Shadow Addiction: What Lies Beneath

Shadow addiction, often known as prodromal alcoholism or prodromal addiction, is that thin edge between being functional and being a wreck. The downward spiral looms, but it hasn’t quite started. A person can actually stay in prodromal addiction for months or even years. It casts a shadow on everything they do, everything they are. It’s always there, waiting. The behaviors of a person in the prodromal stage are not quite dysfunctional enough to get the attention of a wide scope of people. Family and friends may know, on some level, that there’s a problem. Sometimes a binge gets noticed. But overall, the person suffering is hanging on to most of their responsibilities.

However, we don’t know how narrow that person’s margin is, and at the prodromal level of addiction, it’s fingernail thin. Ironically, many prodromal addicts are still functioning at a high level in school, work, or daily life. Some abuse drugs to keep that high performance going. That’s not at all uncommon. Depending on the person, the time it takes to burn out varies wildly. It often confuses family members, friends and colleagues when the big collapse caves in the addict’s life. “They were doing so well!” is something we hear a lot. Some of that awesome high level achievement was predicated on abuse of drugs. Abusing drugs, most drugs, simply becomes untenable.

That’s how someone can go from a well paid professional to homeless in a few short months–or even less. Straight-A students drop out. Mothers and fathers pick the addiction over their kids, and it seems like it’s happening all at once, out of the blue. There’s often one tiny bump in the road that cracks open the whole unresolved addiction problem and the individual collapses. Addicts don’t immediately let others know they’ve been using for a long time. After all, the collapse isn’t always followed by recovery. That journey can take a while to begin.

This is a horribly confusing time for families and friends, and the most critical thing to do is to get help from an addiction specialist immediately. Any person with a close relationship to the addict needs to get help themselves. It’s traumatic to have a loved one in active addiction. The tools necessary to help a person get clean aren’t intuitive, and the emotional support isn’t always readily available from people who’ve not been in the situation.