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What’s the First Step If You Struggle With Addiction?

Addiction is far more common than you might realize. In 2014, 21.5 million Americans aged 12 and over battled with a substance abuse problem. About 80 percent of those sufferers battled with alcohol abuse, but alcohol isn’t the only source of addiction—there are also both illegal and prescription drugs, gambling, and even sex.

If you feel you may be struggling with an addiction, you should take comfort—simply recognizing that you may have a problem is a major step that most people aren’t willing to take. Knowing you need help and treatment isn’t enough, however; you need to take action if you want to recover.

But what actions are you supposed to take? How are you supposed to improve?

Understand Addiction

The first step is an easy one; clarify your understanding of what addiction is, how it manifests, and what the treatment process might be like. Addiction is a complex and chronic disease, and one that affects both body and mind. It has both physiological and psychological root causes and effects, but you can recognize it if you share some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Preoccupation with using.
  • Continued use despite physical or psychological consequences.
  • Additional stress on your job or relationships due to your abuse.
  • Loss of control.
  • Increased tolerance to the substance.
  • Failed attempt(s) to quit.

At this point, it should be apparent whether or not you’re struggling with a genuine addiction. If you are, you should seek treatment and recovery, which has a general goal of reducing and/or eliminating your use and dependence of the substance in question. There are many ways to approach this, however, so your first actionable step can vary.

Choosing Your Path

Once you better understand the nature of addiction, and set a personal goal to reduce your dependence, there are a few possible “first steps” you can take:

  • Cold turkey cessation. If you want to get things over with as quickly as possible, you could strive to quit “cold turkey,” meaning you cease all abuse habits immediately with the intention of never going back. It’s possible to be successful here, but most people find it extraordinarily difficult, especially when trying to avoid picking up the habit for the rest of their lives.
  • Rehab centers. Rehab centers are another option. They’re equipped with psychiatrists, counselors, and other staff to observe you, provide you with controlled substances to ease your withdrawal symptoms, and help you get to the root causes of your addiction (so you can eliminate them).
  • Support groups. If you can’t afford rehab, or don’t have a rehab center in your area you feel comfortable going to, you can look around your community to find a support group. There are usually support groups covering all manner of addictions, from alcohol and tobacco use to more behavioral addictions like gambling. There, you’ll find a non-judgmental environment where you can find acceptance, tips, and encouragement when you start to meet your goals.
  • Weaning and substitution. Instead of quitting cold turkey or relying on options that depend on treatment and interaction with other people, you could try weaning yourself off of the substance, or finding a suitable substitute. For example, you may try cutting back on cigarettes bit by bit, and rely on a nicotine patch or e-cigarettes to provide you with temporary relief in the meantime.
  • Lifestyle changes. Finally, you can try to avoid the substance as much as possible by changing your lifestyle habits. For example, if you tend to abuse alcohol when going to the bar with friends, consider making a new friend group or discovering a new hobby to occupy your mind.

Eventually, you may want to pursue multiple avenues of treatment to expedite the process and get some extra support—especially as withdrawal symptoms begin to set in.

Ongoing Help

Addiction is a very complex disease, so it’s hard to treat—especially if you’re working by yourself. You’ll be dealing with underlying psychological factors that drive you to substance abuse, physical chemical signals in the brain urging you to repeat the behavior, and socioeconomic factors and recurring habits that make it more likely to use. This is why addiction recovery comes with such a high rate of relapse.

You shouldn’t let this deter you, however; a high relapse rate doesn’t mean you’re going to relapse, and even if you do, you can’t consider yourself a failure. Any steps you take toward improving your position are worth taking, even if you slip up along the way. Addiction recovery isn’t a way to “cure” a disease; it’s a way to manage and live with a disease, and to do that, you need to seek ongoing help and treatment, even after your initial withdrawal symptoms subside.