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Addiction – A Problem or a Solution?

Is it a Problem? Or is it a Solution?

“Why do I or someone I love, continue to drink or use, despite the negative consequences?”

This question has been asked of me thousands of times. The question comes from families and friends of someone who is struggling with addiction. It is both a complex question and a simple one as well.

On the simple side, it is because it makes them feel better.  The next question is “why do they need substances to make them feel better?”  Ah, this is where the complex answer comes in.

I ask patients, “why do you drink or use?  The answer is usually related to an argument with a spouse or a work-related issue.  Sometimes it may seem they were disrespected and feel angry about that.

But that is the reason they drank or used TODAY!  Unfortunately, that is the approach most therapists in the universe of addiction use. The problem with this approach is that they would have to visit a therapist every day to get guidance on how to go the next day without using.

Alcoholism and drug abuse are rampant in our society and as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is getting worse.

My approach, and the process I have used on over 25,000 patients, is “why did you drink or use in the first place?”  And by that, I mean the first time you drank or smoked a joint.  The answer to that and an in-depth understanding of subsequent usage results in the discovery of the underlying pathology of their addiction.

The Underlying Pathology of Addiction

When I visit with a patient and/or their family for the first time, after a lengthy examination of their behavior over many years, the first statement that I make to them is:

The use of alcohol or other substances is not the problem, it is the solution.

Almost without exception, a light comes on in the patient’s brain and suddenly that statement makes sense.  They start nodding their head in agreement.  They may not fully comprehend at that moment it’s full impact, but it frames the difficulties they are having in a light that says, perhaps for the first time, “I may be able to make the changes I need to have a respectable life.”

And so, the process begins.  We begin to look at a person’s life events, the family of origin, friends, divorce, death, etc.  All these issues are traumas.  For the most part, few of us have ever worked through these events in our lives and are still troubled by them.  We may not have become addicted to a substance to deal with them, but many of us still wrestle with these events in harmful and upsetting ways.  But for over 35 million people, alcohol and other substances, both legal prescription abuse and illegal substances have become the solution.

In my next blog, we will look at why this behavior is a “solution, rather than a problem.”  Stay tuned.  Dr. Fred

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