NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Psychotherapy Blog: A Search For Comfort and Safety With Alcohol or Drugs

Many people who drink alcohol excessively or abuse drugs are actually seeking comfort and safety, but they might not even realize it.

A Search For Comfort and Safety With Alcohol and Drugs

A Non-Pathologizing Perspective
As a psychotherapist in New York City, I've worked with many clients who are struggling to overcome substance abuse problems.  Many of them say that the alcohol or the drug is like a friend they don't want to give up, which is understandable.

If alcohol and drugs didn't provide a certain extent of comfort or feeling of safety, people wouldn't abuse these substances.  For many people, it's might be the only comfort and sense of safety they have ever experienced.

So, asking people, who experience this comfort to give it up can feel like a very daunting process to them, especially if they haven't ever experienced comfort with another person.

A Search For Comfort and Safety With Alcohol or Drugs

From this perspective, these substances can feel like a reliable source of comfort.  Not only does it provide temporary relief, but it is usually available, especially if the substance is alcohol.  It's legal.  It can be consumed alone or with other people.  And it usually accomplishes the goal of bringing temporary relief.

Of course, the problem is that, over time, substances create other problems, including serious health problems, impaired cognitive functioning, family problems, and work-related problems, just to name a few.

Over time, it can also result in death, so that even though there is a temporary relief, there can be serious long term damage.

People often seek help when one or more of these problems develop.  By then, it can seem like a very frightening prospect to give up what works temporarily--even when people know that will ultimately do serous damage.

At that point, some people will bargain with themselves and their loved ones:  They tell themselves and their loved ones that they can control their use or that they can stop at any time.  But, often, they're the only ones who actually believe this. And if they try to stop on their own, they might discover that they can't.

It can be a long, arduous process to give up abusing substances, and many people pay the ultimate price of ruining their health beyond repair before they accept that they can't control it.

But if people, who abuse substances and their loved ones have this non-pathologizing perspective that    the substance brings a sense of comfort, it can create more self understanding and empathy for oneself as well as for others.

Learning Healthy Ways to Seek Safety and Comfort 
One of the goals of therapy or substance abuse treatment is that people who are abusing substances learn how to seek comfort and safety in other ways.

This might mean that, instead of abusing substances, they learn to self soothe by:
  • learning to meditate
  • learning new breathing techniques to calm themselves
  • learning new grounding techniques
  • developing resilience
  • developing new coping skills
  • learning to make better choices
  • learning to choose healthier relationships
  • developing a stable and manageable life step by step
Even being able to consider learning new ways involves a certain amount of trust in a psychotherapist or a substance abuse counselor, which can be challenging for someone who has never had a trustworthy relationship.

Some people will persist in abusing substances because they don't want to give up what brings temporary relief.

Building that rapport and trusting relationship can take time.  In the meantime, before people can trust enough to allow a relationship to develop, they might need to ask themselves if they are willing to try it because being willing is often half the battle.

But once people trust enough to try other ways of seeking safety and comfort, they usually discover that this is a skill the they can continue to develop and that it works.

Getting Help in Therapy
Asking for help often induces shame in people.

Most people like to think that they can control their lives and that they don't need help.  But when it becomes obvious that your life is falling apart, it takes a lot courage to ask for help.

Often, people come into therapy externally motivated because either a spouse or a boss has given them an ultimatum:  Either get help or leave.

But people who are open to the process of recovering from substance abuse often discover their own internal motivation, especially if they develop a rapport with their therapist.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with substance abuse or you're watching someone you love abuse substances, you're not alone.

Even if you can't afford therapy or you don't have access to treatment, there are 12 Step meetings in most cities and online.

Life is short.  Getting help sooner rather than later can make all the difference in how you live the rest of your life and the quality of your relationships.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.