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.”

What is Chemical Dependency?


Chemical Dependency (alcoholism and drug addiction) is the compulsively repeated alteration of brain chemistry by means of a toxin in order to produce temporary relief from frustration grief or pain quickly without changing the thoughts or behavior that cause these negative feelings.

Chemical dependency is a treatable disease that can be held in remission through a basic lifestyle change. There is no known cure. The tendency to relapse is always present. The degree of dependency on chemicals always increases, even when the person is not using. If allowed to progress the disease is fatal. Chemically dependent people typically have low self-esteem, poor coping skills, poor social skills, and come from abusive, chemically dependent, and dysfunctional family systems. They appear to be bored, confused, lonely, depressed, and angry.


Although they feel guilty about their loss of control over their using and their behavior, and deny that they have a problem. Thoughts, and feelings, they tend to blame others for external circumstances, and deny that they have a problem.

Treatment for chemical dependency educates the person that it is their biochemical reaction to the toxins, which causes the loss of control, similar to an allergy. Emphasis is placed on rebuilding self-esteem, increasing awareness of feelings, and making lifestyle changes to obtain a more lasting and more satisfying happiness without chemicals. The most important message of treatment is the comfort and safety felt within a group of people who share in the same struggle.

Call Realization Center (212) 627-9600 to reach a specialist.