There are many kinds of addiction but some of the most common in our society are to cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana and both legal and illegal drugs. Addiction is an illness and costs us as a society, individually, as a family and as a community. Addiction not only hurts and destroys the lives of the people who are addicted but also the lives of people they love and in turn love them.
There are other forms of addiction such as gambling, workaholism, exercise addiction, sexual and pornographic addictions, shopping and even chocolate. Whilst we may smile at the last two any behaviour in excess where there seems to be no ‘stop’ button can be classed as an addiction and the outcome of these addictions is that they are detrimental in some way to the lives of the people addicted and those around them.
Dopamine is the feel good chemical in the brain which gives the message of satisfaction regarding a certain repetitive behaviour. Due to the fact that the behaviour has made them feel good the person feels rewarded in some way – for example a couple of drinks may make them feel able to socialise better and relax them so they feel rewarded by the social contact and this reinforces the potential to do it again and again. This is called positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is also a problem when it comes to addiction though because if one smokes a cigarette and it makes them feel less anxious they begin to repeatedly use the cigarette to bring avoid the feelings of anxiety. They are using a negative device (the cigarette which will harm them) to avoid another negative feeling (anxiety). This is what is called negative reinforcement.
So people quite often become addicted to substances in an attempt to get rid of stress, depression and anxiety. After some time the person realises they don’t feel these tense emotions when they use the addictive substance or repeat the actions to which they are addicted – such as gambling. This becomes the motivation to do it more and more and also is a way to avoid the ‘lows’ of withdrawal from the addictive substances. The addiction then becomes both emotional and physical in a need to avoid the bad feelings of not physically having the substance in the body in the case of drugs, alcohol etc.
What then happens is that over time is that there are actual changes in the brain and less dopamine is produced which means more of the pleasurable substance is needed to get the same ‘feel good’ effect. So people begin to drink more, gamble more, smoke more, work harder or exercise more. All of these are then addictions.
There is a lot of evidence that some of these addictions especially alcohol and drugs can have a genetic basis and some studies have even suggested that there are specific genes responsible for these addictions within families. People who work with family systems believe that incorrect parenting and modelling can be a key factor and that excess abuse on the part of the parent has an undesirable influence on the behaviour of the child making them more susceptible to be addicts when they grow up.
Regarding the genetic impact further research is needed as none of the evidence has yet been deemed as conclusive given the input of society, environment, and peers on the addiction process. Quite often addicts see their practice as being part of a certain crowd and are in denial of the negative impact it is having on their lives.
So whilst this becomes a difficult heart wrenching topic for those involved it is also a difficult topic for the therapists involved. The problem is that it is the individual who must want to stop and handle their addiction and whilst the family needs support also in terms of therapy ultimately they cannot be responsible for the actions of the addict. This becomes very emotionally hurtful for the people that love the addict when they see the person often, as in the case of alcohol addiction lose time in drunken stupors, suffer illness perhaps of the liver and other organs, have less capacity to think clearly and less focus, have time out from work and social events because they are constantly in pursuit of the next ‘feel good’ drink.
The same could be said of gambling and drugs. So people, who are at one stage highly competent, due to their denial of their emotional pain and their lack of tools to handle it, turn to the easiest tool possible, their addiction to numb out what they really feel.
For those of us that care about these people it is useless to ask them to stop because they don’t know how and they don’t have the tools how to do it. It therefore becomes necessary to rather than give them ultimatums, nag or argue to perhaps point them in the right direction where they can go to learn those tools. The key factor here though is they must want to do it and if they don’t unfortunately no amount of ultimatums, nagging, threats or arguing will change that. Sometimes we have to make difficult choices with those people in our lives and leave them to their own devices. It’s called tough love for a reason. It’s tough on the ones that love them as well as the individual involved.
Addiction is about pain, depression and suppression. It is also about a lack of self love to the point where the person sabotages their life and in many cases wants to die. Addiction often carries with it guilt after doing the addictive action but unfortunately the person can’t find the button to stop. This makes the pain the person is going through twice as bad. Either way they can’t win. They can’t stop and they don’t want to stop but deep down they do they just can’t at the time see any other way.
A good therapist who is skilled in NLP, hypnotherapy and counselling can be of great assistance to addicts. Also can acupuncturists and energy workers as well as the many mainstream psychological and psychotherapist practices out there. It also becomes important to teach them about nutrition and balance of sleep, relaxation, exercise etc as tools for them to feel physically good but this would be further down the line in their healing process. The first step is always the hardest. That moment when the addict realises this is not working, I am done with it, I need help, and I need to learn a better way. The journey to that step is often long and hard for both the person involved and their loved ones however with enough support there are many addicts who have learnt new tools and have come out of their tunnel of turmoil to live fulfilling and productive lives. We can do anything we want to if we have the right tools and knowledge of how to use them. In this way our lives become a journey, a growing from where we are at today to a better future. That applies to all of us, not just the addict.