Succeeding in the modern world often means putting the needs of others ahead of the needs of the self. Those who are considered good might hold open doors for the elderly, listen to others without interrupting, give generously to charitable organizations, and otherwise behave as if serving others is the primary measure of a life well lived. Even those who don’t take kindness to this level might be expected to follow the rules of the society and at least be courteous, if they can’t be generous. But there are some people who simply can’t manage behaving in a social manner. While their antisocial behaviors could be triggered by almost anything, they may be tied directly to the use and abuse of drugs.
Almost any act that puts the needs of an individual over the needs of a group could be considered antisocial. For example, in an article in TIME, researchers measured the number of times people attempted to keep two seats to themselves while on a bus, and those behaviors were labeled antisocial. Since this type of behavior could keep a weary person from getting a seat, the antisocial label might very well be fitting. However, this is also the type of behavior that almost everyone has engaged in from time to time. Putting a coat over a seat in order to get just an iota of privacy might not be nice, but it might not be aptly considered part of a dysfunctional thought pattern.
When most people discuss antisocial behavior, they’re attempting to outline acts that fall outside the range of what might be considered normal. People like this might:
- Have a lack of empathy for others
- Express their opinions at length without listening to others
- Feel comfortable with breaking laws
- Exploit others
- Harm animals
- Lie often
People who have some of these traits might blend into the background, seeming just a little unusual or a little hostile, but people who have many or all of these traits might struggle to have any friends at all, and they might even spend a significant amount of time in jail, due to the choices they’ve made.
People with these sorts of traits don’t tend to shift rapidly, moving from calm gentleness one day to callus cruelty the next. Instead, people who behave this way often follow a specific set of steps that begin early in childhood. An article in the journal American Psychologist suggests that the progression begins with genetic propensity, as people who have antisocial behaviors tend to have relatives with the same sorts of traits. As these people grow and exhibit these behaviors, they tend to be shunned by their peers and the people around them. They also tend to fail in school. This can lead people to seek out peers, and they might affiliate with peers who take drugs or behave in deviant ways.
This is an important progression to understand, as it may help to explain how drug addiction tends to infuse antisocial behavior in some people. These youngsters may feel misunderstood and superior to the people around them, and they may form bonds with other young people who use and abuse drugs and alcohol. In no time at all, they might also begin to dabble in drug use and abuse.
Spending time with others who consider themselves outcasts might also feed into continued acts along the antisocial spectrum.
These people may seem as though they’re immune to the influence of their peers, but if everyone in the environment is behaving badly, antisocial acts become normalized and the behaviors might even grow more extreme. If that environment also includes drug use, people might quickly progress from use to abuse in no time at all, simply because the behavior is accepted.
If left in place, drug addiction can make people with antisocial behaviors much worse.
They might be much more impulsive, willing to do things they might never have considered in the past. In some cases, this could lead to violent acts against oneself or others. In other cases, this could lead to crimes like theft or animal abuse. Any of these acts could land people in jail, and their sentences could be long and painful.
People with these conditions might also feel more disconnected and isolated, and this could keep them from healing. Overcoming an antisocial behavior pattern means connecting with others and understanding the way they feel and the things they need. If drug abuse is in place, people could be wrapped in their own blanket of intoxication, not talking to others or even seeing them at all, and this could keep them from making the connections that could help them to heal.
An article published in Psych Central suggests that antisocial behaviors tend to fade with time, until the most intense symptoms are lost when the person reaches age 40 or 50. Most people would agree, however, that a significant amount of damage could be done in 50 years of life, and that people with underlying drug addictions might hold onto their behaviors when they’ve blown out the candles on their 50th birthday cake. It’s just not the kind of behavior that should be left in place in the hopes that it will disappear on its own. Instead, it’s the sort of behavior that should be addressed directly and proactively.
Approach with Care
People with antisocial behaviors are accustomed to using drama and manipulation to get what they want, and it’s not surprising that they would respond in unappealing ways when they’re approached about their behaviors.
People like this might very well express their displeasure by:
- Suggesting that the speakers are lying
- Walking away
Hiring an interventionist may be helpful. These professionals study addiction, and they know how to frame a conversation in such a way that the talk seems supportive and loving, rather than hurtful and harmful. These professionals can also help to educate the family on the nature of addiction before the talk begins, so they’ll understand the feelings the person they love might have before the discussion even starts. An interventionist can also step in with leadership and advice if the talk begins to move in the wrong direction and the person begins to misbehave.
At the end of a successful intervention, the family can enroll the person in a treatment program that can help. It might be tempting to focus exclusively on the addiction at this point, as this is the issue that might be causing the family the most pain at the moment, but it’s important to remember that the antisocial behavior also lies underneath the substance use and abuse issue. In some cases, that behavior has its roots in a diagnosable form of mental illness, and that must also be treated.
At the beginning of a treatment program, the person might be provided with a battery of mental health tests. At the end of this testing period, the professionals might find that the person has an antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia or even depression. With this diagnosis in hand, a proper treatment program can be pulled together to address all of the issues the person has.
Dual Diagnosis programs like this might be ideal for the person you love, but it might be hard for you to find a program like this on your own. We can help. Please call us, and we can help you look for just the right kind of facility that could help the person you love.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton