Pain, Euphoria and Substance Abuse

Gina’s father was the worst kind of drunk. He would come home from a night

on the town, (which was most nights), yank her younger brothers out of bed
and make them stand at attention. He had a series of tasks he requested from
the shaking little boys ranging from cleaning the bathroom to fixing him something
to eat. It was always Gina who saved them. She had a way of talking to her
father that seemed to calm him down, at least enough so that he would go to
bed. She would then round up her two drowsy brothers and help them get back
to sleep. Those were the good nights. On the bad nights Gina’s drunken father
would take to abusing his wife instead of his sons, and this could get violent.

Gina vowed to never drink and never marry a man who did.

She married Larry and after fifteen years of marriage, at the age of 34, had
her first drink at a jackpot roping. That one drink started her obsession with
drinking. Within six months she quit her job, quit taking care of her house,
and quit parenting her two sons.

Not everyone goes from abstinent to addict in one drink. Some of us use substances
recreationally for years before we discover that we have crossed the line into
addiction. Why is it that I can have a glass of wine with dinner, and not become
an alcoholic, while poor Gina has one mimosa after 34 years of abstinence and
falls off the deep end?

Robert Meighan, chemical dependency counselor at Rio Salado College has some
ideas. He asserts that we all exist somewhere on the continuum from PAIN to
EUPHORIA, and that NORMAL will be different for each of us. But no matter how
close to PAIN or EUPHORIA our NORMAL is, the first time we do a mind altering
substance, we get blasted to EUPHORIA.

If my NORMAL is already fairly close to EUPHORIA, I might say “That was
nice, if I get a chance, I may try that again.” The closer my NORMAL is
to PAIN, the better my chance of saying, “How do I get more of that substance?” And
we spend the time we should be spending going to work or school looking for
the chemical that is going to help us feel that good again.

But that’s not the end of the story. The first time someone takes a drug they
move from NORMAL to EUPHORIA, and then come back to NORMAL. But the next time,
the drug doesn’t have quite the same effect. We don’t get quite as “high” and
instead of coming back to NORMAL, we fall a little below that line and closer
to PAIN. But that doesn’t’ stop some of us; we just seem compelled to hit the
EUPHORIA target. So we try again, and over time, we continue to fall shorter
of the EUPHORIA goal and fall further and further below what used to be our
NORMAL state. If we keep this up, eventually we will be doing the drugs just
to feel NORMAL. Did you get that? Someone you know may be drinking, or snorting
or smoking and not even getting all that “high” any longer. They
are using just to keep from feeling so bad, and considering the consequences,
one can only imagine how bad it feels not to have the drug.

My guess is that Gina’s dad does not enjoy how he behaves when he drinks.
He must feel pretty poorly without the alcohol in his system to keep doing
it. And clearly, some of us will be more affected by this blast to bliss than
others. Did you know that if your father is a substance abuser, you are four
times more likely to become a substance abuser? If your mother is a substance
abuser, you are twice as likely to become one yourself.

Part of the explanation has to do with the chemistry we inherit, and I will
talk about that next time. For now let me leave you with this quote by Henry
David Thoreau,

“Things do not change; we change.”