Resistance & Substance Use – Headphones

Resistance & Substance Use – Headphones


Resistance – ‘The refusal to accept or comply with something’. (Oxford Living Dictionaries, 2018)

At times, it can be quite confusing when an individual comes into treatment to address their substance use, and then resist entering into the necessary transition towards taking control of their life.   They state that they want to regain control of their substance use and are willing to do anything it takes yet resist the steps required to embark on this journey.

It is important to be aware of how difficult this can be for the service user, as they are attempting to move away from a world they have created through their use of substances. The worker may think that the world they have created is chaotic, dangerous and unpredictable and want to support them to make it safer at least. But the service user may understand their world completely and connect with it through familiarity.

Let us explore the scenario using the metaphor of Adam and his headphones!

As Adam leaves his house heading towards the tube station, the outside world is noisy and seems quite miserable. Taking in everything that is going on around him, the world seems busy and Adam is fully exposed to all of the activity surrounding him.

Remembering he has headphones in his pocket, he decides to listen to some music. He puts on the headphones and tunes in to his one of the playlists on his phone. Within seconds, he is lost in the new world he has created. He finds himself bumping into people on the street, no longer fully aware of what is going on around him. He is rescued from accident by a passerby as he crosses the road without looking, his sense of safety having been compromised as he is lost in the sweet sounds coming through the headphones and filling his ears and mind.

Entering the tube station, the busy and mundane atmosphere blends into the background as he is elevated into a world where the music becomes the centre of the universe. He is so unaware of what is happening outside of his headset that he has to turn the music down when the train stops inside a tunnel to hear the announcement to explain what is going on. This tears Adam away from the intimate world that he’s created through their headphones and back into the real world.

How often have we heard somebody singing along to their music so loud, lost in their world and seemingly oblivious to their surroundings?

When we talk about ‘substances’, they also work in the same way. They allow an individual to build their own world that is intimate and private to them. Their view of the world changes when they use the substance as they can be whatever or whomever they want to be. There may be danger, chaos and unpredictability, but when compared to the real world, this is more familiar, better known. They may instead get a sense that the external world is predictable, chaotic and dangerous. The internal world that they have created allows them to wipe out the mundane and predictable regime of their external everyday lives. It’s called a ‘high’, and often it can feel irresistible.

So what if we were to remove Adam’s headphones and force him into the external world? Would he not respond with shock and irritation? Might they immediately replace their headphones?   THIS IS RESISTANCE!


Christopher Robin

Managing Director Enigma Drug & Alcohol Consultancy 







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