By Gian Milles, MS, LPC, Integrity Counseling Services

Causes of Drug and Alcohol Addictions

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people begin taking drugs for one or any combination of four reasons:
1) to feel good
2) to feel better if they are feeling bad
3) to improve performance or psychological functioning
4) curiosity and peer pressure.
I believe this is exactly right. This means that when people have an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, this addiction serves a function.

All of us want to feel good. I do not know anyone who enjoys feeling bad, purely for the experience of feeling bad. Some people may enjoy the pain of a good workout (I do), but it is really the challenging of the mind and the growing of the body that people are after. The pain for its own sake would not be worth it. Even people who engage in self-harm or suicide are typically attempting to alleviate some sort of intense suffering.

At the same time, every single one of us chooses to do things that make us feel bad. We each have bad habits that we are struggling to kick. In this way, we all suffer from addictions. Addiction, as a human phenomenon, is more a matter of degree and type than it is about certain people being built a certain way.

While it is true that we all have addictions, some are certainly more severe than others. My inability to put the stinkin’ remote down and stop watching the second season of Narcos on Netflix (yes, I binge-watched it this past week) is not severe enough to prevent me from going to work. We are all in this together, but some people more than others have addictions that interfere with daily functioning. See the work of experts Dr. Gabor Mate and Dr. Anna Lembke to provide a more comprehensive case for this position.

Enabling vs. Helping

Friends and family can play an instrumental role in enabling an addiction, or conversely, in helping a person to overcome their addiction.

Many people fear losing their loved one, so they do not establish proper boundaries regarding the addicted person. They may even give them money that is being used for the drugs. This enabling is doing far more harm than good. Any addicted person will tell you how brilliant they can be at exploiting their loved ones to finance their addiction. Brief tips on how to avoid enabling include not giving someone money, not allowing someone to spend time with you while they are actively using drugs, and not allowing someone to live with you while they are using. These can be very difficult things to do when we see a person suffering with the disease of addiction, but oftentimes they are what is ultimately most helpful.

On the other hand, people who have the support of friends and family are more likely to overcome their addiction. Part of the reason the 12-step programs like AA and NA have helped so many people is because there is such an emphasis on building relationships. In these relationships, addicted people can feel unconditional love and acceptance. Some ways you can be helpful to an addicted person are by buying them groceries, giving them transportation to work or to a doctor’s appointment, and letting them know that you love them unconditionally and are there for them if they ever need to talk. Tough love in the form of strict boundaries is often the best way to help. Encouraging them to get help and staging an intervention with other loved ones can also be effective.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction to alcohol or drugs, please do not hesitate to reach out for help.