Before turning to the practical part of this article I’d like to talk about one of the most serious dangers of alcohol use, one that isn’t often thought of. I’m not going to go on about the increased risk of heart disease, the deterioration of brain efficiency, the damage to internal organs and all the other physiological problems it causes. These are already well documented.
Because this article is based more on the experience of someone who has overcome alcohol dependency than objective statistics and dispassionate scientific logic, the problem I’m going to talk about here is one which may not have often been discussed, but is nevertheless experienced by many dependent people.
What Does Alcohol Have in Common with Heroin?
I’ve spoken to people who have gone through heroin addiction. I was very interested in why intelligent people who are aware of all the dangers still became ensnared in drug use. If a person saw a trap on the road baited with sweets, they surely wouldn’t try to get at them, even if they were their favourites! Why then do people get caught in such an obvious trap as heroin use?
Problem 1. Loss of awareness
It was explained to me that one of the sly facets of heroin lies in gradual rather than immediate addiction. A person won’t feel all the horrors their TV warns them about, such as instant addiction and hellish withdrawal symptoms, after their first hit. These things happen later; at the beginning, they won’t notice any negative effects so will believe that they have everything under control, that this drug isn’t as terrible as everyone says. This is where they spring the trap.
Trusting in their self-control, they start to use more. Dependency is so inconspicuous and so smoothly envelops the person as they use that they don’t even notice that they’re becoming more and more ‘hooked’ on heroin, how the drug is starting to control their behaviour.
In parallel with this is the gradual transformation of the person which, again, they themselves don’t notice.
When we change for the better we generally notice it. But gradual degradation is an imperceptible process, and a drug addict won’t even notice the particular moment at which stealing to get money for a hit stopped being immoral for them. All the changes happening to them appear to be beyond their control. It might seem to them that everything’s fine when actually, by now, they have many problems.
This happens because dependency deprives people of awareness and changes their thinking and how they see the world, how they relate to moral values. Things which before would have been unacceptable to them gradually start to seem normal.
Few drug addicts start out planning to end up at absolute rock bottom. Many begin using opiates recreationally and don’t even do it every day, but the majority end up past the point of no return.
In my view the mechanism by which heroin addiction arises is very similar to the development of alcohol dependency. Can any ‘alcoholic’ say that when their drinking started to get out of hand, they dreamt of becoming an ‘alcoholic’ who drank until they passed out then had beer in the morning to stop their hands shaking and their head hurting?
I don’t think so! For many, alcoholism starts with the most seemingly innocuous things – ‘a beer on my day off’, ‘some wine on holidays.’
Why did I start drinking?
This is how it all started for me. I began drinking because I was suffering from depression and panic attacks. A beer in the evening helped me relax and feel better. ‘Will this really lead to anything bad?’ I thought. ‘It’s only beer! Everyone drinks it.’
And I didn’t notice myself drinking more and more often, when two bottles of beer in the evening became four, then six – then eight! How it became completely ‘normal’ for me to drink in the morning to ‘take the edge off’ my hangover! That my behaviour was becoming less manageable, leading my friends to gradually distance themselves from me! How my face, which had always been thin, was becoming bloated! That my chest was starting to get saggy from all that beer!
If I’d known when I started drinking how I’d be in a few years, I would have said, ‘That’s awful! How could this happen to me? What was I thinking? How could I not notice that I was turning into THIS?’
But, being in the midst of it, I just didn’t see any big issue. Of course, I realised I was drinking too much, but I had a load of excuses for it. I knew I should give it up, but I didn’t make any moves towards doing so. I didn’t notice at such close range all the problems using alcohol was causing me: problems with my friends, my relationship, problems with my thinking and very nature…
Alcohol isn’t just bad for you; it changes people for the worse! It causes moral degradation. It deprives them of awareness while shrouding them in the illusion that they’re still in control.
Alcohol and heroin are very similar in this! It’s precisely because of this that the two substances are considered the most dangerous drugs in the world! They don’t kill only your brain, heart and liver, but also your identity and awareness!
Socially Acceptable Drug
But it’s only heroin use that public opinion is so against, and when a person uses this drug they simply become entrapped by their own arrogance. Alcohol, though, long ago became the ‘socially acceptable’ drug, the drug which is legal in most countries and is closely associated with many social traditions.
It’s considered ‘normal’ to drink on celebration days. It’s also ‘normal’ to drink on Fridays, at the end of a stressful working week! Many people do it; alcohol dependency therefore receives both social and peer support!
Do an experiment – tell your friends that you’ve decided to try heroin. Watch them clutch their heads and try every which way to talk you out of it. But when they see you drinking beer every evening, many won’t have any reaction at all.
I believe this state of affairs is abnormal. I don’t think heroin is that much more dangerous than alcohol. But unfortunately the public consciousness has yet to be convinced.
Problem 2. The pleasure mechanism
Yet another common feature of alcohol and heroin is their pleasure mechanism. Before I’d ever spoken to anyone who used heroin, I assumed that people took it as it led to some kind of unearthly bliss. This seemed logical to me since people would undoubtedly become accustomed to the intense pleasure.
In actual fact, it isn’t completely so. According to accounts of former addicts, heroin doesn’t give everyone an intense rush, especially the first time. The real ‘highs’ come after they become proper ‘users’, when heroin becomes the answer to an internal craving which it itself also causes. The addict receives pleasure from heroin not only directly through the action of the substance, but because they’re satisfying a very strong desire and relieving the pain caused by withdrawal. They feel bad, but as soon as they take the substance everything’s OK again. And because of the contrast in feelings, ‘OK’ then starts to become ‘good’.
The same thing is can be seen with alcohol use. Alcohol itself isn’t hugely pleasurable; when you’ve been drunk have you ever thought, ‘Ah, I feel great! This is brilliant!’ Probably not. In fact drunk people usually don’t feel well at all.
You felt pleasure purely because you satisfied a desire. The desire to drink or to relax and de-stress. Alcohol gives the greatest gratification to people who need it. Those who aren’t so habituated to alcohol don’t get such a kick.
In the words of a contemporary Russian writer, ‘Drugs are only good for solving the problems they themselves create.’
So don’t fool yourself because you ‘like drinking’. You only like it because you’ve accustomed yourself to it.
Now please pass to the next part of the article: Will You Be An Alcoholic Forever?