So what is the process by which the alcoholic becomes dependent? William Styron in his extended essay ‘Darkness Visible, a memoir of madness’ describes it this way, ‘Alcohol was an invaluable senior partner of my intellect, besides being a friend whose ministrations I sought daily – sought also, I now see, as a means to calm the anxiety and incipient dread that I had hidden away for so long somewhere in the dungeons of my spirit’. Alcohol for William Styron, as he discovered very early on in his life, was an effective “friend” in helping him change his mood. It made him feel better. This is how the social drinker, unwittingly, learns that chemicals can change how you feel. For the majority of people, that is the beginning of a lifetime pattern of “social drinking” (or moderate drinking). For the unfortunate few, however, the experience is a gateway to the total devastation that chemical dependency wreaks, both on its immediate victim and on the family members who share his tragedy.
Its causes are a combination of individual difference and life events. Those who do develop addictions, however, often start ‘using’ in order to block out the feelings associated with an emotional trauma. After taking hold addiction affects the whole individual.
On a biological level – certain brain functions are compromised by the pleasurable and motivational effects of the drug of choice, leading to altered thought processes and dependency.
The dependent person suppresses feelings of love, trust and compassion…
At the level of thought – rationalisations for the behaviour develop as the individual learns that the behaviour temporarily takes away the original pain and shame of using. Strong associations between using and the environment form. These thought processes reinforce physical dependency. However, his rationalisations end up giving him a highly distorted picture of reality, and none more so than the painful feelings which he has suppressed to protect himself from criticism, for in doing so he has suppressed the positive feelings of love, trust and compassion, etc – feelings integral to the formation of healthy relationships.
On a spiritual level, therefore – addictive behaviours break the connections an individual has with his fellow man and the world; closing down his ability to engage in a meaningful way in one’s own development and in relationships. The unbearable feeling of aloneness and self-loathing act as a fuel for the addiction.
Now none of the above would be possible without certain ground rules being adopted by the family as a whole which facilitates the drinking and/or drug taking/or other dependency. They are “Don’t talk”, “Don’t feel”, “Don’t think” – and the reason they are adopted is because it is “not safe” to practice any one of them – to do so would be to threaten the very precarious foundation on which the invidious facade of addiction is built. Interestingly, nobody addresses the problem itself: the using addict or alcoholic, etc.
(We have referred to the alcohol and/or drug dependent person in the masculine form for convenience only and for no other reason.)
By clicking on the images below you’ll get to learn more about your drug of choice…