Once an addict, always an addict.
You’ve heard that phrase many times, haven’t you? Whether cocaine, heroin, alcohol or sex! It’s reinforced everywhere you go mainly by the people/companies/groups that are trying to help you recover! Imagine that, your best hope for help comes from the same camp as the people who say you can’t be helped. This is why addiction statistics go up every year. Lifestyle and environment are one of the main causative factors of addiction and with modern-day stress, on the increase, people are turning to substances for what they aren’t getting in their life and the help out there really isn’t that effective, which, if you’re reading this, you know all about.
We are pack animals so when we’re in a group we feel safe and protected. This is why the relapse rate is so high following group-work and rehab centres, we feel better in the group but eventually, the group-work ends and we’re thrown into the same environment as before the group-work started so the addiction is triggered again. You see, it’s not often the work in the group that helps, it’s being in the safety of the group that meets our unmet needs.
There is strong evidence for past trauma and human needs not being met for us turning to a substance, be it alcohol, sex, cigarettes, opiates (the list is almost endless), for a coping mechanism to the stress and anxiety of modern life. The substance isn’t the problem, the reason for the urge that chases the substance is what we need to focus on. Behind addiction are feelings of pain, suffering, anxiety and many others such as guilt and shame, the substance is used as a coping mechanism to feel better, unless the underlying cause is addressed the chances for prolonged recovery are reduced.
An interesting study with rats was carried out based on an experiment in the 1980s. The experiment was simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
A professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling. The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
What this study taught us about addictive behavior is that the very addiction, at some level, is a coping mechanism for an unmet need which the brain duly tries to satisfy. If all our needs are being met then there is no need for the brain to ‘help’ you by finding something/substance to find satisfaction in.
In the Brain
There are chemicals in the brain that are part of the addiction feeling called dopamine and serotonin. On a very basic level, it’s the dopamine that motivates us to do what is necessary to meet our needs and once a need has been met then serotonin is released which makes us feel sated and happy whilst inhibiting the motivation drive of dopamine. When serotonin levels are low, the motivating effects of dopamine in the brain become amplified. In this scenario, anything that might be associated with the motivating need, say hunger, becomes strongly provocative. Seeing an advertisement for food, thinking of a kitchen table, hearing someone snacking on the train, all become strong triggers for dopamine and the motivation to sate hunger. Stress, especially chronic inescapable stress, lowers serotonin. When serotonin is low, not only do cravings increase, but depression and anxiety can also result. In this way, a person can become vulnerable to any substitute that has an effect on dopamine and serotonin levels, such as alcohol, drugs, or addictive processes such as sex, gambling or overeating, Thus, the addiction cycle begins.
In the Mind
Your brain doesn’t just create an addiction randomly, it needs an instruction, a signal, This is where your mind comes into play. Who we are now is a construct of everything before us. If you were a child and watched an alcoholic parent drink every day then your inquisitive and pattern-matching mind would think this is the correct behavior and you may find a desire to drink every day too, just like the little child watching Mum from his pram smoke every day, this becomes learned behavior.
Trauma, if not reconciled, leaves a footprint in our mind of certain needs not being met. For example, child sex abuse can leave someone growing up with a warped idea of love and thinking that to feel the love you must have sex, so the need for love becomes a sex addiction. A drug, to some people, is more reliable than a family who constantly lets them down so the drug fulfills a need so then you have a drug addiction. When the stress of daily life gets overwhelming then getting drunk is a way of escaping that so you develop an alcohol addiction. This is only a small representation of how an addiction can be formed, there are many, many others too.
The Six Stages of Addiction Recovery
Three eminent psychologists, Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente, initially developed this model to describe the process of adopting any healthy behavior. However, it is now one of the most widely used and accepted models within the field of substance abuse and addiction treatment.
Stage One: Pre-Contemplation
You are not considering change and are unaware of the negative consequences of your actions. You may be certain that the perceived positive aspects of your substance abuse outweigh the negatives. There is no apparent need for change and you are unlikely to take action soon.
Stage Two: Contemplation
You have become aware of some of the problems caused by your substance abuse but feel ambivalent about change and have not yet decided to commit to abstinence. You explore the potential to change your behavior but lack commitment.
Stage Three: Preparation
You have concluded that the negatives of your addictive behavior outweigh the positives and have decided to change. You begin to plan steps toward your recovery by committing to treatment. It is important to share your decision to change with the people in your life.
Stage Four: Action
You take your first action steps toward change, consciously choosing new behaviors, learning to overcome the tendencies toward unwanted behaviors and engaging in change. This stage is when you try positive behaviors and develop new life skills. You identify high-risk situations and develop coping strategies to overcome them.
Stage Five: Maintenance
You are sustaining the changes and self-control accomplished in Stage Four on a long-term basis. This is a good opportunity to evaluate your present actions and redefine your long-term sobriety maintenance plans, including relapse prevention. Relapse are common in around 50% of cases at this stage but at every relapse the motivation to be clean gets stronger as long as you have appropriate external and internal support, so relapses should not be viewed as a negative, more 1 step back to then take 2 steps forward.
Stage Six: Termination
At the termination stage, you will have adopted a new self-image consistent with desired behavior and don’t surrender to temptation in any situation. You appreciate your healthier and happier life by expressing confidence and self-control. The relapse prevention plan has evolved into the pursuit of a meaningful and healthy lifestyle. As such, relapse into the former way of life becomes almost unthinkable.
Understanding where you are in this model is essential for progress. You must only contact me at the ACTION stage when you are ready and you know NOW is the time to be free of your addiction.
Does this sound like you? Could be alcohol, cocaine, love, if that sounds like you then I’d love to hear from you.
“I drank for happiness and became unhappy.
I drank for joy and became miserable.
I drank for sociability and became argumentative.
I drank for sophistication and became obnoxious.
I drank for friendship and made enemies.
I drank for sleep and woke up tired.
I drank for strength and felt weak.
I drank for relaxation and got the shakes.
I drank for courage and became afraid.
I drank for confidence and became doubtful.
I drank to make conversation easier and slurred my speech.
I drank to feel heavenly and ended up feeling like hell.”
What is your addiction costing you? Isn’t it time to change?
Seeing Paul was the best choice I could’ve made to be free of my cocaine addiction. I’ve tried rehab centres, recovery partnerships, therapists and so much more. A friend recommended me to Paul and straight away I felt that he understood me, didn’t judge me or feel pity, he just was excited at working with me as he saw my potential where others didn’t. He moved me from what he called ‘my problem state into my solution state’ and I can honestly say I’ve never felt better! My kids have got their Dad back, my wife has her husband and I feel clear and focused for the first time in ages! When I think of the money I wasted up my nose and what I smoked it makes me shudder, but I’m back now, for me and my family. I’m eternally grateful to Paul.