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Addiction and Acu-Psychiatry

Addictions: Keeping It “Simple” Can be Complex

My views about addictions and recovery from them have taken many turns over the years.   So have the attitudes, implied and explicit judgments of the government and healthcare profession.   Regardless, most can agree that addiction is escalating.

Addiction devastates emotional/spiritual growth, one’s most precious relationships, and optimism about life.     The habit makes one a slave to maintaining it, reinforces the belief that the only way to cope with life is to “escape.”  That person exists in a 24/7 anticipation of being found out, going into withdrawal, and being left alone in an uncaring world and isolated from those who care about them.

We live in a cloud of cultural confusion.

How do we separate out the slogans,  the clichés that are tossed out as today’s revelations from what’s really a problem?

Addiction is tainted by conflicting attitudes mirrored in our culture.  For example, casual sex is promoted by the media as a positive activity.  In a Recovery Program, those who partake do it are “sex addicts.”  Money, educational degrees, multitasking are equated with “success. “ but those who “excel” are “workaholics” and “Type A,” terms of pathology.   The highest scores in the GAF, Global Level of Functioning used by mental health professionals, are awarded to those who can “successfully” juggle more activities than others. But many lack personal lives and those who do have not had the time or intention to bond with family members.

On the other hand, those who don’t choose to excel, meaning climb some metaphorical ladder to “success” are labeled “underachievers.”   Little to no  attention is given to one’s quality of life or personal happiness.  An invisible yardstick taints our default judgments:  More has got to be better.

Living provides an ongoing “confrontation” between our needs and wants versus reality.  We are born into dependency, a baby with a baby outlook.  The world must be here to take care of us.  We need to believe this because we are so needy.    Trust in a caring world allows us take many “first” steps literally and metaphorically to learn how to take care of ourselves.  But this involves lots of letting-go drama between our egos and life.  To participate in life, we need to slowly let go that we are the “Center” of it.  Otherwise, we are chronically frustrated about what “life” is not doing for us.  The resentment deprives us of potentially healing experiences that allow us to love life without being the “Center.”

Many of us need a break from rigors of this “growing up. “  We need to retreat and soothe ourselves.  How do we do it? When people get overwhelmed with this “journey” they seek  more than break.  They want a leave of absence.  Some breaks lead to long-term catastrophes. Drug and alcohol are up there, on the list.

There’s nothing high about “getting high.”

This cliché serves to reassure those who are addicted that there’s nothing “wrong,” just because they are using.  Others use this cliché also to explain addictive behaviors.   But “getting high” explains nothing.  Drugs are not appealing if someone already feels sufficiently grounded  about his/her life.   Those who call it “high” usually feel uncomfortable in their bodies, surroundings, and roles in life.  Some don’t feel anything at all. Feeling nothing can be more painful than pain.  Drugs are about escape.

Addiction is caused by more than availability of drugs. True, there’s a street “drug abundance” (opiates, heroin, bath salts, and others) which certainly makes addiction  “convenient.”  But blaming easy access is misleading.  Why do some people seek it as an option or solution and others would not consider it?

Addiction is a label, but not “a” disease.  Everyone is more than “just an addict.”   All sorts of people get addicted for all sorts of reasons.

Labeling someone an addict does not say much.  Those with chronic illnesses live in a different universe from those who are shut-down,  lacking purpose or  feel they belong  in life. Many of those who become addicted believe they are alone with what scares them..  Sometimes, that’s true.. They may have parents or other family members, but don’t experience an emotional connection with them.  They face their demons alone. Like most of us, they can’t.  They run.

I believe this category “addict” is overused.  It’s not the drug that defines the person.  There is no “cocaine” or “heroin” addict, except in the grossest simplification.   What’s the pain that individual  is trying to address?