Are you or a loved one participating in Dry January?
Dry January can have many health benefits for some individuals – improved sleep, a clearer mind, money saved, and potentially a healthier relationship with alcohol – just to name a few. However, for individuals living with an addiction and/or substance use problem, a single month of sobriety won’t suffice. And, when you have a physical dependence on alcohol or drugs, abruptly abstaining from it could be dangerous (learn more about that here).
But what are the signs of physical dependence? How do you know if you’re addicted?
We spoke with one of our in-house Crest View experts, Audrey Tanner, Primary Therapist, MS, LCMHC, LCAS, CSI, for insight based on her experience. Read on to learn our perspective on some of the commonly asked questions related to Dry January, and whether you or a loved one may need sobriety over the long-term, not just a single month of the year.
From your experience, what are the most common signs that someone has a substance use problem and/or physical dependence/addiction?
Physical signs of addiction
Drug and alcohol addictions can cause a range of physical changes, including dental decay, dilated pupils, and chronically runny noses. Regardless of the substance, weight change can also be a good indicator of addiction, because addiction alters everything from appetite to metabolism and activity level. Other physical signs of addiction can include changes in energy levels. A user may appear either far more energetic than normal. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some substances can cause users to become lethargic or very tired.
Unusual financial problems
Addiction is expensive. In addition to the cost of procuring addictive substances, income can be slashed without the ability to work. As a user falls deeper into addiction, they will find themselves more and more financially strained and unable to meet their typical financial obligations. They will need more drugs to replicate the same effect. More drugs cost more money, and also means a user is more likely to ignore responsibilities such as work. This can lead to a vicious cycle of financial ruin.
Ignored obligations/neglected responsibilities
When addiction develops, nothing else in life is as important as securing the next dose. Individuals might be absent from work, forget to attend a family function, or stop paying their mortgage. Skipping out on important life obligations and responsibilities are clear signs of addiction that should not be ignored.
Unexplained schedule changes
One of the most common signs of addiction is abrupt scheduling changes. For example, a person that normally goes to work each day might spend more time around the house. Individuals might also stop attending social events or sleep at odd hours. This is because most substances are either stimulants or depressants, and both can dramatically impact routine.
Serious legal issues
While many signs of addiction are private, legal issues or criminal proceedings are much harder to hide. And although certain crimes and legal cases have nothing to do with addiction, substance abuse can certainly be a cause. If legal issues don’t have an obvious explanation, consider whether addiction might be the culprit.
Important to note: using prescription medications, illegal drugs, or alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean you have an addiction. Many people who use these substances recreationally do not have any issue related to stopping usage. They are able to successfully moderate themselves and their consumption during Dry January. However, those addictive substances can absolutely lead to an addiction when use becomes habitual. Learning the signs of addiction makes it easier to spot a problem, which can lead to faster support, treatment, and recovery. With many cases of addiction, the sooner a person can get into recovery, the better their chances of recovery will be.
What are other signs of addiction that may be more subtle and go unnoticed?
Changes and/or disruptions to your relationships can be a subtle indicator at first (because some degree of conflict in relationships is normal from time to time). However, if people in your life approach you with concerns about your substance use habits – or say that it’s causing problems in your relationship – you should not ignore this feedback.
Additionally, building up a tolerance for a specific substance can be another subtle sign of addiction, as it takes time to build and become evident to you or loved ones. It’s important to pay attention to whether you’re having to use or drink more and more in order to feel the same effects, or if you’re going to extreme measures to obtain alcohol or drugs.
If you notice one or more of these signs – or perhaps find that you or a loved one are lying or hiding evidence of your substance use, yet continue to use despite the consequences – it’s time to seek addiction treatment services. At Crest View Recovery, our approach to recovery is different than most rehabs. We don’t believe in cookie-cutter solutions. Each person that walks through our door has their own past, their own needs, and their own story. A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work. That’s why we use a holistic addiction treatment approach. You can learn more about it here.
Is Dry January an effective and safe way to start your recovery journey? Or could it be harmful?
This really depends on the substance you are abstaining from. For example, abruptly quitting alcohol or benzodiazepines could be life-threatening, so attending a medical detox first is the recommended course of action. Withdrawals from other substances may also be incredibly uncomfortable, and many people find that without the help of a detox program, they lose their motivation to stay sober.
It’s also important to keep in mind that quitting drinking and/or drug use won’t solve your substance abuse problem alone. It’s the first step and, with a clearer mind, will enable you to start determining the root cause of your addiction, and whether you need long-term professional help.
If I, or a loved one, “fail” Dry January, does that mean I have a drinking problem?
If you planned to stay sober for the month and had trouble doing so (perhaps you’ve found yourself coming up with excuses to have a drink), this may indicate that talking to an addiction and/or mental health specialist is in your best interest. “Failing” Dry January doesn’t necessarily mean you have a serious drinking problem, but it does warrant you speaking with a professional to see if your concerns and habits qualify you for a substance use disorder.
Are there unintended negative consequences that come with Dry January?
If many of your social activities revolve around drinking/substance use, you might find that abstaining also means your social life changes. You should steer clear of going to bars or restaurants to limit your temptation, and I’d encourage you to brainstorm healthier activities to keep you busy. Sobriety is a great way to explore old or new hobbies, discover healthier alternatives to substance use, and discover what you’re truly passionate about.
Do you have any ideas for alternatives to Dry January that are more sustainable over the long-term?
To make any goal stick, it’s best to make it as specific and realistic as possible. Many people find it helpful to use the SMART goal format (we talk more about that here). With the guidance of a professional, you can determine if you qualify for a substance use disorder, or if you are just trying to limit or decrease your use of substances.
Are you or a loved one ready to seek help?
Located in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, Crest View Recovery Center offers comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs to help you along your journey to sobriety. Comfortable, beautiful, safe, and private, our center provides individualized addiction therapy services that take your specific needs and circumstances into consideration. We know you have a unique journey, so we’ll create a unique recovery plan that fits you.
We’re ready when you are.
Contact Crest View Recovery Center staff at 866-350-5622 today or submit a form here.