A great deal of time, energy and money have been devoted to drug and alcohol addiction. An addict is relatively easy to spot. They must have their fix, will do anything to get it and keep using despite major life problems.
A more common problem is a category below addiction. Dependence is more widespread, yet it’s not talked about nearly as much. Dependence is more difficult to identify and more challenging to treat.
It’s more subjective and more reliant on a judgement call. It’s easier to deny that a problem exists and therefore it goes undetected and untreated.
What is dependence?
There is no generally accepted definition of dependence. To me, the question is can you do without whatever you’re taking. And I mean completely without it. Can you stop completely?
What’s the longest period of time you’ve not taken a drink or a drug? If it’s days, that’s a big red flag. If it’s weeks, that’s better but a smaller red flag. If it’s months, you’re probably okay.
Another helpful question can be: How much does it interfere with your life? If you are organizing your life around a substance, that’s a big problem and you probably have a dependence.
Withdrawal symptoms are a clue.
What happens when you stop? Do you have withdrawal symptoms? Are you irritable, anxious or depressed? Do you have fatigue, loss of energy and loss of motivation? Does taking the substance relieve the symptoms and make you feel better? Do you seek the substance to feel better? If so, you’re in dangerous territory.
Beware of marijuana.
More people are taking marijuana, in all its forms, than ever before. More of my clients are doing it and doing it more frequently. Even though it’s illegal in Texas, it’s more accessible elsewhere and it’s being brought into the state. The refrain is that it’s better than other drugs or alcohol and you can’t become physically addicted. Perhaps that’s true. But the research on the effects of prolonged, frequent marijuana use is inconclusive to me. There just haven’t been enough good studies.
The danger here is that you can become psychologically dependent on marijuana. Just the thought of stopping or cutting back can produce anxiety and fear. You can become used to taking it for stress, anxiety, sleep or just for fun. Regardless of the purpose, if you are taking it every day or most days, you’re probably dependent on it.
What are the consequences?
You may not end up in rehab, but the consequences of a drug or alcohol dependency can be severe. Persistent struggles with relationships, work, sleep and mood are strong indicators that something is wrong.
A dependency can creep up on you over time and you may not even realize that it’s happening. You think that “one more won’t matter” until you stop thinking that and you just use habitually.
The key, as with many things, is moderation. Any substance used to relieve an unpleasant feeling is risky. Stay aware of your consumption and if you think you may have a dependency, please consider getting help.