A subject that I’ve broached with my therapist many times, especially during the process of recovery is how do I know if I’m an addict—or more specifically am I addicted to a particular substance? What defines an addict? I have degenerative arthritis in my back and I was prescribed Gabapentin for the pain. Gabapentin isn’t bad for the liver or kidneys, it doesn’t have serious withdrawal symptoms and it isn’t a scheduled drug according to the FDA classification system; basically it isn’t a controlled substance, indicating that it has a low potential for abuse/addiction/dependence.
After using the medication for awhile I realized it helped my anxiety more than my pain (it’s also approved for anxiety management). I informed my pain doctor and he said that’s fine. Doesn’t that seem like drug abuse—using a medication for something other than that which it was originally prescribed? If I stop using the medication I do exhibit withdrawal symptoms. The anxiety comes back and I feel out of control. I get very anxious and overreact in difficult situations; just as I did before I started the medication.
First, lets see how Google defines addiction. Google is always my “go-to”when I have a question—Google knows all. Google says an addict will exhibit these symptoms: dependence, craving, habit, weakness, compulsion, fixation, enslavement. Surely one doesn’t have to exhibit all of these traits in order to qualify as an addict—right? So how many attributes must one have to fill the criteria? Who gets to decide if I’m an addict? Is being addicted to video games, coffee, sex, gambling, exercise, food, pain or shopping possible? Can people who participate in those activities and exhibit signs of addiction be considered addicts?
One thing I have found is that there is a distinct difference in being addicted to a substance and abusing a substance. Sometimes people become physically addicted to medications that they don’t even like. So are they addicts? Or—is physical addiction minus psychological addiction the exception? I take Tramadol for extreme, chronic, pain and it makes me cranky but it takes the pain away and allows me to function. I obviously don’t enjoy the negative side-effects, but the benefits outweigh the consequences in this particular situation. Unfortunately, if I use it daily my body becomes accustomed to it. I have withdrawal symptoms even if I take regular breaks from it. I have to prepare myself before a break and make sure I don’t have to do anything strenuous around the time I go off of the medication. Am I addicted? If I am, is it a bad thing—or is it OK because I’m monitored by doctors and counselors? These questions taunt me and they are very difficult to answer. Sometimes using these medications makes me feel like an addict; even though I need them to function properly and live a decent life. Other times I really appreciate the benefit in controlled use.
Self-medicating is almost always a bad idea. Rarely, if ever, do you find a person successfully self-medicating. It’s funny how so many people think they are hitting it out of the ball park—they got it down and their life is going according to plan! Eventually everything comes tumbling down and they see what’s really going on—either that or they blame everything and everyone for their failures and deny any culpability. I’ve witnessed it many times.
Finding the right physician or psychiatrist can be tricky but it’s highly recommended when dealing with pain management or mental health. Some people who are recovering from an addiction believe that one should abstain from any/all substances that could be considered addictive—generally coffee is exempt!
I’m a bit confused about my standpoint honestly. Right now I feel that using medication while being advised by a physician can be very helpful and should be considered. As I’ve discussed in the past, there is generally an underlying issue when someone is abusing drugs. That’s why it’s commonly referred to as self-medication. With luck, therapy and will-power are enough to overcome the underlying issue; sometimes medication helps guide the process. BTW, when I say therapy I don’t just mean counseling or talk–therapy; sure counseling is a type of therapy (I’ve had the most success with DBT with talk-therapy) but there are many other therapeutic activities that can be used to overcome mental and physical obstacles.
Some medications are meant to be used long-term and some are meant to be used short-term, to help get us through difficult stages of the healing process. Usually when I ask others for advise, I find mixed opinions—moreover , sometimes they’re all logical, sound arguments! Asking for advise can be good but in the end it’s important to do what you feel is best. Trust yourself. If you don’t feel you have the mental capacity to decide for yourself, the answer is to relinquish control. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you honestly don’t know what to do. It’s your life and your decision.
My goal in life is peace. We can’t always be happy but we can be at peace. Practice patience, mindfulness, and mental awareness. Be grateful, focus on the good aspects of life—honestly I don’t expect total competency; it’s all about progress. In my experience all of these things are tools that lead us in a positive direction and they all take practice; for me they take a lot of practice and I’m far from mastering these techniques. I’m going to continue, living, loving, learning and sometimes failing. We all have problems; it’s how we react to our problems that defines our true character.