The 9 stages of addiction, as explained by an addict
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). Some 1 in 4 people in the UK will be affected by a mental health issue each year, with anxiety and depression being the most common problems. All this week, JOE will be publishing a series of stories, videos, and personal accounts to engage with and widen the discussion about men's mental health in the UK today.
"F*ck you, addiction. Stop killing all my fave entertainers!"
Far be it from me to waffle on about about my own personal problems. I'll leave the sentimental stuff to Russell Brand and Matthew Perry (but mine was coke, if you must know).
That said, here in the UK, addiction is a serious issue. The latest government stats estimate some 22 million of us Brits struggle with an addiction every day.
Rates are far higher amongst young men.
While alcohol-related addiction has almost doubled in a decade, in England alone there are some 40,000 people dependent on heroin-substitute methadone.
If we don't start a national conversation soon, the situation will likely only worsen. The first step is conquering denial, being honest and identifying you have a problem.
So, on that note, it doesn't matter if you're addicted to Benson & Hedges, heroin, or high-stakes gambling – you'll probably find this 9-step cycle pretty relatable...
I feel like my needs are unfulfilled
I don't know why I'm an addict. The jury is still out on the science behind addiction. Scientists aren't sure if it's a hereditary or learned behaviour. Either way, what we do know is that it is triggered by stress, anxiety and sense of personal dissatisfaction. Wallowing in self-pity is usually the start of the cycle familiar to most addicts. My own personal foray into drug abuse was caused by too much disposable income (bratty private school kid) and a deep feeling of personal insecurity.
I revert to old behaviour patterns
The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Old behaviour patterns can be anything from living in denial to attempting to quit in the wrong way. Even if you've tried to go cold turkey a million times before, you'll convince yourself you can do it. This time. I cannot tell you how many time I'd tried to give up cocaine. Every time was different and each was significantly worse than the last.
I get confused and frustrated
Surprise, surprise – that same old method of dealing with your addiction didn't work. Now you're left feeling more alone and desperate than ever and will probably revert to whatever you got addicted to in the first place in order to numb the sense of uselessness, and the feeling of low willpower. If you can't get your hands on a fix it starts to feel like the only way is don't. You start questioning everything: Am I just weak? What is it about me that makes me so prone to compulsivity?
I suffer emotional pain and anxiety
This is best described as the "dark thoughts" period. Rock bottom, if you will. In the most severe cases people die at this point, often by their own hand. For most of us though – me included – it's not usually anywhere near as severe: a big bender or binge session that has the potential to ruin our health, happiness and personal relationships. Its worth noting that, at this point, people rarely care and are not easily talked down from the ledge.
I feel powerless and angry; I lash out
If you're lucky enough, at this stage, someone who loves and cares about you will try to intervene and stop your cycle of self-destructive behaviour. You'll respond utterly inappropriately by biting their head off and blaming the entire series of events – your addiction included – on them. I can't tell you how many friendships and relationships I've lost through drug abuse, and how many of my fellow addicts' lives I've seen fall apart.
Anyone who wants to see a brutal example of modern day relapse should watch Louis Theroux's latest documentary on alcoholism. Anyone who has experienced it for real will know how crippling it is. There's nothing more profound actually enjoying something which, deep down, you know is killing you.
I feel a brief sense of relief, then a whole bunch of regret
Smoking that cigarette, placing that bet or getting that chemical you crave back into your blood stream will alleviate problems, at least in the short term. Of course you're only going to increase your dependency in the long run. It is at this (very, very low) point that you remember all the nasty sh*t you did and said while you're angry. You start to feel pretty sh*t about yourself.
Not only are you guilty for having been an arsehole to the people you love, but you've let yourself down too. The shame is compounded by a sense of fragility and vulnerability. Yet again, it feels like something massive is missing from your life. A giant hole. A giant, drug-drink-sex-and-gambling shaped hole.
I feel like my needs are unfulfilled (again)
It's a grim and predictable cycle. One you can only break by acknowledging it. In a way, we are all addicts. Most of us are just lucky enough to be addicted to safe, socially acceptable things like sex, exercise and black coffee. For those of us who find ourselves drawn to the illegal and illicit, it can be far worse.
There's hope though; a lot of awesome people have wrestled with the same problems as you and won, a between them they've made some of the best albums and stand-up shows ever. Every cloud and all that.
It's clichéd as fuck, but the key really is to take it one day at a time.
Help and treatment for addiction can be found at the NHS. If you want to let us know about your own story, or if you have an account of overcoming addiction, we'd love you to share it with us at [email protected], or message us on Facebook.
Unfiltered with James O'Brien
This week: Lord Alf Dubs on escaping the Nazis and fighting for refugees
The Unfiltered back catalogue is FREE to listen to. Fascinating interviews with Gary Lineker, Russell Brand, Lily Allen, Eric Cantona, Alastair Campbell, Jon Ronson, Nick Clegg and more.