Living with Addiction (Part 1)
Apart from giving a psychological slant to this writing, the deliberately
anonymous author discusses addiction and some of its problems in the first
of two articles. In the second of two articles, the author looks further at
some problems and then at some of the help available to those addicts who
Defining addiction is a relatively easy task, but examining its various
states and aspects is not – it is a complex pattern of inter-related
illnesses and psychological states that affects many people in a huge
variety of ways.
Addiction stems from our basic needs through a series of progressive stages
which goes something like this: we have a want, then maybe a need. The need
becomes a habit and the habit becomes a craving. That ultimate state of
craving is when addiction sets in. We all have needs and wants – what we
want we may not always need – that new coat or suit for example. Sometimes
what we need is not always what we want – foul tasting medicine, for
Addiction can take on a wide variety of forms and states. Someone I know is
addicted to cleaning their home – they sweep, brush, polish, dust and
re-arrange furniture and ornaments at least three times a day – and begin to
get into a panic if they are unable to complete these tasks for any reason.
Another person I know has become addicted to numbers – everything from
compact discs through books to photographs in albums have to be carefully
and meticulously labeled and numbered. This person is also obsessed (and
there is a word we will explore a little later) with symmetry – all the
pictures on the wall have to be perfectly angled and centred so there is
equal space either side; ornaments are arranged on shelves in a perfectly
balanced manner in terms of numbers and shapes and sizes.
So what, you may ask? Well, in many cases the obsession or addiction to
perfection has little in the way of consequences for the person themselves
or for others. But in many cases that is not so and the ultimate consequence
can result in death for self or others. For this reason, both drug addiction
and alcoholism are now world-wide recognized diseases and the Thai
government has now started to provide help through alcohol treatment centres
and drug rehabilitation centres.
Let us take the three most obvious and serious types of addiction – alcohol,
tobacco and other drugs. Every year, thousands upon thousands of people die
from addiction to these groups of substances, or from diseases that are
caused by that addiction. Sadly the disease can become a family or community
illness as well, with recent research showing that an active addict or
alcoholic detrimentally affects the lives of around a dozen people in that
person’s family or friendship circle.
The smoker affects the health of many others, especially in enclosed spaces,
through passive smoking, which is something now recognized as dangerous
hence the ever-spreading ban on smoking in offices, restaurants, bars etc.
We often are given images of the alcohol and drug addicts as being
down-and-outs, tramps, beggars - lying in alleyways, sleeping in cardboard
boxes or derelict buildings. And a small percentage does fit into that
category. But all around us there are addicts carrying on with life in a
secretive and often outwardly normal manner – teachers, lawyers, doctors,
manual workers, waiters – the list is infinite.
What is quite apparent is that addiction starts in the manner described
earlier – a person starts by consuming small quantities of a drug, alcohol,
or smoking occasionally; the effect is somehow magical to them, so they
begin, over a period of time that cannot be specified, to consume more and
Often, the addict senses all is not quite normal with their behaviour. Take
the alcoholic, for example who needs that extra couple of beers or ‘shots’
when everyone else is ready to retire for the night; they sometimes sneak a
double whiskey at the bar on their way to the toilet. Soon, the person’s
life revolves around obtaining the substance – they manipulate and devise
ways of being near to alcohol and drug supplies or being able to obtain it.
For most folks this now becomes secretive – bottles are kept in the glove
compartments of cars, in filing cabinets, store rooms, underneath clothes in
drawers and so on.
The alcoholic soon begins to take further steps to hide or disguise the
problem – sucking mints to scent the tainted breath, overdoing the
aftershave to disguise the smell of alcohol, falling into the belief that
drinking vodka leaves no discernible smell on the breath and so forth. And
all the time, the person may be holding down a responsible job with few if
any even suspecting that there is a severe problem in the making or already
The drug addict often performs in a very similar fashion – depending on the
substance to which they are becoming addicted – hiding the evidence,
frequenting places where the substance is obtained, wearing dark glasses to
hide the glazed eyes and so on.
Others become addicted to prescribed medicines and, depending on local or
national regulations and laws, often obtain such drugs through more than one
doctor or hospital. And hiding the evidence is much easier and also
explicable – a small bottle of pills such as valium or amphetamines is
easily concealed on the person; and there is always the justification of
being able to say that the doctor issued them in the first place.
Since smoking is still a socially tolerated drug, the nicotine addict does
not have to hide their habit in quite the same way, although increasingly,
people do shun smokers and ban smoking in their homes or vehicles.
It is thus very hard to treat any kind of addict effectively as countless
clinics, treatment centres and hospitals know to their detriment. However,
treatments can and do work with perseverance and the next article will deal
with some of these issues. (To be continued next week.)