Addiction can be tricky to recognize and even harder to deal with, especially since nearly 20% of alcoholics, a subset of addicts, are “high functioning.” For me, addiction was an escape from all of my stressors. At first, it even seemed like a good thing. Then it started taking over my life and destroyed the life I had built and the family I had built that life around. This is how addiction can break your family.
Addiction comes in all sizes
The company I worked for was downsizing. I was let go. It was alright, at first. I had a husband whose career was stable. It gave me more time with our kids.
Still, something wasn’t quite right for me. I wanted to be busy, to be part of a larger community. Instead of looking for another job, my husband encouraged me to get involved with the community. So I started volunteering. I got our kids into extracurricular and hosted play dates. My schedule was packed. I felt better than ever, or so I thought. I just couldn’t sleep. My husband suggested talking to my doctor about it. I played it off, convinced I just needed to drop a few activities.
Skip forward a few more months and insomnia had turned into full blown panic attacks. I needed help. Eventually, I ended up on benzodiazepines, or “benzos” for short. The pills helped and I could sleep again. I felt rested and ready to tackle the world. At first. Everything was back on track. Then I started needing more to help me get to sleep. And to help me relax. Or just when I was alone, for no reason at all.
Addiction can break your family
It was easy to keep up an act at first. Everything was normal, I just had a little help with my insomnia. My husband was the first one to notice something was wrong, but I denied it. I withdrew from my family more and more. Making excuses to slip into bed, I’d take a benzo, and drift off, with not a care in the world. I hardly saw my children, my husband had all but moved out with them. I’m not sure I even noticed until he told me they weren’t coming back. It took me a week of waking up in an empty house before I flushed the bottle.
I was lucky, then, for the first time in a long time. My husband had decided to tell my parents about my “condition” a few days before. They only lived a few hours away and my mother had decided, all on her own, that she and my father were going to stage an intervention. Up until that day, I had hung up on all of her phone calls. Now I knew I needed my family more than ever. That realization saved my life. On the day they showed up, I had a seizure.
All I lost
Over the next year, I was tapered off benzos at a reputable addiction treatment center. At the same time, I continued my therapy but with an addiction specialist. I was told that the fact that my increasing dependency on benzos hadn’t been a red flag to my GP and my former psychiatrist was alarming. When I finished the program, it felt like I had lost the last three years of my life. While I was in treatment, my husband filed for divorce. He wouldn’t even be alone in the same room with me. Still, I had seen the divorce coming for months. I could handle that. More than anything, I didn’t want to lose my children.
Now, because of my addiction, I am divorced. I am still fighting for more than visitation with my children. I’ve even lost the home I put my life savings into – because it was in my husband’s name. I’m staying with my parents for now, and I don’t think they’ll ever look at me the same way again.
The danger of benzodiazepine addiction
In my life post-treatment, things aren’t all bad. I’ve made a few new discoveries. After attending group therapy and meeting more than a dozen women with experiences almost identical to mine, I’ve realized how deep the benzo problem goes.
Benzodiazepines, including Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium, are the most prescribed class of drug in the United States of America. It’s one of the main reasons we’ve been labeled “the most anxious nation.” When they were first introduced in the 60s, benzos seemed like a good idea. They were effective at treating everything from sleeplessness to depression, chronic anxiety and muscle tension.
Since then, more long-term studies have been conducted. While short-term or one-time use of a benzodiazepine medication might be okay, chronic use has been correlated with cognitive decline, even after use of the medication has stopped. It has even been suggested that benzos, if taken for long periods of time and at a higher than recommended dose, may trigger a form of Alzheimer’s disease. Benzodiazepine detox, even on low doses, is also very dangerous. Seizures, like mine, are far from rare. Hallucinations, panic attacks, tremors, and tics are very common when going cold-turkey. This can also be deadly. Always get help before you begin your detox.
How one addiction can lead to another
Again, addictions come in a variety of forms. I was addicted to benzos, but any addiction is dangerous. As more inquiries are made into the nature of addiction, studies have begun to suggest that as much as 47% of the US adult population has experienced some level of addiction in the past year.
That addictive behavior may have developed from a habit over time, or been picked up as a previous addiction was cast aside. In fact, replacing one addiction with another is a common practice. An addictive obsession with weight loss can turn into alcoholism. Giving up smoking can become an unhealthy addiction to junk food. The first step to beating an addiction, and avoiding another in the future, is recognizing addictive behavior and habits that may become addictions.
How to address an addiction
Above all, it’s important to realize that you can’t cause someone to have an addiction. You can’t blame someone for your own addiction, either. Addiction, no matter what form it takes, is a personal problem. It’s hard to go through but each addict has to do the work to get better and prevent a relapse. Having a support system can help but it won’t cure an addiction on its own. In most successful cases, professional help is necessary.