"Addiction doesn’t come heralded by a breast band, it sneaks up on you, and sometimes with extraordinary speed.” —C. Everett Koop (former US Surgeon General), 2003.
Let’s be real: when it comes to drugs and alcohol the reason most of us use them is because they’re fun—we like the way they make us feel. We also may enjoy them for their ability to help us “escape” from our daily grind, or from certain problems we are facing or emotions we don’t want to feel—from anxiety to depression to chronic stress.
This desire is not new. In fact, it’s really, really old news.
What’s clear from anthropological research is that for thousands of years people have sought out ways to expand consciousness or escape the stresses of daily life (Fetting, 2012). In fact, in many cultures, initial drug use was, and still is, considered an integral part of many rite of passage ceremonies.
Take example the differences you may observe in different families. That is, in some families alcohol and drug use may be more accepted, viewed as normal, etc., whereas in others it is viewed as wrong or bad. These family values, along with genetic predispositions, can impact drug and alcohol use and affect whether or not someone will be more or less likely to develop an addiction.
A "fourth" drive.
A researcher and Psychopharmacologist at UCLA, Ronald Siegel, argues that this desire is simply another “drive” like our basic drives for food, water, and sex (Fetting, 2012). The thing about drives is that we need them; they help keep us alive. Further, similar to other drives—like one’s sex drive, for instance—this desire itself varies between individuals, meaning, that some people will have a lower desire, while others will have a stronger drive (Fetting, 2012). No one would argue that there is anything wrong with having a higher sex drive, but for some reason this “fourth drive,” as Siegel coins it, is seen as inherently wrong or morally evil.
Strong desires are not wrong desires.
The reality is that some people can be pretty judgmental about other people’s desire to use drugs or alcohol. Most of the time, this is because they—or someone they love—have been hurt by someone else suffering from an addiction, or because they themselves have suffered from an addiction and experienced the deleterious and enslaving effects that come with addiction.
What should we make of this drive inside all of us to escape? First and foremost, it should highlight the reality that this is a natural and universal part of us which takes on many different forms, for many different people—whether be it through exercise, sugar, happy hour, religion, relationships, and so on (Fetting, 2012).
It is important to point out that all forms of perceived pleasurable activities increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine (a chemical messenger) in the brain—from cake, to sex, to exercise, to hitting it big in the lottery (Henden, Melberg, Røgeberg, 2013). Thus, we must remember that there is nothing inherently wrong or bad or pathological about strong desires, as all are connected with some intrinsic reward (Henden et al., 2013). In other words, desires or urges should not be viewed in moral terms—they are simply a natural part of all of us and vary greatly between individuals. We ought not to pathologize what is meant to help keep us alive. If we did not have this response, we would likely not repeat the things that are in our best interest—we wouldn’t fall in love, eat, exercise or solve problems!
If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction—or maybe you're not sure, but you want to explore your relationship with substances in greater depth—you don't have to go it alone. There is support when you need it. Make an appointment with Whole Wellness Therapy today.