Alcoholism is an addiction that leaves its victims feeling powerless over their own lives. While it may seem that the drug itself causes this lack of control over our lives, it is what we do when not under the influence that also has far-reaching effects. Addiction and thoughts of using take over our every waking moment, and we are driven to seek the very chemical that is causing our ruin.
To admit that we have no control over our own lives and fate is no solution. The very thing we need is self-determination. The feeling in our lives that we are unsatisfied and deprived is often what drives addiction. Poverty, disease, trauma, all are contributing factors in driving addictive behaviors. In the first stages of addiction it is escape from our own emotional state that we crave, not necessarily the effects of a drug. Witness the sad drunk who drinks himself into unconsciousness to escape his own unbearable life.
In the latter stages of addiction, drug use is largely to return to feeling normal, as the substance has changed the chemistry of our brains in the exact opposite direction of the initial action of the drug. This is because our nervous system adapts to the chemical imbalance produced by the drug. Our bodies want to maintain a normal state, and changes occur to return ourselves to that normal state even when we are under the influence of the addictive drug. Without the drink or the smoke or the pill, we feel even worse than we were before we started using, and the impulse is strong to increase the dose. This is called developing a tolerance, and happens with all addictive drugs.
Addiction is not all chemical in nature, there are strong psychological and social influences as well. If we hang out with other users, we are more likely to use ourselves. If we develop a compulsion to get high, we will continue this behavior as force of habit. Bad habits are hard to break, as the pleasure we derive from them reinforces the urge to use again. True pleasure comes from our relationships to others, and deriving satisfaction from our accomplishments.
So how do we change our bad habits that lead to addictive behaviors? This is of course not an easy problem to solve. Doctors, scientists, legal forces, and governments seem to think that medical treatment is the only answer. In fact, no outside influence will ever cure an addict. You can train a person all you want, but once they learn that satisfaction comes from a bottle or through a needle, they will never unlearn. The only thing you can do is to help them learn new behaviors through which they can derive true pleasure. And in our modern world of stress and pressure, deprivation and pain, this is no easy task.
Addiction to alcohol and drugs causes social isolation. Studies in rats have shown that rats kept in small, isolated cages apart from others are far more prone to becoming addicted to drugs. On the other hand, rats kept in more natural environments are far less prone to even use drugs that are freely offered. Modern society is severely isolating, especially to people like drug addicts who are seen as undesirables. This is where treatment can be a real help, if only a temporary solution, as it places people in the company of their peers, giving them a place in society.
If we make the decision to take control of our lives, to seek pleasure in our accomplishments and friendship, and to shun artificial joy, we have hope in managing addiction. There is no cure or magic bullet to overcome alcoholism. There is only abstinence and the resolve not to dig ourselves deeper into the hole of chemical dependency. If you are addicted to any substance or behavior, reach out to the people around you. Try to form relationships that give meaning to your life. Develop a passion in life, even if it is only writing about your problem to share your struggle with others. Take advantage of the opportunities you have, and stop relying on the false hope of drugs to solve your problems of loneliness, isolation, and sorrow. Your life can be so much better than the struggles of a rat in a cage.