The term ‘drug addict’ brings with it nasty interpretations. Take for example, an addict shooting up, a criminal robbing an innocent or a woman selling her body to get high, just to name a few. Unfortunately, society’s understanding of what it means to be a drug addict is based on inaccurate descriptions, negative labels and misguided perceptions. Because the media has done a bang-up job at contributing to false ideas surrounding addiction within the general population, mainstream society is quick to classify all ‘drug addicts’ as bad or less-than deserving people. The meaning of addiction and what it means to be a ‘drug addict’ is neither clear nor consistent. People label addicts as both dangerous and unable to exercise any sort of self-determination. They are often feared as being unpredictable and violent, whilst also being pitied for being mentally and physically sick-unable to make their own decisions. Such crude generalizations and assumptions are detrimental to addicts in early recovery. By default, all addicts are susceptible to public disgrace and humiliation at some point in life and will often encounter individuals who want to attribute any, if not all, of their shortcomings to their current or past drug use-and that use alone.
Consider an addict who can say (with confidence) that he feels content and at his best in life. Do you think in that moment, the same addict would tell you that he still wants to use drugs the way he does now, or has in the past? He’d probably say something like, “I mean, probably not–but I doubt I’ll ever feel that good on my own, I don’t know…but probably not.” PLOT TWIST. Believe it or not, people don’t actually want to use drugs. I believe many people who have an addiction are attempting to alter their reality in some way, for some reason.
In any given day, how many people do you think wake up and desire an overwhelmingly destructive and out-of-control substance abuse problem? Um, probably none-because obviously, that’s absurd. I’m sorry, but nobody wakes up and decides to put addiction on their list of ridiculously fun and exciting new hobbies to try out.
Addiction begins with the realization or discovery that ones chemically altered life is “better” than living in the reality of their current life without substances-it’s that simple. A lot of times, that initial drive to use serves as an escape from the pain and emotional turmoil inflicted by some form of mental trauma. When presented with additional challenges or problems in life-first instinct continuously tells you to run towards the closest bar in town, and fast. Sure, the “euphoric” dopamine rush helps you feel better at the time, but after all the years of abuse, the enjoyment will more than likely be overshadowed by guilt, shame and the certainty that the problems you once thought were solved, are actually back-and more prominent than ever. In today’s society, a lot of individuals are unable to see and comprehend how serious pain is as an emotion, and how badly it desires to be dealt with.
At the end of the day, I believe people self-medicate because it works. And it works for a period of time, up until it well, just doesn’t. The thing about self-medicating is that it doesn’t remove the pain from our lives. It almost never changes the situation or emotions that we are required to deal with. In early recovery, realizing that you are now required to learn new coping mechanisms to deal with life on life’s terms-is nothing short of a nightmare.
It’s an undeniable fact-drug and alcohol use are, and will always be a quick and easy solution. Yes, self-medicating does help manage and reduce some mental health issues or emotional trauma, in the short run. In the long-term however, self-medication often worsens conditions and amplifies unwanted negative emotions, while keeping the user stuck in the addiction cycle, unable to move forward. The beauty of recovery is getting in touch with your inner self, learning new ways to cope, and how to be a functioning member of society who doesn’t need to self-medicate in order to live. Recovery allows you to be in touch with your emotions, but not overwhelmed by them. It can teach you why you drank and used in the first place and how to move on from a life ruled by substances. If self-medication has been your way of dealing with anything life throws at you and you are still unhappy, it’s likely you need a change. Recovery is the greatest change anyone can make and most important, it’s a lifelong solution.