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Reasons Why People Abuse Drugs
Simple Answers to Baffling Questions about Drug Abuse
If you care about someone who abuses drugs, you may have asked yourself what would make a good person become a drug abuser? You've felt confused by your loved one's extreme behaviors, mood swings, and selfishness more times than you care to count, and you think, "Maybe if I understood why, I could help him or her stop."
I have good news and bad news for you, information I've accumulated over years of exposure to addicts and through my experiences as a drug and alcohol counselor. The good news is that you're about to learn the reasons people abuse drugs and alcohol. The bad news is that your new information isn't likely to give you tools to change your loved one's behaviors.
Throughout this article, I'll use "he" to mean an individual, either male or female, for simplicity's sake.
Do you agree that abusers see their drug of choice as a solution rather than a problem?
Have you tried to convince someone to stop using? What happened?
Drugs and Alcohol Solve Problems
"Huh? Are you crazy? They've done nothing but cause problems!"
Yes, from your vantage point! You can see how much trouble has entered your loved one's life because of their drug use. It doesn't matter what kind of drug he's abusing, it has had effects on him that simply wouldn't be there if he'd just stop using! He may be less motivated than he used to be, ignore responsibilities, avoid people who truly care about him. He may lie. He seems unable to listen to reason. His addiction may have caused arguments, cost a lot of money, or worse - it may be destroying his career or family.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." In order for a drug abuser or addict to stop using, he must convince himself to stop, and those problems you see look a whole lot different from the user's eyes. In his view, his drug(s) of choice solve his problems, while people around him - his family, his boss, the political system, and yes, even you - are the source of problems.
We'll take a look at how this works in a moment, but first, let me add a clarification about the problems you're about to read. In that moment before an individual takes a drug for the first time, he's not addicted. He's simply using a drug to solve a problem. Over time, he may use the same or other drugs to solve other types of problems, but still may not be addicted. At some point, a drug user becomes an abuser. Drug abusers may be able to quit without experiencing symptoms of addiction withdrawal. Some drug abusers can abuse for years and never become addicted. However, there are those who develop a psychological and/or physical dependence on their drug of choice.
There is an ancient proverb that says, "Man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and finally, the drink takes the man." Users, abusers, and addicts all use a drug to solve a problem. He takes that drink, so to speak, literally or figuratively. That "drink" might actually be a beverage, but it can just as easily be any other addictive substance.
Abusers may turn to their drug more quickly and in greater amounts than users, and continue to use despite having to deal with negative consequences. They find that their symbolic drink that once solved problems has started creating other problems that, in their minds, can also be handled by using. The drink takes a drink.
As abuse shifts to dependence, the chemical now has overtaken some of their mental and physical functions as it locks a person into disease. The drink has taken the man. The addict faces more of these problems, more frequently, and feels the problem more sharply, perhaps, than social drinkers or people who don't abuse drugs.
Until an alcoholic or addict finds other solutions, solutions he thinks are better than the one he has, he will continue to abuse drugs.
It Only Seems Harmless in the Beginning
Users solve their problems with drugs or alcohol. Inside, they often know that their actions cause other problems, but they don't know how to cope with the problems that led them to start in the first place and keep using for those reasons. Eventually, protecting their addiction is the most important thing to do.
Secret Lives of Addicts
Problems Solved by Drug or Alcohol Use
- Thirst - a cold drink goes down well.
- Social anxiety - Who really sings karaoke sober? Alcohol isn't the only drug that helps address anxieties. Anxiolytic drugs used to treat panic attacks, other sedatives, and painkilling opiates can make the user to feel less susceptible to feelings of psychological discomfort.
- Other anxieties and uncertainties - Drugs and alcohol can restore a sense of control. When he can't feel it, it must not be hurting him, right? RIGHT?
- Sadness or depression - If his senses are dulled, he won't feel his genuine feelings as much.
- Unable to sleep - Alcohol and other sedatives can induce sleep, even if it's the "passed out" variety that does little to restore energy and provide mental recuperation.
- Difficulty staying awake - Conversely, stimulant drugs can sharpen focus, heighten alertness, and temporarily increase energy.
- Physical pain / ailments - He may actually continue feel pain when there's no physical cause for it after prescription medications have started being abused.
- Psychological pain (bad memories, loss) - Past emotional traumas have a way of making him believe he's a failure, unlovable, or not worthy of happiness, but being high makes those thoughts a lot less noticeable.
- Difficulty concentrating - Stimulants help.
- Boredom (creates euphoria or excitement) - Every class of drug, including hallucinogens, can produce feelings of euphoria or excitement. The sensations may last from a few seconds to many hours, depending on the substance chosen.
- Loneliness - That's why he's got friends in low places. Even if it's just the dog at his feet.
- Lack of social bonding - Then again, he really does have friends in low places, and sometimes they buy a round for him.
- Overwhelming responsibilities / feeling pressured - Drugs and alcohol can make duties seem further away, somehow. If he ignores them long enough, maybe they'll go away.
- To overcome fear - Drugs that suppress his inhibitions will allow him to take risks he'd avoid otherwise.
How many of these reasons have you heard as the reason someone uses?
Can You Help Your Loved One Stop Abusing Drugs?
Yes. And no.
Even if you understand the reasons he drinks or uses, your drug abuser or addict will probably never stop because you said the right thing or showed them enough love. Complaining and criticizing won't do it, either. They'll stop when they decide to stop.
What you can do, however, is to step back from an emotionally charged situation and let them experience the consequences of their use without providing them with yet more excuses. If you complain, persuade, or argue, you can suddenly find your loved one blaming you for creating the very same problems that they solve by abusing. On the other hand, rescuing him from his drug- and alcohol-induced problems won't eliminate all the problems in his life, either. There will still be plenty of reasons for a user (or addict) to use.
By finding a way to disengage and let him cope with the consequences of his drinking or drugging, you will increase his opportunities to discover that he's had enough. That he's "sick and tired of being sick and tired." When he's reached that point severely enough or often enough to mean it, recovery can begin.
If you're in this untenable situation, you can educate yourself on codependency and addiction, and you can find support and practical guidelines from Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or CoDA groups that are free and available nationwide. They won't tell you how to fix your loved one, because frankly, in all the history of mankind nobody has invented a way to save a person from himself. They can, however, share their experiences, strengths, and senses of hope to show you how to walk that think line between enabling your loved one to keep abusing drugs and becoming one of the problems (excuses) that drive them to use more.