Almost Addicted

The slippery slope of recreational drug use

Almost Addicted

Sub-threshold drug use can still create problems and warrant taking action

Welcome to my inaugural blog for Psychology Today!  Perhaps I should start by explaining the blog’s title for anyone who may be asking: “What does it mean to be almost addicted?”

This phrase describes folks who are using drugs to a degree that’s creating actual or potential problems in their lives -- but the drug use does not rise to any diagnostic level.  As such, even though people who are “almost addicted” might not suffer the devastating problems that often accompany being fully addicted to a drug, they might be suffering nonetheless. Examples might include:

 --Folks who feel like they can only truly relax in social settings when they have a drug in their system

--Those who occasionally fail to show up for functions and obligations because they’re high

--People whose school or work performance has ever suffered as a result of drug use

--Anyone who has experienced conflicts in relationships with family members, friends, spouses, or co-workers as a result of drug use

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Identifying someone who is almost addicted can do more than just help improve things in the here and now.  It can also prevent the drug use from escalating into full-blown addiction, and it may prevent major problems from developing later.  In Almost Addicted, I give an example of the kind of story I’ve seen many times: someone whose Vicodin use hovered in the almost addicted range for a couple of years before it exploded into full-on addiction, which ultimately had devastating professional and personal consequences. 

So who might be vulnerable to becoming almost addicted?  The truth is, just about anybody. A large study conducted in 2009 found that 21.8 million Americans ages 12 and older (in other words, 8.7 percent of this group) had used illicit drugs in the month prior to the survey. This same study found that 16.7 million Americans ages 12 and older had used marijuana at least once in the previous month.   

Prescription drug abuse is also rampant:  16 million Americans in 2009 used these drugs for nonmedical purposes at least once in the previous year.

With marijuana use being increasingly legalized across the country, and with prescription drug abuse at epidemic proportions, the potential for running into trouble because of drug use is as high as ever

So what should we do?   First, we need to recognize that drug use that does not rise to any diagnostic level can still cause problems, sometimes big ones.  Since this level of use can cause more subtle signs and symptoms than we see with full-on abuse or addiction, we need to take stock and honestly assess our relationship—or that of our loved one--to drugs

Thankfully, almost addiction is a problem that can be addressed with many solutions, which I’ll be discussing here in the future.

Thanks for reading, and please join the discussion here on a regular basis!  Future blog posts will delve deeper into drug use, but they’ll also address more general issues about mental health, the nature of psychiatric diagnosis, controversies over the newest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in the psychiatry field, and difficulties accessing health care in the United States. 

 

 

 *Image courtesy of Mantas Ruzveltas at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

Wes Boyd is on faculty at Harvard Medical School and is an Attending Psychiatrist at Cambridge Health Alliance and Children’s Hospital Boston.

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