People drink and use drugs for a reason; they want to feel different. For many of them that reason is hazy when they first enter treatment. As they detox and their brains begin to heal, they are able to make the connection between life events and their pattern of drinking or using. They see that there were underlying contributing factors that caused them to start, and often there were additional life events that escalated the problem, causing them to drink or use more. They often used their drug of choice to self-medicate and relieve pain.

On a physical level we find that some addicts drink or use to combat fatigue or exhaustion, while others suffer from chronic illness or physical pain. They might rationalize this problematic behavior, telling themselves “it’s ok since the medications were prescribed by a doctor.”

Addict suffering from depression

On a mental level we find that some alcoholics and addicts are depressed and they drink or use to help lift their mood. Others struggle with anxiety due to mental anguish. They may be troubled by constant internal conflict or racing thoughts that prevent their minds from resting. They find that drugs quiet their mind, reducing the constant chatter or negative thought patterns or past memories that are intruding into the present moment.

On an emotional level, many people struggle because they’ve never been taught to acknowledge their emotions and manage them in healthy ways. Some people have suffered from emotional wounding that resulted from divorce, death, abuse or neglect. If they have never dealt successfully with the underlying issues, they may be using alcohol or drugs to bury their emotional pain.

On a social level the factors are often related to shyness, feelings that you don’t belong or fit in, or perhaps an intense level of social anxiety. They may struggle bonding with others, participating in effective communication, or resolving conflicts. Some people become addicted simply because they are curious and naïve, thinking “they’ll just experiment with alcohol or drugs” without any appreciation of how powerfully addicting these substances can be. These people may try an addictive substance because of “peer pressure” or a desire to “fit in” or to “be popular.” Depending on the drug and the genetic predisposition of the person, they may find themselves rapidly addicted.

Whatever the underlying issues, they need to be identified and healed because they exert powerful forces that contribute to patterns of addiction. Until they are addressed and cleared, they will cause an alcoholic or addict to continue to drink or use, or to be at risk of relapse.

By Michael Campbell