I'm a 47-year-old successful professional. My children are grown and I'm divorced. My boyfriend is addicted to opiates, but I've never taken them.
I've started smoking pot several times a day. I've used cocaine occasionally but feel I would do it whenever it was available. I was recently handed a pipe that contained crack. After only thinking about it a few seconds, I took a hit. Nothing major happened, but I think it's because the pipe was empty. I drink about once or twice a week but not always to excess. I feel that I may have some addiction issues, but I'm not sure what criteria have to be met to be considered an "addict."
Shaina, 47-year-old woman
Some of the most common symptoms of addiction are:
Tolerance - the need to use more of the substance to achieve the desired result.
Withdrawal - either a physical or psychological reaction to the cessation of use (such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, confusion, depression, irritability and anxiety).
Cravings - a regular and urgent desire to use the substance.
Loss of control - not being able to stop once you have started.
You should start by asking yourself how often you experience any of these. In addition to the symptoms concerning the substance use itself, there are more functional measures of addiction problems. These concern the effects your use has on your life, or the consequences. Consider the following questions:
How often do you find that you drink or use more than you intended?
How often do you do things whilst intoxicated that you regret later?
How often do others in your life complain to you about the amount you are drinking or using?
How often has your work suffered due to drug use?
How often do you drink or use because it's the only way to have a good time?
How often do you become defensive or secretive when anyone asks about your drinking or using?
How often do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with drinking or using?
How often do you find yourself anticipating when you will drink or use again?
How often do you try to hide how much you've been drinking or using?
How often are you unable to refuse drugs or a drink when they are offered to you?
How often have you tried to cut down and failed?
If you recognized yourself in some of these situations don't worry - that need not mean you have an addiction. If ALL the situations applied to you then yes, you probably do have a problem.
There are always positive and negative consequences to alcohol or drugs use. You might ask yourself if the positive effects are worth the negative effects. If the negatives outweigh the positives but you continue to use, then you could have a problem. If, however, the negative effects are not so extreme, and the positive things are more apparent, then you sound like the archetypal "social"ť user. Most people use drugs or alcohol in this way, even if occasionally they drink or use a bit too much. On the whole, their lives are not ruined by the effects.
The fact that you are 47 suggests that if you haven't had serious problems with addiction so far, it is most unlikely that you will develop them now. It's not impossible though, so it's good to remain aware of your consumption.
Though in many respects you do not appear to be an addict, you could ask yourself what effect smoking pot several times a day is having. Cannabis has many unwanted side-effects, and is by no means as harmless as some would believe. A chronic lack of motivation, which can eventually lead to depression, is quite common amongst cannabis users, as is a general sense of social anxiety. Short-term memory is another well-documented effect. And last but not least of course, smoking is highly carcinogenic.