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Substance Use: Escaping or Embracing Life?

The difference between use and abuse may be attitude.

Photo by Alexi Berry

Whenever the topic of substance use arises, it's worthwhile to explore whether the substance is used to escape or enhance life. It can be difficult to differentiate one type of usage from the other. The attitude is often more important than the activity, and the attitude can offer insight into whether there is increased risk for addiction.

In the treatment of substance abuse there is nearly always an attempt by the client to return to substance use. At times this is the focus of treatment, and a "harm reduction" approach is taken. The difference between embracing and escaping life is pivotal, and can lead to clues as to whether harm reduction or abstinence has the greatest chance of success.

When people, especially young people, enter substance abuse treatment, many want to cease their problem drug but continue softer drugs, such as alcohol and marijuana. This is sometimes successful. Many who become addicted to one substance can use other substances moderately. And some substance users, as PT Blogger Stanton Peele notes, eventually use substances moderately. However, there are also those who end up using the softer substances addictively, or who relapse into the problem drug as a result of lowered inhibitions. Early indicators can be their motivation and their behavior when using the substance.

There is often a difference in attitude regarding using a substance. The person embracing life uses the substance minimally, and as a supplement to an already enjoyable life. The person escaping life uses substances more regularly, more heavily, and is trying to escape what he finds to be a mundane or painful existence. Overindulgence in anything runs the risk of being an escape, and is a telltale sign of escapism.

Substance abusers are not the only people attempting to escape life. Many people attempt to temporarily escape. They may do this through other compulsive behaviors or by becoming comatose in front of the television or computer. In fact, far too many individuals believe that escaping reality is the only way to enjoy life.

Take the example of a weekend getaway: Two couples feel the need for a break, a getaway from some of the stressors they are experiencing. Both couples go away for a long weekend. The difference comes down to the way each couple views the getaway.

Couple One views the departure as a much needed opportunity to relax and focus on their relationship. They may do many of the same activities as the other couple. Couple Two might also view the retreat as a needed respite. Couple Two's perception is focused on what they've been working toward for months. They are dreading going back to their jobs and normal life, wishing life could be a vacation paradise forever. They do not embrace life, and instead escape it.

That simple attitude is the difference between embracing or escaping life. Many people perceive life as drudgery ("life is a bitch and then you die") A great many people muddle through life looking for the next great escape, whether it is a vacation, a new toy, a new romance, or the opportunity to consume substances. It is not uncommon to notice people working for some kind of end reward. Many believe happiness is around the corner, and they never turn that corner.

This relates to a quote by Abraham Maslow: "What we call normal in psychology is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and so widely spread that we don't even notice it ordinarily."

I challenge you to look at your life and determine if you are escaping it or embracing it.

For more on "The Psychopathology of Normal," see my post on it here.

Peele, Stanton. The Hardest Addictions to Quit

Copyright William Berry, 2011

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