Addiction and alcoholism are some pretty misunderstood phenomena. Doctors don’t really know what’s going on, addicts themselves are hard pressed to explain just why they act as they do, and loved ones can’t fathom how we could let ourselves get and stay this way. And because the whole mess is just so bewildering, a lot of myths and half-truths supplant reality – myths that make a lot of sense, but that just aren’t true.
It’s a myth that people need to hit bottom before they can benefit from treatment. A whole lot of people do finally get help after experiencing the worst, but they could have probably avoided all that pain by getting help sooner.
Treatment works better when it comes earlier. But most people believe the whole rock bottom thingy – and it’s not helpful. Now, I have to be careful here, because a lot of what’s backing my arguments to come are personal experiences, but I don’t think my path to addiction was so unique, in fact I think it’s a pretty common route.
So here goes…
I think that a popularly held conception has it that alcoholics and drug addicts use or drink as a way to escape from life’s problems or from past trauma or abuse. When someone we love becomes an alcoholic or drug addict, we tend to spend a lot of time searching for the reason why. We wonder what in their life was so traumatic as to cause this; and it can make us crazy, and in a lot cases, for parents especially, it can cause unnecessary and undeserved guilt.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
I know that a lot of people do drink or drug to escape past trauma or to self medicate mental health issues – I just think there are also a whole lot of drunks that drink just because they like to drink. I was one of them. Raised by involved, loving and kind parents, given every middle class advantage, reasonably smart, best friends, little league; no unusual and tease-worthy physical defects – I had a fine childhood. And still I spent a decade drinking hard.
I discovered booze in my mid teens, and I loved it, couldn’t believe how much I loved it – loved just about everything about it; and I spent the next many years of my life enjoying it to great excess. I drank because I liked getting drunk too much. It fit just right inside my mind.
Eventually, of course, the drinking got less fun, certainly less exciting, and the negatives of drinking started to weigh heavily on my life and happiness. I knew I had to quit for a long time before I did anything about it. By then of course I was an alcoholic, and by then, quitting wasn’t so easy.
Now, I don’t tell you all this because my story is just so darned interesting – it’s not; but I’ve spent a lot of my life talking with drunks, some still drinking, some not – and as far as I can tell, my story is a pretty common one. In the end, it doesn’t matter how you got yourself addicted, once you are you have a struggle ahead of you, and I don’t think that falling into addiction this way is any "worse" than falling into addiction and abuse for any other reason. Nobody plans to become a desperate drunk, but we are all hardwired to seek out pleasure – and for those of us that seem to get more pleasure out of a drink than others, it’s understandable why we might get ourselves into trouble.
So if you’re tormenting yourself, trying to understand a loved one’s drinking, and just can’t think of any traumatic reason compelling such abuse – maybe there isn’t one – maybe they too just love getting drunk or high. And so maybe you’re being too hard on yourself. If you did something terrible, then you’d know it, probably – and if you can’t think of anything you could have done to cause them to drink or drug in this way – then there probably isn’t anything.