In order to understand why people use drugs, one must ask the right questions. Firstly, substance use is something that we all do. We will all pick a poison (sometimes several) that we will use for two main reasons; recreation and self-medication. Not all poisons are illegal. In fact, you probably have several in your house as you read this. The 15th century physician Paracelsus (the father of modern toxicology) stated it best: “the dose makes the poison”. Any substance has the potential to be toxic (even water) if the dose is too high. As for those substances in your cupboard: coffee, sugar, alcohol and perhaps tobacco, are examples of legal things most of us use in some capacity. Marijuana, cocaine and opiates (to name a few), are examples of substances that need a prescription from a physician due to their toxicity and addictive potential.
There are also 4 primary drives we primates possess: 1) the need for food and water, 2) the need for shelter, 3) the drive to reproduce, 4) the drive to experience altered states of consciousness (either via natural means like meditation and daydreaming, or via substances.
This 4th drive (although many in orthodox circles wish to deny it’s existence) is not only ours. Every species possesses this drive, from billy goats to chimpanzees. Why do we become addicted to substances? Two big reasons why are:
1) Type of use: Recreation or Self Medication
2) Rituals of use breaking down
This second reason is important. Native tribes-people in the Amazon have a plethora of substances (stimulant and hallucinogenic) that are used as part of their life rituals (as opposed to ‘just getting messed-up’). These substances are given respect and reverence, and as a consequence, are used properly, without becoming addictions. In our developed world, although unconsciously, we develop rituals of use for substances that enable us to maintain a functional relationship with them, without getting addicted to them. Lets take alcohol as an example. Not everyone becomes an alcoholic if they use this substance. Some examples of rituals we create to control use would be:
1) Only with friends
2) Only on weekends
3) Only after 5pm..etc.
These combined with social or recreational usage help to prevent the excessive use that leads to dependence. However, when rituals break down and reasons for use include “self medication”, habituation and addiction are more likely outcomes. Sugar is a case in point. If it is used in a proper manner, it can be functional usage. Yet, examples of its overuse are rampant due to its high availability, cost and addition to most processed foods (the ritual has thus broken down). Diabetes is the end result.
Recovery from addiction has several therapeutic components to it.
1. Counseling is useful in order to come to terms with reasons for overuse and traumas related to those reasons.
2. Environmental control (sanitizing your environment of the substance in question) is used to help your system to adjust to the substance’s absence and to allow you to detox.
3. Brain chemistry re-balancing is where a health professional will find out what your neurotransmitter brain levels are. This is accomplished via blood tests or questionnaires that give insight into which medications or nutraceuticals (vitamins/ minerals/ amino acids) are necessary in order to restore biochemistry balance.
4. Acupuncture NADA protocol is a 5 point auricular (ear) procedure that acts as a calming agent to help stop cravings.
5. Exercise can be used to speed up body detox, and help point people in more positive directions and pursuits.
When combined approaches like the above are used, addiction can be conquered. If only one component is used, addiction is much harder to conquer. Adding to this, governments and authorities need to stop their “War on Drugs”. To date, it has been extremely expensive, and neglects the reasons why substance use occurs in the first place.
Andrew Weil., (1972)., The Natural Mind- A New Way of Looking at Drugs and the Higher Consciousness, p. 113., Houghton Mifflin Company Boston.,
Ronald K Siegel., (1989)., Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise., Dutton, New York.
Charles Grant, MD, PhD, Greg Lewis PhD., End Your Addiction Now: The Proven Nutritional Suppliment Program That Can Set You Free., pgs. 94-108., 2002., Warner Books Inc., New York.,