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What Was The Moment You Realized You Were Addicted to Drugs?

by Demarco Moore

October 25, 2022
A woman struggles with her reflection in the mirror after realizing she struggles with drug addiction

Addiction is hard to understand if you’ve never experienced one, and even harder to admit to. Each experience is unique, with many internal and external circumstances that lead a person down the road of repeated substance use. While the exact moment is hard to pinpoint, most people know they’re struggling to control their drinking or drug use, but don’t have the strength or information to seek help. Many people experiencing a substance use disorder (SUD) will suffer the symptoms of addiction before realizing they have a problem.

Many people, unfortunately, also ignore the signs of addiction and avoid getting help. In this blog, we explore the moments that make people realize they’re addicted to drugs. Our hope is that more people feel empowered to share their addiction struggles and follow a path that leads to long-term recovery.

Using drugs to cope with negative emotions

Young people between the ages of 12 and 14 are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, according to research. This is a crucial time for children as they face peer pressure and learn to cope with typical life stressors like body changes, school work and friendships. Cleve Willis experimented with marijuana and alcohol around the age of 15, which gave him a “sense of belonging” during a time when he struggled to find friends.

“As long as I can remember, I always felt like I didn’t fit in,” said Willis, the owner of Still Hot Yoga in Atlanta, Georgia. “I always felt like I was trying to prove myself. I finally found a place where I fit in.”

Willis, who’s been in recovery for over 28 years, said his experimentation ramped up in high school, where he discovered cocaine, opium and heroin. Although he was close to signing a music recording deal as a teenager, his partying and drug use were ways to escape feelings of insecurity and fear.

“I’m doing everything I know how to do to make myself feel better outside of myself,” Willis said.

A man deals with trauma and addiction after his wife dies

Life revolves around drugs

Many people with addictions need greater amounts of drugs to achieve their desired side effects, like a rush of excitement or relaxation, or to feel “normal.” They might, as a result, behave as if drugs are more important than day-to-day responsibilities, like school or a job, or activities they once enjoyed.

Willis said he dropped out of high school once his drug use made it hard to concentrate on his school work.

“It was scary because I didn’t know how to live without drugs and alcohol,” he said. “I certainly didn’t know how to live without trying to fit into certain groups of friends that I had at the time.”

Jason Leppo, an admissions consultant at Landmark Recovery said he couldn’t picture life sober and didn’t know how to live sober. He hit a point where drinking no longer made him feel normal.

“One day, I was sitting there and knew that I was going to drink and it wasn’t gonna make me feel any better,” said Leppo, who’s been in recovery for over 11 years. “I just stared at a beer for like a good two hours, and then I was like, I probably need help.”

Living in denial

Each experience with addiction is unique. However, a common theme for people who struggle with drugs or alcohol is that they deny their problem. Most people are aware of the impact that their addiction has on their life, but a set of emotions like shame and fear prevent them from asking for help.

“I just remember specifically looking in the mirror and then never wanting to look in the mirror again,” Willis said. “I knew it was bad and I knew I had a problem. I also knew that I wasn’t ready to stop, and I didn’t know what else was wrong with me.”

Struggling to overcome and recover

People with addictions don’t always seek help immediately. That’s because recovering from chemical dependence on drugs is known to be uncomfortable without help from medical professionals. In his own words, Willis’ first year of sobriety was miserable and painful. Even though he was overcoming his addiction, the biggest hurdle was the years of trauma that Willis masked with drugs and alcohol.

“I just hit a wall and I didn’t really want to live, even though I got clean,” Willis said. “I remember the sadness and the pain, not only from getting sober and hiding all that stuff but not being aware of what I was running from via the trauma that really took years.”



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Leppo said he never intended to get sober, even during inpatient treatment. However, his 30-day rehab stint gave him the opportunity to clear drugs from his system and learn how to make decisions with a clear head.

“After a couple of weeks clean your mind starts to clear up, which is why staying at an inpatient treatment center is imperative,” Leppo said. “After a certain amount of time, I started thinking about goals. So, instead of having depressive thoughts about my past and what I did to not put myself in a position to succeed, my thought process changed.”

Realize you have an addiction?

Don’t let your first impression of addiction be a lasting condition that prevents you from getting help. If you or a loved one struggles with drugs or alcohol, call 888-448-0302 to talk to an addiction treatment provider. A member of the admissions team at Landmark Recovery is available 24/7 on our confidential phone line. 

Visit our locations page to find the closest treatment center in your area.

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About the Author

Demarco Moore

Demarco Moore

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Demarco Moore currently writes blogs about drug addiction treatment and recovery to help save lives at treatment provider Landmark Recovery. Before that, he cut his teeth as a sports writer at the Manchester Times, where his coverage and stories won Tennessee Press Association awards in 2016 and 2017.

He’s always had a knack for storytelling. Moore’s written content for junior golf tournaments and helped to amplify the “People Not Profits” message of credit unions. When he’s not writing, Moore loves to travel, laugh and put his mental health into the hands of the Tennessee Titans during football season.