When we talk about substance abuse we often struggle to separate the individual from the addiction and there are many misconceptions about substance abuse per se, whether this be alcohol or more illicit substances.
I once saw an interview with a recovering alcoholic (celebrity) who stated that the first drink was their choice, but anything after that was down to the addiction. I remember wondering how it was possible to separate yourself from the addiction like that, experiencing a constant inner conflict between illness and conscious thought. Addiction is not restricted to alcohol and illicit drugs, in fact there are many addictive behaviours, however all of them often have a common process.
Firstly there is the compulsion, which can be fuelled by an overwhelming urge or sensation to partake in a specific activity or behaviour. Secondly we indulge in that particular behaviour, before feeling remorse and regret afterward with accompanying guilt. Of course not everyone will go through this process, but for those who do, you can see how it is a difficult cycle to break.
What we perhaps tend to overlook is the rationale behind the abuse in the first place. We become so concerned with the effects and the impact on society we seem almost oblivious to the fact that underneath there is an individual, an individual fighting a very difficult battle, often on a daily basis.
We know there is an overt link between substance abuse and mental health problems, but what we don’t always know is which one is the cause and which the effect. Effectively what I am saying is that we have people with mental health problems who in turn abuse substances as a form of escaping the challenges in their lives. On the other hand we also have people already abusing substances who experience the onset of mental health problems as a result of the very addiction and the consequences. We must also keep in mind that alcohol itself is a depressant and therefore any positive effects are transient.
Fundamentally we label these people because it is easier for us to accept it is deviant behaviour than spend the time trying to support them, addressing the root cause. We often struggle to accept what we do not understand and this is as much down to a lack of education as it is intolerance. It is imperative we separate the individual from the disease and spend more time focusing on support and guidance rather than condemnation.