The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recently estimated that about 21.6 million Americans are diagnosed with an alcohol or drug use disorder. This means that at minimum, about this many people in the country regularly use alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, pain pills, or other drugs despite the fact that doing so brings them harm. This harm may include deteriorating health, strained relationships with family and friends, poor performance at school, work, and home, legal issues, and lost opportunities.
At first glance, it's easy to think that the primary problems here are the alcohol and drugs. After all, as a society we are used to saying phrases like, "he has a drinking problem," "she has a drug problem," and "they need to do something about their drug habits." Organized bodies, committees, and institutions tend to reinforce this mentality as well when they identify someone as having a "substance use disorder," suggesting that the main issue is the substance. These factors as well as others seem to play a critical role in shaping how we view alcohol and drugs as a people – namely, they lend us to believe that alcohol and drugs are the problems.
However, alcohol and drugs are not really the problems. Rather, they are attempted-solutions to problems. When we talk about people struggling with alcohol or drugs, we are generally referring to people who persistently turn to substances to try to eliminate their troubles. People who routinely drink alcohol and use drugs are using these substances to self-medicate, to numb themselves, to run away from overwhelming pain. The substances are "quick patches" aimed at immediate, short-term relief – relief from some kind of traumatic experience, emotional anguish, or other stressful trigger, which the person doesn't know how to otherwise handle. As such, he or she takes these substances with the intention of reaching a "high," a surge of intense, yet temporary, euphoria and elation that is meant to distract them from what is really hurting them inside.
Contrary to popular belief, people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs are indeed very soft, sensitive individuals. While some of their behaviors might be damaging, destructive, and hurtful, the truth is they are not acting in these ways because they are bad people, but because they don't know how else to deal with their pain. Deep down, they feel hopeless, helpless, and broken. They are crying for help. Their reliance on alcohol and drugs is driven by their desperation to "forget" or mask feelings that are too frightening for them to face. They are relying on these foreign substances to soothe their pain, comfort their hurt, and make themselves feel better when nothing else seems to be helping. The alcohol and drugs are used to give them a sense of control over that which feels so direly out of their control.
People who struggle with alcohol and drugs tend to become dependent on these substances because the thought of dealing with uncomfortable emotions feels too unbearable, overwhelming, and insurmountable. While they might take these substances to mentally or emotionally leave, the reality is that the pain, the hurt, and the fear are all still there, yearning to be attended to.
Any successful alcohol or drug addiction treatment regimen must include an open, honest, and truthful look into the root causes of the addiction. In particular, it's important to pay special attention to why the person turned to this behavior in the first place, and why he or she continues to engage in it. Once this is clarified, it's key that the person be offered customized tools that will help him or her successfully cope with triggers in healthier, more effective ways. While the road of addiction recovery is not necessarily an easy one, the truth is that with the proper drive, motivation, persistence, and help, it's definitely possible. People who successfully recover from alcohol and drug addictions are arguably very special people. By virtue of what they have gone through, they are probably some of the most clever, thoughtful, and insightful people in our society today. There's something special to be said about people who have spent a significant amount of time continuously going in-and-out of reality, who have decided to stop running away and finally look inside at their truth, and live more in-line with it.
They are truly worldly.