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A SOBERING STORY: 'The drugs become the value'

by on April 27, 2014 2:00 AM

The behaviors associated with addiction are ugly.

People suffering from the disease often lie. They are moody. And they can be manipulative, too.

“A drug addict will use anything at their disposal and anybody at their disposal to get their drugs,” said Vince Mercuri, executive director of The Open Door Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Center. “That’s just part of the nature of addiction.”

For those who have become addicted to a particular substance, obtaining and using that substance becomes a preoccupation.

Everything else — work, relationships, school, hobbies and community involvement — becomes irrelevant, according to addiction specialists.

“The drugs become the value,” Mercuri said. “The drugs are the most important thing in (the addict’s) life. They’re saying through their actions I want this high more than I want this career, more than I want God, more than I want my family.

“The family and jobs are usually the last thing to go,” he added.

Although signs and symptoms of abuse vary depending upon the person and the substance they are using, there are some common traits associated with the problem.

The latest version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists 11 behaviors associated with the disease under its definition of substance abuse disorder.

Among them:

• A great deal of time being spent on activities necessary to obtain and use the substance, or recover from its effects.

• Recurrent use of the substance resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home.

• A giving up on or reduction in time with important social, occupational or recreational activities to allow for use of a substance.

• Continued use of a substance despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of its use.

In less clinical terms, someone who has a problem will show less of an interest, if any at all, in activities, hobbies, sports or causes that once were important to them, said Carrie Bence, deputy director of the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission.

She also said that same person’s performance at school or work might decline. Or, she said, they may be expelled or fired. They may withdraw from friends and family. They also may begin acting anxious, paranoid or secretive. Not to mention defensive, irritable and angry, she said.

They may be constantly borrowing money from friends and relatives. Or they may be stealing.

Additionally, addicts might pay less attention to hygiene and their appearance. They may look pale, worn out and generally unwell.

But ask if everything is OK, and they’ll deny that they have a problem, even if it is painfully obvious to those around them.

That denial, said Frank Jans, director of psychiatry at Western Penn Allegheny Health Network, arises from the addict’s desire to protect the relationship with the drug.

Over time, the dependent actually comes to believe he or she does not have a problem.

“People say, ‘You’re lying.’ But they’re not. They believe what they’re saying. They believe they’re telling the truth. And that’s why it’s so difficult to get through denial,” Jans said.

“The denial begins to feed off itself,” he said. “They begin to believe it, and they distort reality more and more in order to protect the relationship with their drug of choice.”

Mercuri said that while all people deny or rationalize a problem, addicts take it to the extreme, he said.

“People in the throes of an addiction take it to the umpteenth degree,” he said.



Sam Kusic is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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