When Addiction “Comes Out of the Closet”. Identifying Signs and Coping Methods

Evi Ziv

Substance addictions, as well as behavioral addictions (such as to gambling, sex and pornography), are challenging social problems even during the best of times. Given the current coronavirus crisis, there is growing concern that more people will fall into the cycle of suffering of addiction, that those with hidden addictions will be revealed under home quarantine, and that existing addictions will become a dominant presence in family life. Addictive disorders can fluctuate in intensity over the course of a person’s life, but the common characteristics throughout include cravings for the substance or activity, a lack of control over the quantity or frequency of use, and a compulsive need for the substance or behavior, despite the negative consequences. Dealing with the phenomenon of addiction and minimizing its harm requires awareness of the problem, motivation for change, and acquiring the tools and coping skills necessary to help abstain from, or reduce, use. This process requires the mobilization of many personal and professional resources, including the help of close family members, healthcare professionals, and self-help groups.

What is a complex process during normal times becomes even more challenging when the existing balance is broken. The coronavirus epidemic has raised levels of tension, anxiety and stress in the general population, upending balances that were fragile to begin with. The change in work routines, travel restrictions, and extended home quarantine with family members can upend the balance for a person who has so far managed to somewhat control their addiction, or hide it from their family. Suddenly the addictive behavior is exposed, becoming visible in family life and affecting the relationships at home.

At the same time, the quarantine and travel restrictions limit a person’s ability to receive professional help. The social and mutual support mechanisms that are essential to the healing and rehabilitation processes are also restricted.

These high-risk circumstances require vigilance of one’s immediate environment, and awareness of warning signs that may indicate emotional deterioration and a turn to addictive substances or behaviors.

Important warning signs include:

1. Changes in drinking or eating habits (excess use, increased appetite)

2. Extreme changes in sleep habits (difficulty falling asleep, lack of sleep or too much sleep)

3. Emotional outbursts (frequent and intense arguments, difficulty regulating emotions)

4. Physical pain or strange physical sensations

These warning signs may indicate the development or existence of an addiction, and the need for professional help.

The person whose addiction has “come out of the closet” needs support, without judgment, in order to successfully adopt healthier coping mechanisms. It is natural and understandable that family members may find it difficult to provide this support at first, but, given the proper guidance, all members of the family can achieve a new, healthier balance.

To receive help, please contact the Israel Center on Addiction hotline, which operates Sunday to Thursday, from 1pm to 3pm, at 054-8266569.

In addition, you can reach out to the addiction treatment department of your local social welfare office, and can contact self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, via the Internet.

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