By Sagita Paramalingam

Hi, my name is Sagita and I’m an addict.

Yes, that’s the introduction in every Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting you attend or seen in the movies. I struggled with substance abuse and addiction for 14 years of my life.

I grew up in a very dysfunctional environment with histories of physical abuse, trauma, divorce and where excessive drinking was normalised. I started going to more parties at 15 years old, and started rationalising my childhood traumas in unhealthy ways. This eventually led me to those 14 years of addiction.

Watch my full interview with The Asian Woman on my story:

Today, I am 3 years sober, a double degree Psychology & Communications graduate, and a Certified Recovery Coach advocating for better addiction education. A Certified RSC is a trained professional that promotes recovery and serves as a guide for individuals, families and communities to identify and remove barriers to addiction recovery.

Unaware by many, addiction begins unassumingly. Initially, it does not appear serious but develops in stages with gradual mental and physical impact:

First Stage: Experimentation
This is considered the first stage of addiction where one is still experimenting recreationally. Drug and alcohol addiction always begins with this seemingly-harmless phase. It usually happens in a social setting and is irregular but often socially acceptable and sometimes, even encouraged.

Second Stage: Social or Regular Use
This is like the fork in the road for most people. People either divert away from regular use because it’s too much or continue because life is too much. Continuous usage is usually triggered by using substances as coping mechanisms for physical and/or mental traumas. Mood and behaviour changes usually become apparent in this stage. Often, individuals at this stage begin making excuses and justifications for the use of the substance.

Third Stage: Habitual
The transition between stage 2 and 3 of addiction may occur quickly and may be difficult to detect. This is where a user starts prioritising substance use over other facets of life. Users are often unaware or unafraid of the consequences of their behaviour.

Some individuals may falsely feel in control of their drug use. However, independence from the substance decreases while tolerance to the substance increases with physiological dependence.

For me, my work life was getting severely affected. My functional life where I was not using substances decreased while the substance abuse increased. At one point, I collapsed at work and was hospitalised for my methamphetamine and alcohol abuse.

Final Stage: Dependency or Full Blown
This stage is when the addiction is full blown with continued use of drugs regardless of the negative consequences. Here, the user is fully dependent on the substances with severe impacts to their physical and mental health, poor performance at work or job loss, or engaging in criminal activity.

Withdrawing substance usage at this stage usually requires professional supervision as drastic changes in usage may cause severe physiological impact (depending on the substance) such as seizures, delirium tremens, hypertension, or disorientation. Personal relationships are usually jeopardised or completely lost as a result of the dependence on substance.

My transformation throughout the years.
Photo Credit to Sagita Paramalingam

Addiction is not selective.
An addict can be from any education background, socio-economic level or demography. When substance use is used as a form of coping mechanism, the individual is already at high risk for the addiction to develop further. For me, my substance use was a coping mechanism for my traumas, social anxiety and depression.

If you know someone who is struggling with addiction:
It is difficult helping a loved one who is struggling from addiction and there are no quick fixes to it. A few ways to help the situation is by:

1. Educating yourself about addiction. Knowing about addiction will help you find more solutions to help the addict.

2. Encourage them to get help. The earlier addiction is treated, the better. There will be denial and excuses for the person to get help but be persistent!

3. Support their recovery as an ongoing process. Recovery is a process that does not happen overnight. Be involved in their recovery and offer support in their journey because this is where the change actually happens. Abstinence alone isn’t enough. Support them going for AA/NA meetings, group therapy, and you can also find an Al-Anon in your area (support group for family of addicts)

4. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You are important as well.

Today, I am a Certified Recovery Coach.
Photo Credit to Sagita Paramalingam

If you are struggling with substance use as a coping mechanism:
You don’t have to reach rock bottom to get help. Be aware if your substance use is affecting your functioning life- physically (health), psychologically (mentally), socially or even financially. If it is, please reach out for help. If you cannot do it alone, reach out for support from trusted family or friend(s). It might just save your life like it did mine. For me, I reached out to my mother who helped me get professional help.

Some resources available in Malaysia (operating hours may differ during COVID-19 pandemic):

In-Patient Treatment / Care Centres


  • Agensi AntiDadah Kerajaan (AADK): 03-8911 2233 or 019-626 2233\

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