EMOTIONAL STATES & SUBSTANCE MISUSE 


Note-you will receive more value from the blog articles if you have begun the Self-Discovery Confidence Building Workbook. The concepts are relevant whether your concern is anxiety, depression, addictions, anger or weight issues. A lack of self-confidence and belief in the self are significant factors in all life challenges. 

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After many years working with people who abuse/misuse substances my therapeutic approach is not mainstream, but then, there is no hard evidence to indicate that any one specific approach consistently provides positive measurable results for everyone. In fact, most people who come to this work have already exhausted more traditional approaches.

From a solution-focused perspective, the abuse/misuse of substances begins with the intention (conscious or not) to manage uncomfortable states such as stress, anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety.

There is a range of options to choose from to manage our emotional states, some are healthier than others obviously. Some people choose to exercise, naps, conversations, healthy snacks ect.to manage their immediate uncomfortable emotional state. Others have conditioned their primitive mind to accept less desirable methods such as alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, etc. to alter their emotional state or frame of mind.

I think we have to ask why do substance abuser/misuser choose the less healthy alternatives?

1) a lack of faith in the self 2) a lack of confidence in one's abilities to choose healthier coping methods.3) lack of healthy role modelling. All of these “whys” can be explained or understood through the lens of social programming and original potential.

My intention here, however, is to normalize “negative” choices while also highlighting the reality of how the use of substances/activities can become hard-wired and ultimately wreak havoc on an individual’s self-concept.

Being sad, angry or anxious is an expression of an emotional state. These are natural responses to difficult situations. However, the duration, intensity, and frequency of these states can morph into habitual unhealthy paths of least resistance and become accepted ways of being by the powerful primitive mind. These paths of least resistance become automatic and can be seen/experienced in both mindset and behavior.

The decision to manage these states with substances/activities should be seen as a self-loving response to unmanageable pain and/or an automatic reaction that has been learned through modelling and/or conditioning.

It is true that some people have a predisposition to developing addictive behavior and the mental constructs that lead to the absorption of an addict self-image. A solution-focused approach accepts that some people do have a predisposition to addiction but that an addict identity is not inevitable.

This is not “denial” but the willingness and ability to entertain the possibility that ways of being have been learned and can be unlearned based on the premise that most people are not born addicts, even if a predisposition exists.

The problem user, who sets the intention of abstinence or controlled drinking, and does not self-identify as an “addict”  generally has more options for healthy living.  

Let’s go back to the idea of emotional states for a moment. It is crucial to remember that It is a natural human reaction to feel challenged by unexpected or difficult changes. Change may be the loss of a job, a relationship upheaval, the death of a family member, pet or friend, a health concern of financial difficulties. Chronic challenges can also drain mental and physical energy. The result can be a depletion of motivation and the belief that things may never become better.

This is not uncommon reasoning, for most people, whether or not substances are an issue. However, the big issue is that capable, smart people eventually adopt the self-image of addict and close the door to other possibilities. These people quit asking the question “what else is possible for me?”

Again, seeking comfort is healthy and normal. The challenge for people who misuse substances is in maintaining a healthy belief in self while struggling with the behavior of substance misuse.

Capable, intelligent people who come to identify themselves as addicts view new tools, skills, and strategies through the lens of addiction, and again, this limits possibilities. Learning to become someone who is in control of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but has learned substance misuse/abuse patterns, is the exact opposite of allowing the mind to adopt and absorb the self-image of one who is addicted.

Terri Lee Cooper MSc. RSW

 


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