Why are so many people drawn toward using alcohol and other drugs? What do they want the alcohol and other drugs to do for them that they are unable to do while clean and sober? Over the course of my career, I’ve asked hundreds of people this question and I was surprised to find that almost everyone gave me one of the following seven answers.
WHAT PEOPLE WANT FROM USING DRUGS
1. To Get High (To feel the pleasant state of drug-induced euphoria)
2. To Relax
3. To Be More Social
4. To Manage Feelings
5. To Get More Energy
6. To Block Out Pain
7. To Be More Spiritual
8. To Have Better Sex
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
TO GET HIGH … Some people use alcohol and drugs to get high: If they have a genetic predisposition toward addiction, they experience an intensely pleasurable feeling called euphoria when they use their drug of choice. They do not feel “drunk” or “stoned” in the usual sense of those words. They feel a unique sense of well-being. Everything seems right. They feel normal, competent, functional, and relaxed. They feel like they can handle anything. They love that feeling and keep using in order to get it. Most people find they can’t get that euphoric feeling in any other way.
Euphoria: The Feeling That Addicts Want To Have. The Feeling They Eventually Need to Have!
TO RELAX … Some people use alcohol and drugs to relax. They feel constant stress and pressure and mind altering substances help to: turn the stress off, relieve pressure, help them to calm down and feel mellow. These people usually use alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers to help them relax. Once they depend upon the drugs to relax, there’s no need to learn how to relax using other methods.
Relaxation: Is Just a Swallow Away
TO BE MORE SOCIAL … Some people use alcohol and drugs to be more social. They want to make it easier to get along with other people, take the rough edges off of their personality. Many people find that they feel better about themselves when they are drinking and drugging. As result, it is easier for them to deal with other people. This newfound social ease is caused in part by the euphoric effect of the drug. Another big part is psychological. When under the influence of alcohol and drugs, many people can give themselves permission to do things that they would never be able to do sober. Most of us learn to be who we believe we are early in childhood before we even have the power to use language. We learn our sense of self intuitively, by watching and copying the behaviors of others and noticing how people react when we do or don’t do certain things. Without words, we discover a basic sense of ourselves as being ok (meaning that I believe I can belong in the world and succeed by doing what is expected of me) or being Not ok (meaning that I believe that no matter what I do or how hard I try I can never really belong in the world because I am incapable of doing what other people and the world expects of me).
Remember, this learning is done in the first eighteen months of life by intuitive observing how other people behave, what works and doesn’t work for them, and how people treat me when I do or don’t do certain things.
This basic belief about self, others, and the world becomes a basic template for our personality. Once established it is difficult to change – unless we have a magic drug (our drug of choice) that allows us to step out of the comfort zone of our early childhood learning, feel good about ourselves, and do the things we need to do to belong and succeed.
As people find their drug of choice and begin to regularly use, many develop a social persona based upon our self-image as a drinker and drug user. Once developed, if we were to stop using alcohol and other drugs, we wouldn’t be sure of whom we really were, how people viewed us, and how we could fit into the world.
To MANAGE FEELINGS … Some people use alcohol and drugs to manage feelings: They may want to get rid of “bad” or uncomfortable feelings.
The problem is this – when people manage their feelings with alcohol and drugs, they have no need to develop or use other emotional management tools. As a result, they need to use alcohol or other drugs in order to cope with their emotions. People who start using alcohol or other drugs on a regular basis during their teenage years never learn these emotional management skills. Why work hard at learning how to manage feelings when a quick dose of alcohol and drugs makes it easy? As a result, most addicted people find it very difficult to manage feelings and emotions when they try to get into recovery.
If You Are Addicted and Do Not Like The Way You Feel, Relief Is Just a Swallow Away.
TO GET MORE ENERGY … Some people use alcohol and drugs to get more energy and feel more alive. They want to get stimulated, feel excited, and be powerful. The drugs that are most likely to produce these energizing effects are the uppers, such as amphetamines, cocaine, and crack. The problem here is that this drug-induced sense of power is a false sense of power.
This Drug-Induced Sense of Power Is A False Sense of Power! You Are No Stronger, Tougher, Or Competent Than You Were Before. You Just Feel Like You Are!
You feel down on yourself, lonely, and weak. Then you take an amphetamine pill, snort a line of cocaine, smoke some meth or shoot up some amphetamines and all of a sudden, you feel like superman or superwoman. Are you really that powerful? Of course not! You are the same person you were before you took the drug with one very important exception – the drug is distorting your judgment and making you feel like something you’re not. You are no stronger, tougher, or competent than you were before taking the drug. You just feel like you are. If you are dumb enough to put this drug-induced delusion of strength to the test, you will probably end up falling flat on you face.
TO BLOCK OUT PAIN … Some people use alcohol and drugs to block out pain. They want to get rid of unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and memories. The narcotic drugs, like heroin, morphine, oxycodone or Vicodin are most likely to produce this effect. These drugs manage both physical and emotional pain
TO BE MORE SPIRITUAL … Some people use alcohol and drugs to be more spiritual. They want to alter their consciousness and have mystical feelings. They want to find and share an experience of God that can give their life meaning and purpose. They want to feel spiritually connected and learn to transcend themselves by connecting with some higher power, higher vision, or higher set of values. They also want to feel closer and more deeply connected with other people. The Mind Benders, like LSD, and Ecstasy are most likely to produce this effect. Once again, there is a problem. Most drug induced spiritual experiences are not genuine. They are merely the effect of the drug disrupting your brain chemistry in a way that creates a sense of euphoria in a social setting suggestive of spirituality. The same is true of intimacy.
Most Drug Induced Spiritual Experiences Are Not Genuine.
ENHANCE THEIR SEXUAL EXPERIENCES … The eighth and final reason that many people use alcohol and other drugs is to enhance their sexual experiences. This may work for a while but eventually being passionate sexually must be built on a solid foundation of interpersonal intimacy. This means that the quality of sexuality shared by a couple increases with three things: the quality of the non-sexual intimate connection, the level of trust shared with their partner, and their ability to put their partner’s intimate and sexual gratification on par with their own. Again, a pill will never fix these things. Having a hard and long-lasting erection is of little value in the absence of a willing and eager sexual partner who wants to share the experience with you.
Terence T. Gorski is the Founder and President of The CENAPS Corporation. He is an internationally recognized expert on substance abuse, mental health, violence, and crime. He is best known for his contributions to relapse prevention, managing chemically dependent offenders and developing community-based teams for managing the problems of alcohol, drugs, violence, and crime. He is a prolific author and has published numerous books and articles. He is the Director of Relapse Services at the Beachcomber and is Director of The National Certification School for Relapse Prevention Specialists.