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The Illusion of Emotional Relief

Chapter 18: The Freedom Model

The idea that drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, or heroin provide relief from emotional pain might be one of the most dangerous myths ever. Many self-described addicts and alcoholics truly believe they need substances to relieve their emotional pains such as stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and trauma. This belief results in increased desire and a firm belief that there is no chance of ever quitting or moderating their use of substances. And it's all for naught since the drugs never relieve the emotional pain, not even temporarily, and may even become the source of increased stress and upset as their use takes a toll on your life.

Alcohol and drugs never relieve emotional pain, not even temporarily.

If you think that substances help you with emotional pain in any way, it's imperative that you read this chapter and learn that this effect is fully an illusion. It's a placebo effect. While it is true that people report that drinking relieves their emotional pain, the drug alcohol itself does not pharmacologically relieve emotional pain. This is an important distinction. Drinking is an activity approached with certain expectations and intentions - a mindset. When drinking many people give themselves permission to forget their troubles, and their friends and family may give them a pass while drinking as well. This is all to say that drinking involves much more than the drug alcohol.

Substances don't help you with emotional pain. They don't emotionally numb you. They aren't tools for the "self-medication" of emotional problems. A glass of gin is no more effective at taking away emotional pain than a glass of milk. When you really understand and internalize this reality, you will stop feeling like you "need" substances for this purpose. That feeling will change as your thoughts change because of the basic way that emotions operate:

"Your emotions result entirely from the way you look at things. It is an obvious neurological fact that before you can experience any event, you must process it with your mind and give it meaning. You must understand what is happening to you before you can feel it."(Burns, Kindle location 682)

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