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close this bookWhere Women Have No Doctor - A Health Guide for Women (Hesperian Foundation, 1997, 600 p.)
close this folderChapter 28: Alcohol and Other Drugs
close this folderUse and misuse of alcohol and drugs
View the documentWhy do people begin to use alcohol or drugs?
View the documentWhen does use become misuse?
View the documentWhy people misuse drugs and alcohol

Why people misuse drugs and alcohol

Many people end up misusing drugs and alcohol in order to escape from problems in their lives.

All types of people do this. But people whose parents misused alcohol or drugs are much more likely to try and solve their problems in the same way. This is because a 'weakness' to misuse drugs or alcohol may be passed from parents to children. And as children watch their parents use alcohol or drugs to escape problems, they learn this same behavior.


Alcohol and drug misuse is also common among people who do not feel any hope about changing the miserable conditions of their lives. People who are displaced from their homes or facing desperate problems - like losing their jobs or way of earning a living, losing family members, or being abandoned by a partner - are also more at risk for misusing drugs and alcohol.

Women often begin to misuse drugs or alcohol because they do not feel that they have any control over - or power to change - their lives. They may feel dependent upon, or at the mercy of, their partner or male family members. And if women have low status in the community, it may be hard for them to value themselves.

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol usually make all these problems worse, and people feel even less able to improve their lives. Instead of looking for ways to improve their situations, most people who misuse drugs or alcohol spend their time, money, and health on trying to avoid and forget their problems.

Dependence and addiction

When a person misuses drugs or alcohol, both the mind and the body can begin to feel an overpowering need for the drug. When the mind feels this need, it is called dependence. When a person's body feels such a strong need for the drug that she gets sick without it, it is called physical addiction.

Alcohol and some drugs can cause addiction. Once a person becomes addicted, she will need more and more alcohol or drugs to feel their effects. (For information about overcoming the physical addiction caused by alcohol)