Getting help for addiction

Admitting you're addicted to drugs or alcohol is often the hardest step. The Mix talks you through what happens next.

Girl holding pills in her hand

You don't have to cope alone.

Am I an addict?

The thing with addiction is there isn’t usually a eureka moment where you suddenly realise you’re an addict. Nor does your life have to be an utter mess in order for you to be taken seriously. So don’t assume you have to wake up repeatedly in a pool of your own vomit, with no memory and no friends to have a drink or drug problem. Even a concern you drink too much on a Friday night is a valid reason for seeking help or reassurance if you need it.

I think I’m an addict. What do I do?

The first point of call needs to be your GP. GPs have the best access to the services and treatment you need to get better. You may be panicking about whether you can trust your doctor to keep your problem confidential, but most GPs have a confidentiality policy. Find out what it is, so you can decide whether you feel comfortable seeking advice with them or not. If you’re really nervous, you can ask your surgery to refer you to another doctor.

“Tough as it is to see a doctor and tell them ‘I think I have a problem’, talking to someone is the most important thing you can do,” says Dr Robert Hill, a consultant clinical psychologist and addiction specialist. “This is not a problem that will go away. GPs aren’t going to judge you and want to stop your problem early; they would prefer to see someone at age 17, rather than someone in their mid-thirties who’s already destroyed their liver.”

If you really feel you can’t face your doctor, there are lots of national charities that can help you, like Alcohol Concern, Frank, and Release. There will also be local advice centres and group meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, who can provide support.

But to receive medical help for your addiction, you will need to see a health professional and get a referral.

What does addiction treatment involve?

This will depend on where you lie on the ‘addiction spectrum’. Your doctor will help you figure this out and refer you to the appropriate service.

If your body is physically dependent on a substance, then you need to detox it from your system. This will be medically assisted so you come off your evil-of-choice in a gradual and safe way. Group therapy will follow, as well as individual discussions looking at the reasons behind your addiction.

If you take a substance at hazardous levels, but your body is not physically dependent on it, you will probably be referred to a psychologist, community health nurse, or Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. They can help you look at ways to change your pattern of consumption.

Much as you might scoff at the idea of needing help with your mental health, there are usually underlying psychological reasons for your habit that can be addressed.

“Addiction help isn’t about a doctor repeatedly telling you, ‘this is bad for you’. It’s about working with the person and looking at the pros and cons of using,” says Dr Hill. “You weigh up the reasons for staying the same and the reasons for changing, and this is where it gets interesting. This is where addicts start seeing light at the end of the tunnel.”

Do I have to give up drugs and alcohol FOREVER?

This is probably one of the biggest fears addicts have to overcome before seeking help. The thought of a lifetime abstaining from something you like very much indeed can be pretty off-putting.

“Not everyone can get their head round total abstinence for the rest of their life,” says Dr Hill. “That’s often a stumbling block you need to get over with a therapist. And if someone doesn’t want to abstain completely from a drug, then therapy might be more about reducing consumption to a safer level.”

Recovery is a process and not an end in itself. Take it one day at a time. For example, if you’re a heavy drinker, telling yourself “I’ll try not to drink tomorrow” instead of “I can never drink again” might help. Hard though it might be, it’s worth being optimistic about the future. “You’ve got to have a good reason to change,” says Dr Hill. “Life is going to get better, more tolerable, more interesting, with a future of more meaning and purpose.”

Can I treat my addiction by myself?

You can certainly try, but statistics aren’t on your side. And if your body is physically dependent on a substance then doing self-induced cold turkey is potentially dangerous. Beating the addiction isn’t an easy thing to do; you will need all the support you can get. Fortunately, it’s there, and the fact you’re even reading this article shows a part of you wants help.

Next Steps

  • Addaction helps people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of girl holding pills by Volunteer Photographer Rebecca Hancock

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