Most of us can think of a friend who really enjoys their drinks or other substances at gatherings and parties. Some of these people may not show the effects much, while others may pretty obviously be very intoxicated or high.
If you’ve ever asked them about their alcohol or drug usage, a popular response is, “Oh, I only [drink, snort, smoke, pop pills, fill-in-the-blank] socially. It’s not a big deal.”
As many of us know, these behaviors can, in fact, be a big deal. Let’s explore the connection between socially using substances and addiction.
What defines an addiction?
Addiction can look different for different people. According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD), is “a complex condition in which there is the uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequences.”
These harmful consequences can be wide-ranging and can include: regretting your actions from the night before, damaging your body from drug usage, and damaging your relationships with your loved ones.
For some substances, there are guidelines you can use to guide you in determining if your behavior is (or is leading to) an addiction. For alcohol, for example, the recommendation is that men drink no more than 4 drinks a day (and no more than 14 drinks in a week). For women, it’s recommended they don’t drink more than 3 drinks a day (and no more than 7 drinks per week).
So if you’re a woman and only drinking 2 glasses of wine a night, you might think you’re in the clear. However, if you add those up, you’re drinking 14 drinks a week, twice the weekly recommended limit.
With illegal substances, there often isn’t a guideline set up, since it’s implied that you shouldn’t be using the substance at all.
The crossover of social drug usage and addiction
In my early twenties, I remember many times I’d be leaving a party, and as I was walking out I’d see a friend smoking in the side yard.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” I’d sometimes mention.
“Oh I don’t—I just smoke when I’m drinking.”
I’d shrug it off, but I wouldn’t be surprised a year later when I saw them taking a smoke break outside their place of work.
Why? Because as much as we like to tell ourselves that we have a choice over when we use these substances, the fact is that these are highly addictive substances. So while your smoking may have started as a way to unwind at parties, your body quickly develops a dependence on it; then you find yourself making excuses to smoke outside of parties.
“It’s been a stressful day, I deserve a smoke.”
“Why don’t I take advantage of smoke breaks at work to get some time outside?”
Before you know it, you’re smoking multiple cigarettes a day, and it’s much harder to cut back than you realized.
And this pattern doesn’t just happen with smoking. People who take different “party” pills may find themselves wanting to experience those same effects at home. Someone who snorts cocaine every once in a while at events may begin to wonder how being high could help them get more work done at work.
Very quickly, someone can go from “just using at parties” to needing to go to a cocaine rehab center to get their life back in order.
Be cautious and conscious
Most people who move from socially using drugs to addiction never meant to become addicted. They may not have known the risks, or been in the mindset of “that will never happen to me.”
Unfortunately, addiction happens to a lot of people, whether they realize it’s happening or not. To protect yourself, before using a substance, ask yourself: “What would my life look like if I became addicted to this substance? Is it worth it?”
While you may be tempted to go ahead with popping those pills or snorting that cocaine, hopefully, you’ll at least start to develop an awareness around your behavior, so you can catch yourself if you ever get in a dangerous position with addiction.