When Drugs Are Your "Best Friends"
"I Can't Think of Even One Reason to Stop Using Drugs!"
I guess I just don't get it, but why should I stop taking recreational drugs when I'm going to die anyway. Don't tell me 'just say no'! I'm HIV-positive and for the time I have left -- which might not be too long -- I want to enjoy life! Drugs DO HELP, they are my best friends and make me a lot of fun at any party or dance club with people I don't even know. The non-stop sex is always better with crystal or ecstasy, no matter who it's with! I love them and I don't plan on stopping until I'm 6 feet under or fried. I live for the weekends and this helps me get through my very dull 9 to 5 job. However, if I wanted to give drugs up, can you give me some good reasons to stop taking them? I can't for the life of me think of even one: life is beautiful when I'm on them and it isn't when I'm off.
A Response to This Composite Case Study
When considering your long-term health issues it is very important to always keep an open mind to all sides of a question and continue to question any direction in life you have chosen to take. Hopefully you have given your drug use some serious thought and maybe debated your drug and HIV situation. Recreational drug use has been around in one form or another since the beginning of time, so to tell you "just say no," is a rather simplistic solution to a very complex universal human problem. However, before we address the potential medical issues of recreational drug use, it is very important to discuss what these substances give you in terms of enjoyment that may be lacking in your life. Clearly from your statement they seem to be giving you a lot of pleasure.
For many recreational drug users, and for you as well it seems, drugs play a role in your weekend socialization structure. These drugs in many cases provide a kind of euphoric feeling and make everything, including human social interaction, less stressful. If a pill can change a lifetime of negative thinking or social anxiety in a matter of minutes, it can be very seductive. However, if one's basic emotional needs are stable, one should not feel the need for excessive drug use or self-medication to make them feel relaxed and content in social settings.
The basic emotional needs for most humans are actually quite simple, and this may be a good opportunity for you to review your life structure and evaluate whether all your emotional needs are being met. There are four basic components that humans seem to need for emotional stability:
If one of these four areas is damaged or defective, then there may be a feeling of emotional unbalance (think of all four components as being equal for emotional wellness). No one is perfect and life is not always just, so these components can lessen or become more demanding as one's life structure changes throughout a lifetime. People who find themselves emotionally unbalanced may sometimes turn to drugs to help them "level-out" emotionally (in an attempt to achieve emotional equilibrium). I believe it is important to continually return back to these four boxes periodically and assess if emotionally all your needs are being met equally. If they aren't, you might then begin to develop ways to create that equilibrium, hopefully without the need for recreational drug use. I would consider this type of reassessment to be a life-long task as our age group and environment continues to change periodically.
Another point in your statement was that your employment "is very dull." What do you need at your present employment that is currently lacking? Listed in the three boxes below are three possible components that one should attempt to have at their place of employment.
Do you have any one of these three components at your place of work? If not, what can you do to create these components? If no improvement is possible, then I would seriously consider seeking other employment in order to have a more satisfying life. Forty hours a week is a large chunk of your life to spend being unhappy. However, I believe this is a realistic long-term problem that can and should be worked on. It will take time and hard work but your current solution of gorging yourself with drugs on the weekends is short-term and doesn't really change anything permanently. Please attempt to consider what it is about your employment that you dislike, and remember that you do have the actual power to change your employment situation over a reasonable period of time. If you were more satisfied with work hopefully this would lower your need to have excessive drug use on the weekends.
Another possibility would be to seek out individual or group psychotherapy and work on what you perceive to be the emotionally problematic areas in life. This may take a lot of hard work coupled with a good mental health professional, but research has shown that psychotherapy can lessen a desire for recreational drug use since it assists you in developing other coping methods as solutions. Sadly, most people want a quick, effortless way to find results which can lead to drug use as a mask for emotional unhappiness.
