Addiction: How Does it Happen?

No one sets out to be dependent upon alcohol or an illicit drug. Everyone has a family member or a friend with an alcohol or drug problem. How does it happen? I asked ten people who are currently in substance abuse treatment how this happened to them. What were the beliefs that made it okay to do this, and what was their intention?

This group of people has abused pain killers and heroin as their final drug of choice, but had also abused alcohol and most every illicit drug in an escalation toward addiction. What beliefs did they have that justified drug use? They believed that drug addiction would not happen to them. Some thought they were functioning relatively well as evidenced by being able to hold a job therefore “it wasn’t that bad.” Some of the people I interviewed knew of others who used substances and were worse off than them, “I’m not as bad off as that person.” Or, they were only hurting themselves. If their drug use didn’t hurt anyone else, it was their right to continue. Several people had medical conditions resulting in pain. They used because they believed that drug use was only way to feel better. Toward late stage opiate dependence, all of them continued to use opiates in order to ward off withdrawal symptoms.

What were their intentions in doing so? Most wanted to have fun. They enjoyed the experience of feeling high. They believed they could use drugs recreationally and did not intend to become dependent on them. They had in fact, initially used drugs socially and experienced no negative effects. Others wanted to avoid either emotional or physical pain. They wanted to be in a different state of mind.

This is part of the human condition. We all want to have fun, and experience pleasant sensations when life is overwhelming. However, as an addiction progresses, the negative consequences become overwhelming. Some lost marriages, children, family, friends, jobs, finances, and homes. Some of these people experienced legal consequences and loss of independence. Most lost the trust of others. Others suffered depression and guilt.

In hind sight, they wish they had never abused drugs, and certainly not heroin. Several people wished they had entered treatment earlier. One wishes they had handled situations and emotions differently. One wished they had stayed away from drug using friends.

None of these people intentionally set out to be dependent upon alcohol or an illicit drug. Yet, they found themselves in devastating consequences. So how can we help our family members or friends? We can educate ourselves about addiction. We can help find treatment resources if or when they are ready for it. We can devote time and funds to research. But most important, we can love them, even when they are difficult to love, or if they don’t love themselves.


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