Those who abuse alcohol and drugs will suffer many negative consequences as a result. They can lose wealth, employment, health, friends, and family yet continue to offer justifications for their behavior. They may almost totally ignore the impact of substance abuse on their life. Instead they may have other excuses for why things keep going wrong. This disconnection from the consequences of addiction is lethal. If people are unable to recognize the problem then it is going to be much harder for them to fix it. Even when addicts intellectually understand the consequences of their behavior they can still feel compelled to continue the abuse.
Those who abuse alcohol and drugs will usually be able to offer justifications for their behavior. They may admit that there are unwanted consequences associated with this behavior, but believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. The typical justifications for substance abuse include:
* It helps them relax and deal with stress
* It is a remedy for boredom
* It is an opportunity to socialize with friends
* It is fun
* Substance abuse is an escape from reality
By focusing on the justifications for substance abuse it allows the individual to disconnect from the consequences.
Self-medication is where the individual turns to alcohol or drugs as a type of soothing behavior. They may be dealing with mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, and turn to substance abuse as a remedy. In the beginning these drugs can offer a lot of relief, but it eventually leads to dependency. Once the individual has become addicted it can be difficult for them to stop using. They may still believe that the substance abuse is helping and not recognize that it has become a major source of their problems.
Terminal uniqueness is a term that developed to describe people who struggle with the AA program. It also refers to the habit of humans to disassociate themselves from the predicted outcomes of a negative behavior. A good example of this would be smoker who believes that they will never get cancer; even though there is a lot of evidence to suggest that they are at risk. The substance abuser may accept that such behavior is dangerous for other people but fail to accept that it applies to them too. It is called ‘terminal uniqueness’ because believing this way can be lethal.
The most common way that addicts are able to disassociate from consequences is by using denial. This is a subconscious defense mechanism that allows the individual to escape having to deal with unpleasant realities. Denial allows the addict to disconnect from consequences even when these are blindingly obvious to friends and family members. Instead of blaming drugs or alcohol the addict will be convinced that the cause lies elsewhere. They may even believe that the real problem is the judgmental attitude of friends and family. Until the individual is able to see past their denial it is not possible for them to escape their addiction.
The social support network of the substance abuser can also be a means to disconnect from the consequences of this behavior. If the individual spends a lot of time with other substance abusers it creates the impression that such behavior is normal. Members of this group will see alcohol and drugs as the force that unites them. Any negative consequences associated with addiction will be downplayed, and will often be dealt with by humor. There may often be a sense of suspicion towards those people who do not take alcohol and drugs. Those who grow up in families where there is a lot of substance abuse can also view such behavior as acceptable.
Even when the individual accepts that abusing alcohol and drugs is destroying their life they can still find it difficult to stop. One possible reason for why this happens is provided by the incentive sensitization theory of addiction. The idea here is that alcohol or drugs becomes subconsciously tied in with the brain’s internal reward system. This creates a compulsion to use the substance more and more. Because the driving force of the addiction is occurring subconsciously it means that even when the substance abuser knows the dangers they can still feel compelled to continue the behavior.
Substance abusers are able to disconnect from the consequences of substance abuse for a long time. There usually comes a day though when these consequences become so bad that they are impossible to ignore. This is commonly referred to as a rock bottom. It can occur because something particularly bad has just happened or the individual may just have reached a point in their life when they’ve had enough. The individual faces the consequences of their behavior and becomes willing to do something about it. If they take action right away there is a good chance they will escape the substance abuse. If they delay there is a risk that they will return to their previous ignorant state.
There is a common fallacy that the addict has to lose everything before they hit rock bottom. This is not correct. For some people their rock bottom might be just missing a job interview while for other people it could be killing another human while in a blackout. It is like descending in an elevator; it keeps on going down until the individual decides that they’ve had enough. Their rock bottom is wherever they decide to get off. Unfortunately too many people decide to take this elevator all the way to the bottom and this means death.
Once the substance abuser is able to face the consequences of their behavior it increases the likelihood of recovery. Finding out more about the dangers of substance abuse is beneficial. An addiction counselor is trained to help the individual develop insights into their condition. Some people will be able to change their behavior before it leads to addiction. Other people will lose a lot before they become willing to face the problem.