Research studies have indicated that drugs do help temporarily to lessen the painful imbalances of life. However, they are a generally time-limited solution with very grave consequences such as poor emotional and physical health. Once the drug has left and depleted your system you suffer an emotionally draining "hang over." Drugs can also encourage high-risk health behaviors during the "high," which may harm you and the people you come into contact with. And lastly, the question of chronic addiction to the substance should always be considered.
Prescription drugs are used for a number of emotional problems suffered by people such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Supervised by a medical professional, they help ease emotional pain and inner conflict. The positive gains over the last thirty years of modern medical medication have been impressive and have changed the life course of millions of emotionally troubled individuals. If you want to lower your emotional stress and you feel that it may be more internal and not externally based, then you should consider seeking out a respected psychiatrist and discuss possible medication. Any continued medication intake would then be monitored and discussed.
Sadly, prescription drug usage has also led to abuse by some unethical medical personnel and unwise misuse by the actual patients. Nothing in this world is perfect, and although we would expect the medical professional to be honorable in this area, unfortunately, as with anything else where monetary gain is involved, it can be just as corrupt and full of vice. You always need to use your judgement when considering medication and the first step is to seek out a reliable and trustworthy medical professional. Remember you are the expert on your emotional equilibrium.
It is a much different story with recreational drug use. Recreational drugs are not prescription drugs in the general sense; although they may be used as prescription drugs in another country, they do not have the supervision of trained and licensed medical interventions. Basically you really don't know consistently what you have just placed in your mouth and thus can't be prepared for the consequence.
Recreational drugs are also, rightly or wrongly, illegal in this country and thus there are high financial costs involved, possible problematic interactions with "sellers," and possible incarceration coupled with public shame. The addicted person may in time trade human companionship for a total drug experience, making the actual drug a substitute for human interaction. For most humans there is no greater experience than to enjoy the company of others and to experience a normal range of emotions and not have it numbed by substance intake.
Drug Use vs. Abuse
Don't get me wrong: when I get a headache I want to take an aspirin, when I feel that hay fever is coming on I rush to take a pill. If I were faced with a long-term depression and it affected my current life structure I would seek out medical advice and consider prescribed medication. However, I would also reassess my current life structure checking all the emotional composites listed in the above boxes to see if my emotional needs were being met. If they were not, I would need to do the actual work to develop alone or with a licensed mental health professional the methods to gain my emotional equilibrium. If you feel you can't attempt this and only wish to continue taking recreational drugs then please ask yourself these questions.
If you continue to ask yourself these questions, hopefully in time you will logically come to some insights that may help you to lessen your drug use. At the very least it may encourage you to question your choices.
Lastly, medical research has consistently pointed out that recreational drug use lowers our resistance to a number of external factors. Drugs skew our judgement in many situations and we tend to take sizeable risks when under the influence of recreational drugs. This can create unsafe health choices for ourselves such as HIV re-infection or infection with a sexually transmitted disease, which may result from unsafe sex practices. Although you want to enjoy the time you have left, your health and how you feel are indicators to judge by in terms of daily quality of life.
It is possible to attain the feeling that drugs provide artificially by seeking out the human interactions and situations that create those euphoric feelings in you naturally with no ill side effects or permanent damage in your brain or body. In this life, we are given one body and one brain. To view one's life as an endless party supported by continuous recreational drug use can only be comprehended as a short-term solution.
However, I would hope you could see life as something more than a non-stop dance party, with indiscriminate sexual partners coated by drug induced emotions. There are other pathways to better mental and emotional stability one can take regardless of their perception of how long their lifespan is. I would strongly encourage you to seek out medical and psychological intervention for your own personal growth. Please consider the aspects of what drug use may be denying you and continue to be open and explore other areas of your personality.
"Psychologically Speaking" columnist J. Buzz von Ornsteiner, Ph.D. is a New York State-licensed psychologist. He currently works as a project director for a criminal agency within Brooklyn Night Court, NYC.
Back to the July/August 2002 issue of Body Positive magazine.
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