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By Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C

It has long been believed that if someone starts drinking heavily or binge drinking, that they become emotionally stuck at the age they 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 as well.  

Whether you believe this or not, most people who go into recovery believe that they do not have the emotional or coping skills to manage their life and some of the inherent difficulties.  Most people report starting to use or abuse substances as a teenager.  

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 impact behavior and learning, and the ability to manage your life in a productive way.

Teenagers report starting to drink and/or use other drugs to:

  • Feel confident and secure
  • Help overcome shyness 
  • Manage feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Manage conflict
  • Socialize easier
  • Escape emotional pain
  • Manage boredom and 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 alcohol or drugs, which allows them to not have to learn 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.  

Alcohol and drug use masks real problems and therefore when you stop using you have to learn coping skills which may include:

  • Communication
  • Assertiveness
  • Listening
  • Setting boundaries
  • 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.  It takes 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.


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LAP provides free, confidential assistance for personal concerns  to all Maryland lawyers, judges, law school students, and support staff  by offering assessment, referral, and short-term counseling. We  can assist you no matter what state you are living in.  If you are concerned about another lawyer you can  make an anonymous  referral to the Lawyer Assistance Program. We offer financial assistance for Mental Health and Addiction Treatment.