For most young people, there’s a time in which high risk behaviors like binge drinking and experimenting with drugs constitute rites of passage in our society. I find limited value in discouraging these endeavors and instead encourage the young adults I work with to take precautions to remain as safe as possible. Many of them experience losses and this forces a change in both their perspective and behavior. For those fortunate enough to emerge relatively unscathed, there comes a time in which we realize that there are costs to the lifestyle we’re living.
When we reflect, there’s an awareness that our productivity is low, the physical and financial costs are high, and we realize that we’re just bored with the repetition of the same people, places, and substances. I laugh every time a twenty-something incredulously tells me, “It’s just not fun anymore!” It’s natural to outgrow youthful indiscretions. Most of us continue to party in the expectation that the fun will return. We try new bars, date new people, mix up the routine, only to find it’s still not working.
“Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself.” – Bruce Springsteen “Dancing in the Dark”
The choice that many make is to simply go to the next level. We might feel better if we stop drinking cheap beer and favor top shelf liquors or become a wine aficionado. If abusing ADHD medication gets old, try cocaine. If snorting Vicodin gets dull we try smoking Percoset. Maybe we try heroin… just once. It’s easier to cross the lines we swore we’d never cross when it all feels empty and unsatisfying. The costs here become harder to ignore and we can’t feel good about choosing them in the full light of day.
In addiction terms, “chasing the dragon” is the ongoing attempt to duplicate the first (and usually best) high. In life terms, continuing to party when it’s less than satisfying is an exercise in futility. Ambivalence is the point where we want a better outcome but we don’t want to make the changes and do the work to get it.
Willingness is the key of any successful undertaking. I ask folks what they’re prepared to do to tip the scales. When denial is no longer an option we’re confronted with our unhappiness. Even small changes in perspective can yield large rewards.
Steps to Overcoming Ambivalence
I encourage folks to try an experiment. Go to the next party with something that looks like alcohol but isn’t. Observe the people you call friends. Notice how their behavior changes over the course of the evening. It’s likely you’ll see a lot of things you find tedious and perhaps a few that you find disturbing. If you find something intolerable sober, why would you want to engage in it under the influence?
Do a Cost/Benefit Analysis
Nearly everyone has made a list of pros and cons at some point in their lives. It’s a tool for decision making when things seem unclear. Our thoughts tend to be circular. We gain clarity when we externalize our dilemmas by putting them on paper or on a screen. We find that they appear very different there.
“Everything looks worse in black and white.” Paul Simon – “Kodachrome”
I encourage my clients to do a cost/benefit analysis. I ask them to write out what drinking and/or drugging has cost them and what it’s given them in return. Below are the most common responses I receive.
- Good times with friends
- Makes my family more fun/tolerable
- Easier to relax
- “Liquid courage”
- Financial costs of alcohol & drugs
- Possible or actual arrests, fines, losses
- Weight Gain
- Lost time at work
- Risk of dependence, addiction
- Loss of romantic relationships
- Stress of having enough on hand
- Other losses: friends harmed while drinking/using
After making your own list, consider not only whether the cons outweigh the pros, but also, are the pros attainable without substances and what would have to change to attain them? What I find is that people generally only make major life changes in two scenarios: They either seek a clear and compelling reward, or they are sufficiently sick and tired of the cost of status quo.
Additional Reality Checks
When was the last time you had a really good time drinking/using? What made it good? Can it not be replicated without drugs and alcohol? Chances are by the time questions like these are hard to answer, your days of “Y.O.L.O.” are gone.
What if “You Only Live Once” means we should be pursuing the career, family, or working toward our dreams? What if partying is just something we do because it’s easy and less scary than recognizing and actualizing our potential?
“Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” – John Lennon
Nobody ever sets out in life to become a “townie.” These are the people who stay in their hometowns and settle for small little lives. Nobody plans on becoming an addict. Make some plans.
- What could you do with the amount of money you spend monthly on drugs and alcohol?
- What could you do with the time you invest in partying?
- What could you do with improved amounts of energy and a healthier body?
- What connections could you be making with people who are pursuing their ambition and how could these benefit you?
I’ve never met a person who regretted abstinence or reduction. I’ve known hundreds who regret not stopping sooner. Investment in self always pays off.
- About the author Jim LaPierre:
- My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: recoveryrocks.bangordailynews.com Thanks! Jim
Page last updated Jan 02, 2014