Maslow’s pyramid of human needs is a common reference tool when defining the separate tiers of what each and every person needs in life. It begins at the base, the physiological level, with things such as food, water, sleep, and warmth. Moving up, we find security: shelter and a sense of safety. The psychological needs are found in the next tier; a sense of love and kinship — a belongingness and connection to the people around them. The next level represents one’s own esteem, or sense of accomplishments and a social confidence. Finally, we reach the tier at the very top: self-actualization. Understanding this pyramid is essential to understanding someone who is suffering from addiction. Internalizing each tier and how alcohol impacts it can give greater insight into how someone with a substance use disorder is feeling, and why they may act in the way they do. Ultimately, this information may give way to the best possible method for helping the individual.
Where It Begins
First, alcohol typically begins in that fourth tier: esteem. Alcohol is notorious for boosting social charisma, thus holding its moniker as “liquid courage.” On the surface, it may make someone more outgoing and friendly while instilling a sense of confidence, but it is falsely inherited and temporary. During this stage, it is important to acknowledge that nobody ever intends to become addicted. However, the instant gratification and social benefits provided by alcohol create an irrefutable connection between success and alcohol. To the user, it is something that is now helping them meet one of a human’s basic needs.
Once alcohol has established itself in that tier as a “positive” thing, its effects then begin to creep down the pyramid — infecting each different tier with its tendrils, adapting itself to better impact each and every human need. As it moves through the pyramid, it acts malleable enough to fit into each tier, ingratiating itself into the psychological needs, as well as the physiological.
Alcohol and Belonging
The next step to become infected, then, would be the sense of love and belonging. Satisfied by a similar path as before, alcohol’s ability to make one a social and charismatic character can give way to a new kinship. Bars and clubs provide social opportunities that involve alcohol, and there is no shortage of people in these locations looking for something similar. Alcohol shifts from being something that can help you make new friends and begins to represent an entire venue, like a bar, that is associated with that very sense of belonging. Having infected the person’s own esteem as well as their social lives, it can continue moving down the ladder.
Alcohol and Security
Next, the very sense of security becomes infected. Another common phrase associated with alcohol is to “take the edge off.” In this sense, alcohol is used to calm one’s self in a particular kind of situation, which helps create a front of safety, comfort, and security. Addiction begins to really show itself by this stage, as it draws a connection between drinking and one’s own physical security and sense of being. It almost acts as a way to placate the anxieties of one’s own surroundings.
Alcohol as a Basic Human Physiology
Lastly, alcoholism ingrains itself within the most basic tier of human needs: physiological. It occupies the same space as the need for food, water, or air. As it encroaches on the same level of importance as basic bodily functions like sleep, it aligns itself with the most primal needs anyone can experience. Unfortunately, it is at this point that addiction is finally caught. After moving down so far, connecting itself with so many different aspects of the addicted person’s life, they now have to rewire absolutely every other tier in order to truly break an addiction. This is why beating addiction is never easy, and why by the time that addiction is caught, its effects are much more far-reaching than some may originally perceive them to be. To an addicted person, having a drink and having dinner may as well be the same thing, occupying the same need.
Reconceptualizing the world under this mindset can hopefully help caretakers understand why addiction is so difficult and is much more complicated than just a question of willpower. The process for alcohol use to get to this point takes time, and it will take even more to undo the damage and associations it has made along the way. However, all of this rewiring is necessary — as alcohol use begins to move down and affect each tier of Maslow’s pyramid, it creates more and more barriers that need to be overcome to really reach the original goal at the top of the pyramid: self-actualization.
Each person’s journey to reframing their world through a lens of sobriety will be very different, depending on the specific ways that alcoholism manifests itself. However, keeping this pyramid in mind can help create an overview of the experiences and feelings that are occupying every thought and minute of an addict’s life, and can create a generalized place to start when trying to understand their trials ahead as they begin their difficult journey in recovery.
Addiction is typically not a problem that can be faced alone. LifeTutors creates individualized paths to recovery with a holistic approach. We believe in taking a boots-on-the-ground approach to helping whoever reaches out to us. Contact us today at (828) 417-7122 to learn more about our individualized programs. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff members are ready to help you take the first step in beginning or continuing your recovery towards a life of sobriety.