Make Sense of Addiction — How the “Love Affair” Started
Many people who come to me want to change their substance use behaviors carry a lot of shame and self-blame. They are told that there is something inherently wrong with them for developing a substance use problem. If you have been haunted by the question, “what is wrong with me?” I feel your pain deeply. But what if I told you there is nothing wrong with you, and your desire for alcohol, cocaine, or whatever your substance of choice is makes perfect sense?
Substance Use Serves a Purpose
There are a few things that people often get wrong about addiction. People often believe that substance misuse is either a lack of self-control or an inherited disease– it’s neither. Substance use is a behavior that serves a purpose. In fact, it often serves a purpose so well at first that it makes other options seem inferior in comparison.
To help you get a sense of what I mean, I’d like to tell you about a girl who licks her paper cut. She was four when she got her first paper cut, and her grandma showed her how to lick the wound to lessen the pain. “Your saliva will take the hurt away,” Grandma said. It worked, and to this day, in her 30s, she still puts her finger in her mouth every time she gets a paper cut.
The same girl, at age fifteen, had her heart broken by a boy for the first time. That night, her best friend handed her a pack of beer and told her, “Drink this, and you will feel better.” It worked, and that became the start of her decade-long love affair with alcohol. Alcohol had soon become her loyal lover, who dissolved any unwanted feelings within minutes.
That girl is me, and it was only after I got into the study of human behavior did I see the similarity between licking my paper cut and drinking alcohol. The two behaviors are both attempts to lessen pain, and the only difference is that licking my finger produced no long-term consequences over time, whereas drinking alcohol did.
Substance Use Started as a Logical Choice
Substance use only becomes a problem when its harm gets higher, and its benefits are lowered. As the cost-benefit scale tilts more and more towards the cost, the behavior draws more and more attention. When people around you start to refer your substance use as a “problem,” they see only the second half of the story–where you make “illogical” choices to let substance rule your life despite all the harm it caused. They don’t see that, at first, the substance use likely had provided substantial benefits with minimal negative consequences. In the case of my fifteen-year-old self, I traded away the unbearable heartbreak for a minor headache the following day–it was a good deal. When the initial experience is rewarding, it’s natural to repeat the behavior.
Sober Curiosity: Uncover Your Story
Making sense of your relationship with a substance is the first step to cultivating a different relationship with it. The answer to how our love affair started lies in our earliest experiences with what has become our substance of choice. The crucial question is what you like about it first. In other words, what were the initial benefits of using the substance? It may be challenging to identify all the initial benefits with an untrained eye at first, but the benefits were there. Otherwise, you would not have been drawn back to it.
If you wish to make sense of your relationship with substances, you are invited to join my 8-week sober curiosity group. In one of our meetings, not only will you be guided to unveil how your love affair started, but also understand how it progressed into a habit and then a coping method. I am here to support you in uncovering your story so that you can see your struggle with substance use in a new and compassionate way.
Curious about Sober Curiosity? Joining my introduction workshop this month to find out more. Space is limited, so act quickly to reserve yours today!