How Does a Social Substance User Become an Addict?

A danger with so-called “casual drug abuse is that it carries a risk that over time- it can escalate into habitual drug abuse. This can be the foundation for drug dependency.

How can this happen?

If an individual abuses drugs to feel better or as a way of coping with problems, then there’s a good chance that he or she will never learn the life skills necessary for feeling good naturally, or coping with difficult situations. Instead, he or she may always choose to avoid uncomfortable feelings or situations simply by getting drunk or stoned etc..


Here’s a make-believe example:

A schoolboy fails an exam. He feels bad and smokes some cannabis to avoid his feelings of shame and disappointment. He begins to do this regularly when he feels down. He gets older. He loses his hob. He’s very angry, but the old level of drug abuse no longer numbs his emotions. So he gets drunk. This becomes his new painkiller. He gets older still. A member of his immediate family dies. He’s grieving. The old ways of killing his pain are not enough. He needs more. He begins to take heroin every day.

We can substitute alcohol or other drugs anywhere in here – it’s all the same.

He has never learned any other way of dealing with uncomfortable feelings.

So for some people, what began with casual drug abuse can develop into drug dependence. This can happen quickly -over a period of weeks, or slowly – over the period of many years.

You’ll note that a person who abuses drugs occasionally doesn’t intend to go on to become dependent of them. This is not a voluntary process. There seems to be a line somewhere in any individual’s personality and drug use, that once the line is crossed it’s too late – that person is very likely to be powerless to stop or reduce his or her drug intake by their own efforts.

We’re not just talking about desperate heroin addicts or alcoholics on park benches here. There’s whole range of drug dependence and it can affect anyone. This could be:

  • Someone who needs a drink or drug to feel confident when they socialize with other people
  • Someone who needs to take a drink or drug – every – day to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Someone who needs to use drink or drugs to forget personal problems.
  • Someone who needs to take a drink or drug to cope with the stress of day to day living.
  • In fact anyone who feels they need to keep using a drink or drug in order to feel “better.”