Positive and Negative Consequences of Continued Drug Use
Recognizing Unhealthy Beliefs and Behaviors to Make Way for Change
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One of the main elements of cognitive behavioral therapy is anticipating problems in recovery and improving clients’ self-control by helping them develop effective coping strategies. There are several techniques that addiction treatment specialists use to accomplish this. One such technique is exploring the positive and negative consequences of continued drug use.
Positive Consequences of Drug and Alcohol Use
If you have a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, but you have never been addicted yourself, you may wonder what (if any) positive consequences exist in regards to using drugs and alcohol. For many addicted individuals, drugs and alcohol serve as a crutch that allows them to function “normally” or engage with the world without anxiety. Others may use drugs as a means to escape reality and the issues that cause them internal turmoil.
In exploring the positive consequences drug and alcohol use, many individuals may express the following beliefs and ideas:
- “Drugs and/or alcohol help me socialize.”
Individuals who are plagued with social anxiety may find it difficult to engage in social situations, such as work functions, community gatherings, or celebratory events. Drinking alcohol or doing drugs can lower a person’s inhibitions, reducing feelings of self-consciousness and enabling them to feel more loose and comfortable in situations that would typically cause anxiety.
- “Drugs and/or alcohol help me relax.”
Many people use drugs or alcohol to escape the stressors of everyday life. For example, if a person is having marriage problems, they may choose to get drunk and forget about their problems instead of dealing with the issues that are causing emotional and relational distress. Or if a person doesn’t feel like they are able to acknowledge a traumatic or hurtful event in their life, they may drink alcohol or do drugs to numb the pain that they feel as a result of that event.
- “Drugs and/or alcohol makes me feel less tired.”
In some cases, people may feel like drugs or alcohol gives them the energy they need to get through the day, complete a task, or just feel normal. Often times the extreme lack of energy they feel is actually due to a mood disorder such as depression, withdrawal, a nutritional deficiency, or a general lack of self-care, but self-defeating habits and beliefs keep them from acknowledging and appropriately reacting to these issues.
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Negative Consequences of Drug and Alcohol Use
Of course, it’s also equally important to explore the negative consequences of continued drug use during drug and alcohol rehab.
- Physical health – Some of the most obvious negative consequences of drug and alcohol use involve the physical damage that is done to the body. Continued substance abuse can cause organ damage, cancer, fertility issues, hormone imbalances, gastrointestinal diseases, and bloodborne illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, in addition to several other health issues. Many of these medical problems come with long-lasting consequences and may even be deadly.
- Finances – Addiction often goes hand-in-hand with financial distress, as many addicted individuals will spend all their money, time, and resources to obtain their drug of choice. They may incur a large amount of debt, have their vehicle(s) repossessed, or lose their job. All of these things are especially harmful if the addicted individual is financially responsible for other family members, such as children or parents, and can have devastating consequences for all those involved.
- Relationships – Relationships always suffer when addiction is involved. It causes tension and stress within the family unit and friends of substance abusers may struggle to enjoy their time spent with those individuals. In most cases, addicted individuals end up isolating themselves and spend very little time with other people. Most of their social interaction involves other substance users.
- Legal problems – Since many addictive substances are illegal, it is not uncommon for substance abusers to run into trouble with the law. This often results in paying hefty fines, serving jail sentences, or having driver’s licenses revoked. These consequences can make it very difficult to find or maintain employment and may even result in years of financial problems.
Challenging Unhealthy Thoughts and Behaviors to Make Way for Change
Studies show that maintaining positive expectations regarding the effects of drugs and alcohol can increase the risk of relapse, so it’s very important for clients in drug and alcohol rehab to recognize and talk about the positive and negative consequences of continued drug use. This process not only challenges unhealthy thoughts and behaviors associated with drug and alcohol abuse, but it also helps clients mentally prepare for changes they will be making as they learn how to live a sober life.
Additionally, discussing the consequences of continued drug use helps clients recognize people, places, and things that may trigger urges to use drugs or alcohol and provides opportunities to begin developing coping strategies to deal with cravings.
For example, when experiencing a craving, a person is much more likely to only remember the positive effects of the drug and completely forget the negative consequences. However, if the person makes a list of the benefits and drawbacks of their continued drug use and carries that list around with them, they may be much more likely to use that as a tool to remain sober.
Acknowledging the negative and positive consequences of drug use also helps clients recognize their prior unhealthy ways of dealing with stress, anxiety, and other life issues, and prompts discussion about healthy coping skills.
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