Using alcohol or drugs to avoid your emotions. Is it effective?

Posted on : September 15, 2022 by Clinic One Team on Mental Health

Increasingly the use of substances is more present among us and even more normalized, above all alcohol and tobacco, but more and more other synthetic drugs.

Normalizing means establishing something in the range of  ‘normality’, that is, regularising activities that were not regularised before, along the last decade the consumption of substances has been submitted to this phenomenon.

The big danger of normalizing the use of substances in people’s routines is that it will become more difficult to identify dependence and addictions, suddenly it will arrive at a point in which the person has become an addict and has not realized all the latent and gradual process that triggered the addiction, that is because it is difficult to be aware of something that everybody sees as normal, such as drinking every day, smoke weed before sleeping, etc.

As much as it is thought that determined substances or behaviors are not harmful, no one is exempt from developing a dependence or an addiction. It is truly something that cannot be controlled because a lot of factors are involved.

It is seen as normal to get out to smoke a cigarette when you feel anxious or nervous, to drink alcohol after a stressful work day, or to wait for the weekend to consume drugs with the objective of having fun because “I deserved it after all the week working”

We all probably have thought of one, or more than one person that fixes these patterns. By the way, probably we don’t see the risk of those people being addicts if these routines continue to be present in their lives.

As I said before, most behaviors are associated with emotions, and here is the point.

Why do people face emotions with the use of different substances? Why after a stressful day do they have to drink?

All emotions have a main function and it is to communicate with ourselves or with others.

Some of these emotions generate bad or negative feelings. There are 2 ways to face them:

1. An adaptive way

It consists in hearing the emotion, identifying it, and trying to deal with it in a way that is efficient and satisfactory for yourself in the short and long term.

2. A disadaptative way

It is based on avoiding the emotions that make us feel bad and distracting ourselves from these feelings instead of facing them.
The disadaptative way is where we can find the use of substances.

Using substances gives us an immediate satisfaction of what we are looking for, that is to avoid the emotions that are generating discomfort in ourselves.

So, by simple conditioning, we are learning to associate: the use of substances with satisfaction produced because of avoiding an unpleasant situation.

This association will remain with us in a way that, each time that I feel bad I have learned that for example, by the use of alcohol or drugs to avoid emotions, I forget about what I feel, I don’t think, and basically I escape from the discomfort generated by the emotions.

Yes, it looks like I’m getting my objective and I have a short-term consequence that is agreeable to me. But is that a healthy way of dealing with emotions? It is giving results in the short term but, what about long-term consequences?

The first long-term consequence is that the problem or situation that is making me feel this way will continue to exist because drinking or using substances is not solving the issues that I have. Knowing that, is it really effective to avoid my emotions?

Obviously, most substances are addictive so, to my problematic situation I’m adding more problems.

I’m developing an addiction because at the beginning the user is limited to moments in which the person feels bad, but it reaches a point where the avoidance must be total and the use of substances has been generalized to other situations.

Thus, our problems remain unsolved and we have added another problem to our lives, addiction and all the things that an addiction implies.

Addictions bring with them physical and emotional problems, changes in the daily routines, and a deep sense of emptiness, pain, fear, and loneliness.

Using substances to escape from reality is not the solution to how you feel, you will stay feeling this way, and more probably you will arrive in an apathy state in which there won’t be a defined difference in what you are feeling, and everything will be more difficult to treat than it was at the beginning.

Your emotions are an important part of you, you must listen to them and mainly understand them to face the feelings that evoke in you in the best way possible.

Trying to escape from a situation overflowing us, is not disadaptative as long as the escape reaction is to relax and let ourselves reset to think with more clarity, here is the point where substance use is not adaptive.

You can escape by doing some sport, if you need to go out and run, or just take a walk, playing some sport that makes you feel better. These options are adaptive escape reactions because they are healthy for you.

Other options could be talking with a confident person and letting him or her know how you feel. Saying it out loud with someone listening to you will make you feel like you have quieted a weight from you.

If you are more introverted, maybe activities like writing or painting will help you to relax and avoid the discomfort generated by the emotions in an adaptive way.

As we can see there are many ways to face emotions and the main difference is that one way will really help us to feel better and to manage our emotions.

While the other (disadaptative) is only a patch on top of different emotions and feelings that are asking to be listened to and handled.

Then, is it really effective to use alcohol or drugs to avoid emotions? I’m sure now you have the answer.

Author Bio: Fatima Jihad is a psychologist specialised in Clinical Psychology. Her interest and experience in this area allowed the development of this articles. She has been graduated by the University of Valencia, and you can find more about her in LinkedIn: Fatima Jihad

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