I Drink Alone. Why is isolation a bad sign? ~by Joe Herzanek (with Judy Herzanek)
For many, isolation is one of the end results of addiction. What was once a fun and sociable part of life turns into quite the opposite experience. In the fun stage of alcohol or drug use, we often like to be around others—that is, others who like to get high. Substance use often begins with laughter, parties, and hanging out with a group of people. Some people stay in this stage of use, control their drinking, and later go on to lead a responsible life. Others, like me, continue to use more and more.
This post excerpted from Chapter 15 (I Drink Alone. Why is isolation a bad sign?) of the updated book: Why Don’t They JUST QUIT? Hope for families struggling with addiction.
One of the signs of addiction is that the person starts getting high alone. Drinking or using before going out partying is part of the addiction process—as is getting high at any time of the day or night. Drinking, taking pills, or smoking dope first thing in the morning may become the norm.
Why is this? The drug has now become the primary focus of their life.
At this stage, many addicts will become suspicious and paranoid. Straight people (nonusers) are more difficult for the addict to communicate with. They are potential roadblocks to the person’s ability to use. When I reached this point of dependency, I could count my remaining friends on one hand. And most were addicts, just like me.
Once the addiction becomes primary, a dependent person’s life is preoccupied with using. He spends valuable time and energy planning his day, to make sure he will be able to have access to his needed amount of drugs or alcohol. Substance use has overcome the person’s life and it is nearly impossible to hide it. I can remember having tinted glasses made because I didn’t want people to see my eyes.
Virtually everything in the person’s life can become secondary—friendships, family relationships, children, sex, jobs, personal hygiene, eating—you name it. At first the person may go out of their way to overcompensate. When they realize that this main focus of their lives is threatening other areas, in an attempt to have it all, they may try to maintain a perfect image to prove to those close to them that they don’t have a problem. The addict may stay late at work, have people over to dinner, keep a perfectly clean house, and in general try to portray an ideal image. At the same time, they are secretly trying to manage their addiction in isolation. This is referred to as “high functioning.”
. . . they are secretly trying to manage their addiction in isolation.
This is often referred to as “high functioning.”
As the addiction progresses, trying to prove that they are normal becomes more and more difficult, and eventually the addiction completely takes over. This explains why an addicted parent may eventually be forced to give up their child to a relative or social services. People who have lived through this staggering experience know that it’s not about love—these parents do love their spouses, family, and children—it’s about addiction. The addiction takes hold and consumes their very lives. This is very difficult for any family member or friend to understand, unless they have personally been through it.
This is the point I had reached when I walked out on my wife and seven-year-old daughter. Addiction had completely overtaken my life.
“Some things that happened I don’t remember. I guess I blocked them out, stuff like he was supposed to come for weekends and he wouldn’t show. [My mom told me] I would cry and cry… I don’t remember that.”
—Jami, my daughter
Our society seems to believe that it is far worse for a mother to leave her family, but in reality the situation is devastating either way. To add a note of hope, today Jami and my former wife are very close to me, my current wife, Judy, and our two children (Jake and Jess). Our relationships today are a tribute to the fact that dramatic changes are possible.
When to Intervene
When addiction overtakes a person’s life, and fun has become a distant memory, this is a good time for an effective intervention. When a user starts to lose things in their life that they truly used to care about, they may not know how to turn things around. They might feel helpless, and stop believing it’s possible to make life matter again. In this situation, the best thing for your addicted friend or loved one is to talk to someone who has been there. They will often say that they don’t want treatment. I’ve heard it said that “Treatment won’t work unless a person wants it.” Well, when I got to this point, I didn’t want it, but I was forced to go.
“It was at this point that my family stepped in. Looking back,
I realize now that their intervention saved my life.”
My life was in shambles. Nothing was working, and all I could think to do was to keep using. The reality of what I had become was too much for me to bear. Life seemed both hopeless and meaningless. Everything revolved around staying under the influence—anything that kept me from thinking. It was at this point that my family stepped in. Looking back, I realize now that their intervention saved my life. I had left my wife and child and was isolating myself—living in my parent’s basement. They recognized the danger and offered me the help I needed. Treatment was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was able to claim my life back, and no longer live in shame and isolation.
If you found this article “I Drink Alone. Why is isolation a bad sign?” helpful please see our “Ask Joe” posts listed at the bottom and consider reading “Why Don’t they Just Quit? Hope for families struggling with addiction.”
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