Well-intentioned people seeking greater knowledge and understanding will sometimes ask questions such as: “Why do people ___________?”
That blank can be filled in with “drink,” or “do drugs,” or “cut,” or “overeat/undereat,” or “gamble,” or a host of other addictive behaviors.
I can’t answer that question for everybody, but I can say this: the majority of people who participate in addictive behaviors don’t do it because they like it. They do it because they see no other solution.
Addiction covers pain.
An unfortunate reality for addicts is that they try to modify surface level behavior without exploring the deeper issues that exist.
An unfortunate reality for those who love addicts is that they can’t understand why their loved one is unable to see how damaging their behavior is and just stop.
Another reality is that if you don’t struggle with a particular issue personally, it is difficult to understand how anyone could struggle with said issue. I have had several conversations with people who just cannot grasp why anyone would self-harm. Or binge and purge. Or keep turning back to their drug of choice.
Many alcoholics are barraged with: “Just stop. It’s only a matter of willpower.” Unfortunately, that’s just not true. It is not simply willpower. In fact, lack of willpower is probably near the bottom of the list for reasons why alcoholics keep drinking.
For people who are addicts, the drug or behavior is not entertainment gone wrong. It is an avenue for escape.
Why did I drink?
I drank because there was too much noise in my head. Not the “I hear voices” kind of noise. The noise I heard was the, “You have so much to do, you are not good enough to do it, you must impress others at all times, avoid conflict at all costs,” kind of noise. I could not slow my mind down. I could not relax. I could not sleep. And I never felt as if I could measure up.
I drank because I was afraid. I desperately wanted to tell someone, anyone, how much I was struggling. But what they think about me? After all, I had two brothers who were alcoholics, hadn’t I learned from their mistakes? Didn’t I know all the dangers? If I told someone I struggled with my drinking, my assumption was that I would be looked down on, not encouraged. It was a risk I was not willing to take. So instead of finding healthy ways to deal with my insecurities, I found an easy way out.
I drank because it was simple. I drank because it made it appear as if the issues did not exist. I drank because I felt like myself when I was not sober.
Looking back at that now, I can realize how wrong I was. But in those moments, I could not see anything beyond my plan to purchase my next bottle.
For me, drinking was a solution. Only, I was solving the wrong problem.
Why do people ______________?
Because they are hurting.
What can I do to help ______________?
Be patient. Listen. Observe. Build relationships.
Don’t treat people as strange because of their addictions. Don’t fall for the lie that addicts are weak.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people directly. It actually is okay to ask the question, “Why do you?” It is an uncomfortable conversation. It may not go well the first time. But if you make yourself available and let that person you care about know they can come talk to you, it likely may pay dividends down the road.
Don’t feel pressured to offer solutions. Chances are: you don’t have any. Chances also are: the addict is not looking for any. What I wanted more than anything was a person to talk to. (This is why the sponsor/sponsee relationship is so important in 12 Step recovery groups). Being available, present, and listening are three of the greatest gifts you could offer.
Do be willing to pray with and for the person who is struggling with their addiction.
Do know the resources in your area (AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, treatment centers).
Do be willing to recognize your own struggles and issues. Remember that addicts are not problems to be solved, but people to be loved.
Why do we do it? The answers are varied.
How do we stop doing it? Through relationships, prayer, and God’s power.