Once a person has started to use, the social experience reinforces using. Individuals who use become part of a unique group, just because they use. You became part of a special group, different from what you had experienced before. Through watching, listening, and participating, you learned what to expect and how to behave when using. Addiction is a social and group learning experience.
People learn from other users about the different routes and methods of taking drugs and alcohol and what to expect. If they drink alcohol they learn to expect relaxation. If they inject amphetamines they learn to expect hyperactivity. They also learn about bad experiences or negative side effects (such as nausea or paranoia) and how to reduce them. Individuals come to believe they are in total control of their use. They are confident they can continue to take drugs and alcohol, handle the bad effects, and easily stop using at any time in the future.
People rarely confine their use to only drinking or a single drug. Using two or three different drugs at the same time is a common practice. Alcohol and some combination of drugs including nicotine is the most common addiction experience for those who enter addiction treatment (Frances, Miller, Sheldon, & Mack, 2005).
People do not intuitively know where to get illicit drugs and the required drug paraphernalia such as pipes or syringes. They meet people who give them instructions, advice, and who act as teachers. They are taught where to buy drugs, what drugs to substitute when they can’t get their drug of choice, and how to use other drugs to compensate for the bad effects of the alcohol or drugs already taken. Is this similar to your experience? Did somebody help you at each step along the way?
Accessing multiple drugs and using them for a positive emotional effect is complex. The negative side effects can be quite devastating for the novice user. Think about your personal experience. Who taught you and encouraged you to expand the variety of drugs that you used? The teachers are usually experienced users who are actively and regularly using. People who are actively using are a high risk to people who don’t use and to people who have quit using. People who use frequently also encourage and support the use of drugs and alcohol by others. This is social pressure to use: when others offer, encourage and make available drugs and alcohol or when they discourage, ridicule or belittle those who choose not to use.
Take a moment and list all the drugs and types of alcohol you tried and put a check mark beside those that you have used regularly. Include nicotine if applicable.
Are you beginning to think that the use of drugs and alcohol required effort and learning on your part and help from other people? Addiction didn’t just happen to you. Other people played a role and you made many small decisions and took many actions to get to where you are today. It took considerable effort and time to change your life to include addiction.
Most people who become addicted gradually gravitate to places where they can:
• Readily access drugs and alcohol
• Use without being seen or bothered by people who don’t use
• Buy, use, and feel relatively safe from police
• Be around people for whom using is the norm and their major
purpose in life
• Replace work or school with a role in the drug economy as a
drug seller or a drug producer.
In the end, the person addicted to drugs and alcohol behaves differently than non users in all spheres of their life. They express different values, and are part of a group that has a unique language, unique things to do, and shared experiences. They are part of a unique culture of sellers, producers and users. Drug and alcohol addiction becomes a total life experience. It surrounds, restricts, and negatively changes all aspects of your life. The addiction lifestyle and environment constantly cues you to use and reinforces you to
Take a moment and list all the people who taught you to use drugs and alcohol. Start with the people who first got you to try it, those who taught you along the way, and those who used with you and encouraged you to continue using. These are the people who pose a high risk to your continued abstinence.