It has long been believed that someone who starts drinking heavily or binge drinking becomes emotionally stuck at the age he or she began drinking. For example, if you started drinking at 16 and you are now 30, the belief is that you are emotionally managing your life as a 16-year-old. This belief applies to other drugs of choice as well.
Believe it or not, most people who go into recovery believe that they do not have the emotional or coping skills to manage their lives and some of the inherent difficulties. Most people report starting to use or abuse substances as a teenagers.
A teenager’s brain is still developing and therefore very vulnerable to damage. Alcohol or drug use, whether daily or binging, can damage parts of the brain that affect behavior, learning and remembering.
Teenagers report starting to drink and/or use to:
- Feel confident and secure
- Help overcome shyness
- Manage feelings of anxiety and depression
- Manage conflict
- Socialize easier
- Escape emotional pain
- Manage boredom, have fun
- Feel included
- Feel normal
Using alcohol or other drugs appears to “help” all of the above. It helps to “make everything better” because you don’t have to deal with the real problem. It makes you believe that all your problems don’t exist. Using helps the person live off the “high” or effects of the alcohol or drugs which allows them to avoid learning how to cope with these very real feelings and concerns. It gives you a false sense of handling your life. Instead of dealing with your concerns, you drink or use, which seems to make it all go away. You stuff the feelings down. Instead of trying to manage your life and relationships, you avoid concerns, because you don’t have the skills to communicate how you feel or effectively work through problems.
Using alcohol and drugs masks the real problems, hence, when you stop using, you are forced to learn coping skills which may include:
- Managing anger
- Recognizing dysfunctional behavior in yourself and others
- Coping with difficult people
- Managing a healthy relationship
- Managing conflict
Learning to manage your life in a healthy way can be very challenging when you are used to drinking or drugging away your concerns. Doing so requires trying new behaviors and taking risks that may be uncomfortable, such as telling someone how you feel instead of laughing it off or ignoring it. Ignoring how you feel just builds resentment and anger.
For more information about learning to manage life on life’s terms, call the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential assistance at (410) 685-7878, ext. 3041, or toll-free at (800) 492-1964.
Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, CAC, is Program Counselor for the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program.