.
2. Learn about Addiction
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your mental health. Most of us benefit from understanding how addiction impacts us, how it affects behavior, and what it means for your recovery. In some cases, you can get enough information online. In other cases, you should go to a local SAMHSA facility or your doctor’s office to ask for information and help. Most 12-step groups will also offer a great deal in terms of reading material and courses to help you understand how addiction affects you.
3. Talk to your Doctor
Substance use disorders are a two-part disorder made up of chemical dependence and behavioral addiction. If you can, talk to a medical doctor (GP) and a psychologist. However, chances are, you’ll start by discussing your problems with your doctor. Again, opening up can be difficult. But, your doctor is in a very good place to determine how substance use is affecting your health, to offer you advice, and to recommend you into treatment services supported by your insurance.
Your doctor is also bound by law to protect your privacy. If you discuss your addiction with them, your doctor cannot legally tell others. That makes it a lot easier to open up if you’re concerned about your career or reputation.
4. Ask People to Help You Cut Back
Asking people to help you cut back will rarely work. In fact, you have to be careful that you don’t let it escalate into a worse problem of you using and hiding the substance. But, asking for social accountability can do a lot for your ability to cut back and your ability to quit. For example, “I have a problem with alcohol and I’d like to drink less. I’d also like to seek out treatment but until then, I want to reduce how much I’m drinking by 20% a week – because I know that quitting immediately is dangerous for me”.
Here, it’s important that people don’t police your behavior. Instead, you have to choose to be accountable to them. That can mean setting up a point in the day when you tell your family how much you drank the day before. Where you set a daily goal for yourself and then tell them if you made it, etc. It’s easy to lie. But having social accountability actually makes this sort of cutting back a lot easier, because it’s harder to lie to others than it is to yourself.
5. Talk to a Professional
Talking to a stranger about your drug or alcohol use disorder can seem humiliating at first. But, for most of us, it’s a lot easier to get started and to open up to a stranger than it is to do so to friends and family. Starting that conversation with a stranger via a helpline can help you to make the leap to opening up to family and friends. SAMHSA runs a free, confidential, and 24/7 helpline for individuals struggling with drugs and alcohol. You can call at any time to speak to a trained representative, vent your feelings, and talk about how you’re doing – and get feedback from them and next steps if you’d like. The number is 1-800-662-4357
6. Try Going to a Self-Help Group as a Guest
AA, NA, SMART Recovery, LifeRing, and other self-help support groups all offer guest spots for people who are considering quitting drugs and alcohol. Most of them will allow you to sit in on meetings to see how things work. Most importantly, you’ll be able to see how people are doing after they quit, to gain access to new resources, and to learn from your peers. Most groups require that you be completely clean and sober when you join – but you can sit in as a guest and see how everything works to find motivation for finally quitting.
7. Ask for Help Getting Treatment
Going to drug rehab or alcohol rehab, and getting therapy for substance use disorders is still the most important step in your recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction. Getting into treatment on your own can be daunting. Most of us ask our family for help with finding, calling, and planning treatment. You can also choose to do so yourself, as you’ll have to supply information like your insurance, your medical records, and other personal data. But, a loved one can offer considerable help, even when a substance use disorder makes it harder for you to concentrate and follow up.
Substance use disorders ruin lives, they harm your relationships, and they hurt your career. You know that. Asking for help is the first step to getting your life back, and hopefully you can reach out and do so.