What is Addiction?
There are two types of addiction, physiological and psychological. In physiological addiction, an individual is addicted to a substance on which his body has grown dependent. When the individual ceases taking the chemical substance, he begins experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, the body’s way of responding to the cessation by stating, “Hey, what did you do? I need more of what you’ve been taking.” Withdrawal can result in a variety of real physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pains. Tolerance is often seen in long term addiction. Tolerance is the body’s need to acquire more of the substance in order to reach a particular level of relaxation or “high,” as perceived by the patient. It doesn’t matter if the substance is alcohol, cannabis or tobacco.
In psychological addiction, the individual may or may not be physically addicted to a substance, but craves the “source,” which may be a substance or behavior, in order to decrease severe anxiety and stress. Psychological addiction includes sexual addiction, gambling, internet, addiction to computer games, and/or substances such as alcohol or drugs. Despite the impact on work and relationships, individuals will go to great lengths to calm the severe stress and anxiety that occurs with the absence of the substance or behavior to which they are addicted, regardless of the consequences.
Image yourself as a child, spinning around on a merry-go-round, arms outstretched, looking at the clouds, spinning and spinning until extremely dizzy, then falling to earth, looking up at the sky, noting that the environment around us continued to spin. We would laugh, enjoying the feeling of the moment that we ourselves were able to induce. This is an example of an altered state of consciousness, and is usually what occurs and the reason why individuals choose to ingest substances. They are attempting to alter their state of consciousness, because they are afraid to function in the world as it really is. This could be stress encountered in a relationship, or in other areas of their lives. Subsequently, these individuals end up taking substances to dull their feelings and emotions. By doing so, they perceive they are able to more adequately cope by decreasing their anxiety or stress. Unbeknownst to them, they are slowing becoming addicted, and believe they need the substance in order to function appropriately.
Much research has pointed to a strong hereditary component to addiction, especially with alcohol, and a propensity to abuse other drugs.
There are many factors that influence addictive behavior. It is not uncommon to see unresolved issues extending back to childhood, including family dysfunction, conflict and stress. Shy and socially awkward children grow to be shy and socially awkward adolescents, who find that if they drink, they become more socially engaging and confident, see themselves as witty and the life of the party. Subsequently, as they move on to adulthood, they will continuously need the substance in order to support their view of themselves. Should these individuals be fortunate enough to reach a treatment program, and are able to abstain from all substances, their true selves are then revealed. It is not uncommon for these individuals to feel very depressed, and may need anti-depressant medication at that time. We also see marriages and other relationships slowly deteriorate, even after treatment, as the person they married is not the person they saw while under the influence of some addictive substance. It is not uncommon to see couples where both individuals are involved with addictive substances. Therefore, when one individual “becomes clean,” it becomes very difficult for both parties to maintain their positions, and alienation from one another sadly occurs.
Sidebar: If an individual has not abused alcohol or drugs by the age of 21, there is an extremely good chance of not becoming addicted to any substance for the rest of their lives. Therefore, good role modeling is extremely important while a child is growing up, with good communication and good education by parents and teachers regarding the hazards of chemical abuse and addiction.
It is not surprising that over the last 10-20 years, abuse and addiction have been on the rise. We live in what this author calls a “fast food society, with increased environmental stressors, spiraling divorce rate, and the majority of individuals demanding fast and immediate gratification. Abuse and addiction has increased as more people attempt to alleviate stress and anxiety in their lives.
What is the treatment for Addiction?
To successfully treat addictions, the complete person must be targeted, the mind, body and spirit. There needs to be a strong social support network, including family members who also become involved in group and family therapy. Of course, there must be a strong commitment by the individual who is seeking treatment.
Individuals need to prepare themselves for the possibility of recidivism. They need to be assured that a failure is not the end of the world.
It should be noted that the most successful treatment program is the Alcoholics Anonymous philosophy and the 12-step program.
What are the Twelve Steps For Addiction Treatment?
The original 12-step of Alcoholics Anonymous are as follows:
- We admit we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives have become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continue to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us, and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all of our affairs.
These 12 steps are reprinted with permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
It should be noted that other programs have adopted the 12-step program. For example, narcotics anonymous and marijuana anonymous both have at least a 12-step program, but the steps are of course specific to the particular drug to which the person is addicted.
Some programs refer to a “higher power” instead of specifically using God’s name. This makes it more acceptable to a wider range of individuals.
From a psychologist’s point of view, there must be a cognitive understanding and acceptance by the individual that he is indeed addicted to a substance, and he has to relinquish some of this power over to something else. But there has to be an acknowledgement that they are giving up their power to another source. This other power may even be a particular family member who helps the individual through the process. We will talk about this more in group therapy.
Individuals must allow others to help them. If that does not take place, the addiction has a much higher rate of recidivism. The paddling the canoe analogy is key here. Trying to paddle a canoe by yourself is very difficult. With two people, it is much more proficient.
Individuals must understand that the will be drug tested periodically, and need to voluntarily submit to testing. Unwillingness to do so is an admission of failure.
Family members must be involved. Everyone living in the home of the individual who is being treated should be involved in group therapy and family therapy. What is not focused on enough in treatment are post-treatment issues; that is, individuals are different after therapy than prior to, and they must now reassess who they are, both at home and in the workplace, as well as in social situations. The individual must relearn who he is, as he is beginning life as a new person in a way, without the aid of a foreign substance.
Treatment lasts a lifetime. An individual will always be in treatment. That is not to say they are in formal treatment, but every day they wake up, they are performing their own treatment and treatment assessment.
There are some excellent websites on the internet. www.soberforever.org is an excellent resource. www.addictionresourceguide.com, www.drug-addiction.com, are also most helpful, along wither others.