Adapted from Engs, R.C. Alcohol and Other Drugs: Self Responsibility, Tichenor Publishing Company, Bloomington, IN, 1987. (c) Tichenor Publishing Group. Used with permission. All rights reserved. (c) Copyright Ruth C. Engs, Bloomington, IN, 1996

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Meeting Basic Needs

All of us have certain basic needs that must be met in order for us to survive. If these needs are not met, we will die or else will cease to function on a positive psychological, sociological, or emotional level. Abraham Maslow characterizes these needs as-

Andrew Weil feels that we have a basic need to change or alter conscious awareness. This appears to be a need that transcends culture, race, age, intelligence, and other human and personal characteristics. It is a universal need and can be seen in a variety of activities people have done for centuries. Young children in all cultures like to swing on ropes or swings until they are dizzy, and individuals in many different cultures will dance and sing for hours without stopping. Moreover, members of all cultures have engaged in some type of meditation or physical activity that changes conscious states. Even drug use has been common throughout history to change conscious states.

This need to change conscious awareness is just as strong as the other basic needs. The need appears to be instinctual, and it is cyclical. In many ways it is similar to the sexual need. The urge to relieve tension is felt spontaneously from within the individual. It reaches a peak, finds pleasure in relief, and then dissipates. The rhythm is different for everyone. However, the satisfaction of this need, like the meeting of any basic need, can be accomplished in a responsible and safe way or in a dangerous and irresponsible manner.

The fulfillment of the need to change conscious awareness has been achieved throughout history in medical, religious, and recreational settings. It has been facilitated through the creative process, in the enhancement of physical performance, and in risk taking. Moreover, this need to change conscious awareness has been realized through these activities and social processes both with and without the use of drugs.

Religion. Meditation, chanting, prayer, Yoga, Zen, and similar exercises are found in most societies as a means of changing consciousness in a religious setting. Alcohol, the most commonly used drug throughout history, has been used by many cultures in conjunction with religious ceremonies. Some groups have used hallucinogenic mushrooms, cactus, seeds, and other herbs to better communicate with the gods or higher powers so as to gain inner peace, inspiration, or prophecy as part of this religious consciousness-changing experience.

Medical Settings. In medical settings, the relief of pain in particular has been accomplished throughout time by such techniques as chanting, hypnotism, acupuncture, the "laying of hands," and herbs such as opium, marijuana, and alcohol. In the cures of many illnesses, changes in consciousness occur that relieve the symptoms, especially if the symptoms are psychological in origin.

In the average primary-care physician's office, it has been estimated that approximately 75 percent of all patients have psychologically induced illnesses or symptoms, including ulcers, headaches, rashes, weakness, and even the common "cold". In many cases, the symptoms of these and other illnesses will disappear with the administration of a placebo or "sugar pill". A change in consciousness has occurred in the person, who believes that he or she has received some kind of medication to relieve the problem, and the symptoms go away. This placebo effect is undoubtedly the primary reason behind healing from prayer, chanting, incense, voodoo, and other methods that have been and are still used in a variety of cultures to cure illnesses.

Recreational Settings. The desire to change consciousness has also been exhibited in recreational settings and secular festivals. Most celebrations, such as the winter, spring, and autumn festivals in many cultures, are accompanied by the use of alcohol or hallucinogens. The greeting of relatives and friends, the making of peace or war, the vanquishing of an enemy, the celebration of love or a loved one have all been accompanied in most cultures by a change in consciousness induced either by dancing, chanting, or using a variety of natural drugs.

Physical Performance. Throughout history, athletes and warriors have used various drugs to change conscious awareness prior to undertaking tough physical ventures. Alcohol has been used before battles by many armies to dull pain and give courage. Coca was used by relay runners in Peru to dull fatigue and hunger and to give strength for running. In the past few years there has been mass media coverage of athletes and body builders using a variety of drugs, including steroids and cocaine, to stimulate psychological states and physical performance. Some Vietnam veterans have said they smoked hashish before going into a battle, to quell their fears.

Risk Taking and Rebellion. An altered conscious state or "thrill" can result from doing something that is risky or against prevailing social mores. Potentially dangerous activities such as skydiving, hang gliding or motorcycle racing can cause a "high" or change in conscious state. The person feels energized and excited while engaged in the behavior. Negative social behaviors, such as street gang fighting or "joy riding" in a stolen car, can also produce this effect in young people. These activities, however, tend to cause anxiety or anger in adult authority figures such as parents and teachers. The use of illicit drugs is also considered exciting and thrilling to adolescents because it is illegal and causes anxiety and anger in adults. Unfortunately, society's attempt to control drug abuse by making the substances illegal often makes them more attractive to rebellious individuals.

Peer Pressure. Many individuals begin to use drugs or engage in certain behaviors so as to be "one of the in group." They feel that if they do not use a certain substance, they will not be accepted by the individuals with whom they wish to associate. Peer pressure can be subtle, and it is not limited to youth. For example, at a restaurant meal, a person may feel he/she has to have a drink when he/she really does not wish to because "everyone else is doing it."


The excessive use of drugs or other substances more readily occurs during adolescence, young adulthood, and midlife developmental crisis stages as a way for the individual to escape the confusion of the situation. These periods are necessary turning point's in the person's life, critical moments at which successful resolution can help the individual find his or her way to a more happy and mature life.

Five tasks in the young adult crisis period may cause problems for the individual for the rest of his or her life if they are not successfully accomplished. These adolescent life development tasks, as defined by Coons are as follows: