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Prevention still beats cure for maximum simplicity and minimum pain: so if you’ve escaped addiction so far (or if you want to help others avoid repeating your mistakes), here are ten ways to stay out of the chemical-overuse trap.
1. Remember that not all addiction starts with illicit experimentation.
A generation or so ago, people commonly assumed that if you got through your teen years without trying out marijuana or LSD for kicks, you were safe from drug-addiction temptations. Not so. Alcoholism and prescription-opioid addiction have been happening to adults almost since the more beneficial aspects of these drugs were discovered. Don’t ever assume that because a substance is legal, or even recommended by a doctor, you can use it carelessly.
2. Practice stress-management and relaxation techniques on a daily basis.
If you learn to minimize overload, rush and anxiety without chemical assistance, you’ll win the biggest part of the battle before it starts. You’ll also be less likely to develop chronic physical pain and face the risks that come with painkiller prescriptions. Meditation, prayer, yoga, deep breathing and just going outdoors for a quick walk will all help you stay personally calm even when the world is chaotic.
3. Resolve not to feel responsible for making “everything” run smoothly.
If a flooded road or a computer failure messes up your best-laid plans, fretting and fuming will just blur your thinking and make it harder to choose the best Plan B. And trying too hard to salvage Plan A may be even more dangerous than popping a pill. Calm down, accept reality and remember that no reasonable person will blame you when “life happens.”
4. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
When people say they “need” drugs to keep them awake or help them fall asleep, what they really need is usually to cut down the responsibilities that fill their days to bursting, simultaneously wearing them out and leaving them too adrenaline-charged to fully settle down. A good rule to live by in these do-all-you-can days: before saying “yes” to any commitment, figure out how long you think it will take—and then increase that time by 50% to allow for interruptions, forgotten extras and wishful thinking.
5. Beware of guilt trips and ego trips.
Point 4 may be harder to follow if you have a demanding employer, a family in the habit of assuming you’ll do everything, or acquaintances who are masters of “but we were counting on you.” Often, even while complaining about these situations we encourage them with our dread of offending others, or with the assumption no one else could do things “right.” Start to delegate, accept others’ learning curves, and—if you’re dealing with a real bully—consider terminating relationships. Besides reducing overload stress, these approaches will reduce temptations to try passive “solutions” like drugs, by helping you feel less like a “victim.”
6. Keep up with basic health and medical news.
If you stay personally informed about medication risks and alternatives, you’ll be better able to help your doctor pinpoint the best treatments for you.
7. Know your passions, and have long-term goals for your life, instead of just “going through the motions” of following orders at work and dividing your remaining hours between screen time and sleeping late.
Seeing life as a road of constant progress, on a mission you alone were made for, gives you reasons to take care of yourself, plus an awareness life is about more than instant gratification and minimal discomfort.
8. Spend time with optimistic people who enjoy life in wholesome, proactive ways.
You absorb the attitudes of whatever peer group gets the lion’s share of your time. If every get-together turns into a commiseration session or pity party, or constant moaning about what the world’s coming to, you’re all at high risk for progressing to drowning your sorrows at the bar.
9. Stay physically active.
Day after day of sitting feeds sluggishness and depression. If your job has you manning a computer or phone most of the day, take a short walk during each break (never eat lunch at your desk) and a longer, brisk one before or after work (better yet, both). On your days off, opt for hiking or another getting-out-and-about leisure activity—even if you feel you end each week too tired to move, doing something physical can actually recharge you more effectively than staying in bed.
10. Believe in yourself—especially if you got off to a bad start in life.
Telling yourself you’re doomed to wind up an alcoholic like your mother only creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately, this works both ways. Tell yourself you’re a survivor who can overcome any obstacle—and you’ll find life won’t disappoint you, and you won’t disappoint yourself.