Why people become addicted to substances and other behaviours is often complicated. Reasons can stem from genetic impairment to childhood experiences or the stresses of adulthood. Often people know they have a problem, but seeking help is another matter. What are some common reasons why people avoid the addiction treatment they need?
Do you find yourself justifying how much alcohol you drink or believe that it is perfectly normal to gamble every day? Are you hiding your addiction from friends and family? Has anyone mentioned to you that you might have a problem with a substance or process addiction? If you feel like answering ‘yes’ to any of these questions then you might be hiding from your addiction.
In all of these cases, the person is evading the issue of their addiction, its consequences, and the required treatment essential to address this illness and to recover. The following are some common reasons why people evade treatment. Could you or someone you know be hiding behind one of them?
Why People Evade Addiction Treatment
Most people suffering from addiction avoid seeking treatment, despite knowing that they should deal with their problem. Many justify their addiction related behaviour as a coping mechanism. Others may blame their addiction on work stress or family responsibilities. Then there are those who believe that they are in control of their substance use and that they are not addicted.
Regardless, seeking help is necessary and often more difficult for some than others. Why?
One of the most difficult things to do is admit that you are a person who has an addiction. For many, this denial stems from the negative connotations associated with addiction, such as being ‘weak’, or unable to ‘handle’ life. There is also the stereotypical junkie image that most people suffering from addiction do not associate themselves with.
Regardless, be it alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling, being honest with yourself that you do have a problem is the first step to surmounting the addiction. Overcoming denial, as well as the other reasons listed here, is actually Alcohol Anonymous’ first step of its 12 Steps programme because it is the most common reason that people evade treatment.
Admitting that you are addicted to something is scary. This is partly because it is something seemingly out of your control. It is also because once you admit that you are addicted, you have to, or have reason to, recover from the addiction. This could be difficult, depending on how you decide to go about it.
While you may fear recovery or telling your friends, family or spouse about your addiction, think about the long-term positive outcomes that recovering from an addiction could bring.
Bundled up in the feeling of fear is more subtle issues such as fear of failure, of rejection, or even fear of losing your addiction related identity, as these addictive behaviours have become part of your life. Of all the fears presenting themselves, it is important you realise that each is an opportunity.
Maybe you will fail the first time you try to quit your addiction, but trying will only make you stronger. Fear of your friends rejecting you is a chance to see how much they care about you. Going through rehab will bring you new friends who can further aid your recovery. And if your identity is wrapped up in seeing yourself as an addict, imagine who you could be if you were free of this label.
Though you might fear living your life without your chosen substance, it is important to take the first steps in overcoming the addiction by seeking help, because life will most likely be better during your recovery.
It is their coping mechanism
Many people with stressful lives turn to substances as a way to cope or numb pain. If someone is working in a highly stressful environment, substances such as alcohol or marijuana are a quick way to unwind after a long work day. At the other end of the stimulus spectrum, cocaine and ice can enhance energy levels and work performance. For example, many lawyers in top law firms turn to stimulants that enhance their ability to manage heavy workloads, long hours, and stay on top of their game while in a high-paced and competitive career environment.
Some people may turn to substances (or engage in other addictive behaviours) to numb psychological pain, brought on from situations like divorce or a family member passing. While in the short-term these substances may succeed in stopping the pain, in the long run they do little to overcome the associated core issues.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often results in people using substances that lead to addiction. People suffering from PTSD as well as substance addiction need to be treated for a co-occurring disorder in order to make a full recovery.
Stigma of addiction
Many people evade treatment for fear of the stigma attached to being “an addict.” While it is normal for people who are addicted to have feelings of guilt, shame and weakness, these sentiments often stop them from seeking help.
Culture can also play a role in deterring people from seeking help for their addiction issues. In Singapore, for example, there is a strong stigma against addiction. In addition to someone who is associated with drugs generally being looked down upon in society, there is also the looming threat of severe legal consequences.
‘Consumption’ in Singapore carries a mandatory sentence of one year in jail or in a ‘therapeutic institution.’ The second offence is three years, and the third is five years minimum and three strokes of the cane! Consumption simply means that a person’s urine has tested positive for drugs.
Tony Tan is a former drug user and dealer in Singapore. After two prison sentences, he is now a drug addiction counsellor. Tan says that in addition to society treating someone associated with drugs as “an outcast,” a stigma he says is created by the government, “Once you see a psychiatrist (in Singapore) for your drug issue or go into any hospital for detox, public or private, your name will be surrendered to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), and after you finish your detox you are likely to be picked up again and tested.”
While Singapore does tout a low prevalence of drugs and related crime, this societal pressure is also why many addicts try to hide or control their addiction for years before seeking help, if at all.
Communication is the key to healthy and supportive relationships. And the best way for someone to overcome an addiction in these regards, and its stigma, is to reach out to others by opening dialogue with family, friends and others within a supportive community.
Fortunately, more addiction support groups are becoming available to recovering addicts, both in their neighbourhoods and online.
WE CARE Community Services in Singapore, for example, offers a variety of daily Recovery Support Group (RSG) meetings ranging from an “All Addiction Anonymous” group to those specific to narcotics, sex, gambling, or alcohol. The Cabin Singapore is another option. This outpatient addiction treatment centre even offers a family treatment programme that helps a person’s family understand the disease of addiction, so that the family unit can cope with the effects of addiction and better support their loved one’s recovery process.
Through groups such as these, as well as individual treatment, those suffering from addiction can better overcome the negative stigma surrounding addiction and make a full recovery.
Fear of losing control of their life is another reason that people avoid treatment. While many people, especially high functioning addicts (HFAs), feel that they use substances in a controlled manner and are able to give it up if they wish, the reality is very different. The more someone believes they are in control of their substance use, the more the addiction is actually controlling them.
Most HFAs do not seek treatment because they feel that by going to a rehab clinic they will have to admit that their life is out of control, or that they have a problem and this conflicts with both the way they view them self and their public image. However, it is only when you overcome addiction that you can have full control of your life.
Seeking Addiction Treatment
While fear of uncertain change is the most common factor why people avoid treatment, everyone has their own unique reasons. Regardless, addiction to drugs, alcohol or processes is a serious matter and needs to be dealt with professionally.
While you or somebody you know might be avoiding treatment, it is not healthy in the long run. If you are worried that you may have an addiction, or are ready to take the next step and seek treatment, contact The Cabin Singapore for advice and support that will lead to your long-term recovery.