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When dealing with an addiction, the addict is usually the last person to admit that they have a problem. The majority of the time, a drug or alcohol abuser is confronted by family, friends, or loved ones in an intervention. While family members or friends may not be physicians or licensed mental health professionals, usually the concerned party will cite examples of troubling changes in physical appearance, mood, routines, and even social circles.

More formal and specifically planned interventions may be an urgent response to observed behavior that is dangerous or life threatening. The person may have had serious health problems due to drug abuse or they may have been caught committing a crime, as a way to support their addiction.

The worry and fear over such drastic and disturbing changes often motivates loved ones to consult the expertise of a professional interventionist in the best interest of the substance abuser. The professional interventionist is familiar with addiction and is trained to handle sensitive issues in this type of gathering.

The most important thing is to agree to find a treatment program or center. A physician or mental health professional will then make a formal diagnosis. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “The diagnosis of addiction requires a comprehensive biological, psychological, social and spiritual assessment by a trained and certified professional.” After, the substance abuser can begin treatment to address the problem before it becomes even more dangerous.

Characteristics of Addiction

“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” It is often diagnosed when a person is unable to quit using drugs or alcohol, despite obvious danger and signs of poor health. Because it is a chronic brain and mental health illness, their addiction may have impaired impulse control and behaviors. This may exist at varying levels due to the specifics of their addiction, like the substance used, quantity consumed, and the length of their addiction.

Growing urges to use drugs or alcohol is also a sign of addiction. For prescription drug addiction, tolerance can build quickly (especially for opiate medications) leading to an irreparable addiction. The need to consume a larger and larger amount to feel that euphoric feeling (“reward”) is a sign of chemical dependency.

Addiction is a behavioral disorder, so defensiveness and outright denial of the fact that there is not only a problem, but also a serious health risk is characteristic of addiction. The lack of awareness and insight shows how much the addiction has overpowered clear thought processing.

The behavioral and emotional effects of addiction should be taken into account, particularly behaviors that cause damage. Relationship problems like major conflicts with family or friends, employment termination, or harmful behavior (example: purchasing substances illegally) are not only signs of addiction, but are also signs that the addiction is putting others at risk.

Confronting Past Choices

Dealing with an addiction diagnosis will require you to confront painful trauma, remember embarrassing episodes of behavior, and to face pain you may have caused and received. While looking to substances may have provided temporary escape, hearing your formal diagnosis will require you to think about what has led you to this point right now. You turned to a mind-altering substance to help you avoid pain and emotions and now you realize that you have focused your energy in dangerous behaviors.

Acceptance of an Addiction Diagnosis

Dealing with your diagnosis may be difficult because it requires you to be fully present. Escape is what drew you to drugs or alcohol, and hearing your formal diagnosis may be problematic. While hearing from others that you have an addiction may be a shock, it is important to truly immerse yourself in the words you are hearing. Listen to their experiences of their interactions with you while you were under the influence. Understand that your addiction has negatively impacted others.

Pushing back against information because you don’t want to hear it or because you don’t like what you hear is a waste of time. An intervention and a diagnosis, is clear proof that you have a dangerous disorder. Acceptance is an important step in dealing with your diagnosis. Accept and truly listen to what your physician is saying. Take their advice and begin treatment.

It is important to accept help from others. Trying to justify addiction behaviors or excessive drug or alcohol use, can lead to more issues with quitting. Also, it may cause bigger rifts in your relationships.

Acceptance of reality is how to handle your diagnosis. Try not to focus on the negative behaviors you may have exhibited in the past, but rather, let it lead you to make big changes in your life and the lives of others.

Change Your Thinking

The biggest step you can take to deal with your diagnosis is to understand that substance addiction relies on your thinking. To begin to take the next steps, it is important to change your thought processing.

The thinking patterns you possessed when you were using were most likely rooted in avoidance, negativity, despair, destructive anger, and fear. If your mind stays in that mode after your diagnosis, you run the risk of reverting back to drug or alcohol use. Acceptance of your diagnosis can be taken a step further by not reacting negatively, but to ask, what can be done to change this? The possibilities are limitless.

There are so many positive choices and opportunities for change. Instead of turning to drugs or alcohol, turn to others for help instead. Choose a primary treatment program that matches your needs. After withdrawal and detox, find a sober living home and commit to maintaining your sobriety. Work with a therapist, sponsor, or recovering peers to find peace and healing.

Rather than look at your diagnosis through a negative lens, look at it as the opportunity to ‘hit reset’ and start over. Commit to understanding the severity of your addiction and make positive choices for healing. It is never too late to change.