Addiction; myth vs reality

We all know what addicts are like, right? We see them on tv, in the movies etc all the time. If you asked people what they know about addicts you might hear things like: they have bad teeth, they’re unemployable, they don’t look after themselves. Think again.

I’ve talked before about the fact I have an addictive personality. It’s one of the things that lead to me having weight loss surgery, and being warned by the weight loss clinic’s psychologist to be careful about addiction transfer. A surprisingly high percentage of women who have weight loss surgery become alcoholics because they transfer from food to alcohol. For that reason, I don’t drink – I’ve had 3 weak alcoholic drinks in 4 years.

I had a total knee replacement three weeks ago and it’s going well. The surgeon prescribed panadol and codeine and, when I went back for a check up, they increased the codeine dose because I’ve got bursitis in my hip due to walking differently now.

I knew there was a risk of me becoming addicted to the codeine, as I’ve been addicted to pain relief before. So I’ve been careful, and watching myself. At 3am this morning I suddenly realised – yes, you guessed it – I’m addicted to the codeine. What am I going to do about it? Not much for now, except to make sure the amount I’m taking doesn’t increase.

Once my knee is fully healed I’ll go cold turkey. It’s easier on your system to wean yourself off but I’d just lie to myself about how much I was still taking because that’s what we do as addicts – we lie to ourselves, and to others. We hide the wrappers, the receipts, the bottles…

Why am I telling you this? Because as a society we need to be more honest about the costs of addiction, and change what we think we know about addicts. I’m re-reading “In the realm of hungry ghosts: close encounters with addiction” by Dr Gabor Mate. It’s not an easy read but it gets to the heart of addiction (emotional pain essentially) and has some useful advice for people like myself.

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