Why do we use alcohol and other drugs?

A call to address stigma

As we look at ways of addressing the stigmatisation of alcohol and other drug use, it is important to understand the foundations of why we use these substances.

Alcohol and other drugs have been part of human cultures for thousands of years.
How these substances have been used varies from culture to culture, such as:
~ Medicinal purposes
~ Spiritual and religious ceremonies
~ Simply for enjoyment
~ To expand consciousness
~ To enhance a sense of connection with oneself and fellow community members

Alcohol and other drug use can be generational, or it may be a rite of passage, such as succumbing to peer pressure as an adolescent, or following curiosity and experimentation.

The use of drugs and alcohol is a personal and unique experience which has the potential for positive experiences and varied risks.

As we explore the impacts of alcohol and other drug use in our society, we encourage you to see it through the lens of the human condition. Acknowledging the vulnerability, we all share, and the need for human connection that is vital to our humanity. There are some that do not have that sense of connection or supports surrounding them, and the experience of trauma may have led to an inability to make meaningful connections. We all, at some point in our lives are faced with loss, a lack of direction, anxiety, and/ or depression. At the heart of these issues are human beings with emotional, spiritual, and physical needs, and through that understanding, we can start to tackle stigma and focus on the health-related solutions that society needs.

Life can throw us many challenges and for some, alcohol and other drugs can provide a coping strategy, a sense of identity and a stop gap between the difficulties of life. For others, it may simply be seen as an extension of their social lives as something to be enjoyed and shared. Others come to rely on substances out of necessity, to abate significant trauma and mental distress. Pain management and the need to escape discomfort or distress, is also a common gateway to dependence.

Some people can utilise substances with minimal risk or impact to their daily lives, while others find themselves dependent on drugs and/or alcohol just to make it through the day, to which problems can arise and compound over time. Each substance comes with its own unique health impacts and effects on our physical and mental health. For example, Alcohol, Opiates and Benzodiazepines all have the potential to become habit forming and create a physical dependence, which can require medical intervention to break down. Other substances such as Cannabis and Psychedelics (Mushrooms, MDMA, LSD) are less likely to cause physical dependence, but can have strong psychological impacts that can be habit forming when seeking to maintain the euphoric effects or sense of wellbeing that these drugs create. Substances like Methamphetamines can result in dependence and neurotoxicity after extended periods of use, which can lead to mental health challenges such as psychosis, particularly after extended periods without sleep. Each substance comes with a unique set of physical and mental risk factors, which can vary from a mild hangover to a loss of connection with reality, or even death. The diversity of substances in our society brings a range of unique properties and impacts, which leads to a range of challenges.

For those that find themselves in a position of dependence, either physically or psychologically, it is common to be faced with intersecting challenges. As dependence increases, it is common to experience a level of isolation and disconnect. Justice involvement is common due to the illicit nature of some substances, along with financial problems and homelessness due to the cost of maintaining use, and disruption to employment. Mental and physical health often decline as the human body reaches a tipping point due to the impact of the substances, and relationship breakdowns can occur as the capacity to nurture and maintain connections, diminishes.

For those experiencing these surmounting challenges, stepping out and regaining some control and acceptance of their life can be an exceedingly challenging task. It is common for onlookers to pose the question, “why don’t you just stop using?” If only it was that easy. For some, this approach can lead to further stigmatisation and blame. Alcohol and drug dependence is a symptom of a bigger issue, lets always keep that in mind.

So, let us work together to create an environment of understanding and shared knowledge through lived experience. Be a voice for change. Everyone has their own unique challenges and appearances can be deceiving. As our shared understanding grows, we can tackle stigma, remove barriers, and improve outcomes for the entire community.


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