Why People use Drugs and Alcohol as a Means of Escaping Reality

One of the models of addiction that has been helpful for me to understand why people use drugs or alcohol is often called the cycle of addiction. One starts this cycle feeling restless, irritable, and discontent. One then takes the drug or drinks alcohol and when this stops working emerges remorseful and makes a firm resolution to stop. This goes on for a time until one begins to feel restless, irritable, and discontent. There is a point where the person forgets what happened last time and takes the drug or drinks the alcohol again. This happens over and over and over. Thus, the cycle of addiction.

For one who is truly addicted it becomes obvious that reason is not powerful enough to remove the addiction. The drive to do something that reason tells us is destructive must dwell in some other part of a person than their ability to think. I would want to know what makes me feel that reality needs to be escaped from? What about reality makes me feel restless, irritable, and discontent? Or maybe we could ask, “What would I rather feel besides restless, irritable, and discontent?” Drugs and alcohol apparently make someone feel “better” for a period of time, but as most people know this ends and has some rather deadly side effects and often deepens the psychological pain and many times adds physical pain to the problem.

If one could intervene at the point before the feelings of restless, irritable, and discontent begin, it may be possible to step out of the cycle of addiction. I would want to know what part of reality is creating those feelings. Or maybe there is a way that I view reality that creates those feelings. I think most people know that each person can view the same reality and come out with different perceptions and feelings. There are those who, apparently, can live in reality and not feel the need to take drugs or drink. What is different about these people that they seem to be free of the cycle of addiction?

What I have observed in myself and others is that often feelings of discontent and restlessness come out of a world view that is self-centered. I’m not talking about comparisons between people who give of themselves and their resources to others and those who hoard everything. A person who gives a lot can be just as self-centered as someone who gives nothing. That is why addiction shows up in “good” people.

One way to see this is in defining humbleness in a particular way. Humbleness is not thinking low of one’s self. It’s not thinking of one’s self at all. I have observed people who are respected in their community. They give of their talents, money, and time. And yet they still suffer from an addictive cycle.

No matter what we label a person on the outside, I believe the essential driving force of addiction is the need to project a false self. That false self can run the gamut of the talented, the great, the powerful, to the victim, the loser, and the criminal. This drive is rooted in a self-centered world view. The self is always asking the question, “How do I look to the outside world?” It may ask other questions like, “How are my needs going to be met?” or “No one cares about me.” and many other views that come out of self being the center of their reality.

When this false self clashes with reality the feelings of restless, irritable and discontent emerge. Because, no one can go on living a lie without some side effects. So how does one break free of this?

A famous person once said, “The truth will set you free.” I believe that telling the truth, first to ourselves, and then to others is a start. This confronts the false self and reveals the true self. With awareness of the truth one has choice. Without this awareness the cycle of addiction will continue, often resulting in death of not only the body, but of one’s essence. I think it is also important to have a place to tell the truth without being judged. In this way one can learn to stop trying to sustain the false self and shift to a world view that doesn’t need to judge the self at all. This allows one to learn how to be content with who one is at each moment.

I certainly would prefer contentment to restless, irritable, and discontent. And beyond contment things like love, joy, and appreciating beauty can open up to a person. All of these are blocked by self-centeredness. This process is not easy, but I believe worth the risk. Drugs and drink may provide a form of “relief,” but they are no match for love, joy, and the appreciation of beauty.