There is no one reason that can be found to explain why some people fall into alcohol or drug addiction. While addicts may tend to generally share certain characteristic traits they are also unique individuals. They will have ended up in their dire situation because of any number of reasons. Some people do appear to be genetically predisposed to such problems but for other people no such hereditary factor may be obvious. One of the possible reasons for why people initially begin abusing alcohol or drugs may be a type of acting out.
There can be a good deal of confusion as to the meaning of the term acting out. At its most basic level the term implies that an individual is like an actor in a play. In order words they are behaving as they do because of some type of external direction. Their actions do not reflect their true personality because they are acting. To say that the person is acting out then often could imply that the individual is behaving the way they are because of the behavior of other people or because of something in their environment. An example of this might be the young substance abuser who takes drugs as an act of rebellion against the rules of society.
Psychologists define acting out as satisfying the desires forbidden by the superego but desired by the id. This means that the individual decides to do an action that they desire even though they know that it is wrong. Because they know that what they are doing is wrong they will often make an attempt to hide it. In psychiatry the term acting out can be used to refer to the display of previously inhibited emotions.
There are a number of signs that people are acting out including:
* Problems with alcohol or drugs.
* Some individuals feel the need to rebel against any type of authority figure.
* Low tolerance for other people. The individual may have unrealistically high expectations for other people but low expectations for themselves.
* Behaving irresponsibly.
* Sexual promiscuity. Sexual addiction is closely associated with acting out.
* The individual may find it difficult to follow instructions given by other people.
* They may easily become angry and hostile.
* Self obsessed, self absorbed, and highly manipulative.
* The individual often shows an unwillingness to abide by rules and regulations.
* They easily fall into self destructive habits.
* They may perform poorly in school and later in their career.
* They may appear uncooperative and prone to sullenness.
* They may appear quite bombastic and opinionated.
* They may appear to be a bit shallow.
* They regularly end up in trouble with other people or the law.
The individual who is acting out may feel that:
* Other people do not give them enough attention.
* They may believe that they have no legitimate means to express their frustrations. This is why they feel the need to act out.
* They may feel a bit emotionally withdrawn from situations that other people treat as serious.
* They may often feel lonely and believe that other people have rejected them.
* They will usually have low self esteem.
* They may feel that they are not getting enough emotional support.
* They feel unwanted and neglected.
* The may suffer from learned helplessness and believe that other people should take care of them.
* They feel jealous of other people.
* They may get enjoyment out of watching other people fail – this is commonly referred to as Schadenfruede.
* The individual may suffer from an intense need for love and affection, but they feel that these have been denied to them.
* They dislike the idea that they have to behave in certain ways or achieve certain things in order to win the affection of other people.
Acting out is most often associated with the behavior of young children and teenagers but it can also occur with adults as well. The causes of acting out can include:
* Those individuals who began abusing alcohol or drugs at a young age might not have developed effective coping strategies. This means that they still resort to acting out in adulthood.
* Children can learn to act out because they have seen people around them engage in the same behavior.
* It has been suggested that some people may be genetically predisposed to this type of behavior.
* If the individual had some early success with this type of behavior they are more likely to keep repeating it.
* Feelings of frustration. The individual does not have sufficient coping skills to deal with things in a more effective manner.
* Poor bonding with parents during crucial developmental stages.
* Those individuals who grew up in a low income family seem to be more likely to use acting out behaviors.
* The person feels lonely and this is the best way they know of getting some attention.
* If an individual grew up in a household where another sibling demanded much of their family’s attention the individual may use acting out as a means to get noticed. This can often happen in a family where one of the children has special needs or a serious medical problem.
Addicts tend to share many of the same character traits as those who are acting out. It is also true that substance abuse can be one of the behaviors that such people will be likely to engage in. This means that it may have been acting out that led this person to become addicted in the first place. The individual will know deep down that their behavior is damaging, but they will continue with the abuse. They may well believe that the substance abuse is acceptable because they have no other way of dealing with their frustrations. If another person attempts to discourage the use of alcohol or drugs they can react badly – they may even use it as a further excuse to abuse these substances.
Denial is often used by those who are acting out as a means to protect their ego. It allows them to hold onto the idea that their behavior is reasonable and justified. The individual will be convinced that what they are doing is rational, and they may suspect that anyone who is trying to interfere as having bad motives. Denial is also strongly associated with addiction. It means that the individual is able to keep persisting in the behavior even when it is obviously destroying their life.