Who is the Addict?
What intrigues me most about addictions is how it strikes so indiscriminately, regardless of age, race, gender or socioeconomic standing. While there are people who may be more prone to addiction, for instance, those with a genetic predisposition or victims of abuse, I have found that the clients I counsel for addictions are really just normal, everyday people. They are regular folks you probably interact with on a daily basis throughout your community. Since I hold confidentiality to be ironclad and sacred I would never divulge any information about who my clients are. However, suffice it to say, that most would be surprised to learn how addiction strikes so many among us that we know, love and respect.
The stigma of addiction is often the image of a person shooting up heroin, or drinking a bourbon (instead of a coffee) with breakfast. Yes, there is truth to these stereotypes, but consider how far-reaching addiction can be. Take food for instance. We all know people who cannot stop after a few potato chips, no matter how badly they want to. Against their every will, the hand keeps dipping into the bag until it reaches the bottom.
The Internet is another vehicle which draws people in. Without realizing it, an otherwise productive person has spent hours on end surfing the web and unable to stop; not to mention when the addiction extends itself down the endless road of online pornography. Even tasks like shopping can be taken to extremes, where a person spends beyond their limits, maxing out credit cards and unable to stop.
From sex, love and masturbation to caffeine, smoking and gambling – the addictive person can take a seemingly neutral behavior and struggle with their inability to practice moderation. It consumes them in a way which the non-addict can often not comprehend. Moreover, their behaviors tend to be destructive on many levels including to finances, relationships, career and severe risks to physical health.
The family of the addict requires special assistance and education to be able to best cope and help support the road towards recovery and sobriety. It is important to understand the power of the addiction over the person and to know that they are not trying to be hurtful to the ones they love. Rather, they are plagued by a very real condition, which requires the love and support of family and friends. As there is a fine line between support and enabling, this is where a properly trained counselor and support system is required for both the addict and their family.
To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.
Indulgence or Addiction: Where is the Fine Line?
Today’s world offers a smorgasbord of enticing gateway drugs that can appeal to virtually anyone. That’s right, no longer does a person have to be a full-blown heroin addict to struggle with substance abuse. Addictions and dependencies can be connected to virtually anything – not only addictive chemicals such as nicotine. Consider that things such as ice-cream, coffee, TV, internet, shopping, music, Netflix and exercise are generally not considered to be inherently harmful, yet, when they are used in a maladaptive or compulsive manner, they can develop into full-blown addictions.
The reason for this is because addictions are rooted deep within a void that exists in the mind of the addict. Often, it is a disturbing or traumatic early experience in childhood which created an insecurity. Maybe it was a bad experience with a parent, teacher or friend, but it left a void that never healed. Later on, as an adult, when a person hits a wall, he or she will subconsciously confront those same uncomfortable feelings. As a coping mechanism, the brain begins to crave something soothing, an escape of sorts, which allows the addict to fill the emptiness that lies deep within them.
For some, the escape can be alcohol or drugs, for others it could be withdrawing to the couch to eat an entire pie of pizza. Interestingly, most people assume that the object of addiction – such as the cigarette or whiskey, is the primary attachment, as if to suggest that the alcoholic is drawn to alcohol. However, in most cases, the attachment is not to the object, but actually, to the act of self-soothing. For the alcoholic, they happen to have chosen whiskey; but it just as well could have been video games, sex, work or chewing tobacco. The common thread is that they are all being used as instruments of escape and ultimately, become the single most important relationship in the addict's life.
As the brain is the most complicated organ in the body, it can be difficult to understand addictions. However, keep in mind that the brain is perpetually producing and balancing chemicals that help maintain emotional equilibrium. However, when one finds an addictive substance or routine (such as binge eating or watching Netflix all day and night) to serve as their primary form of soothing and escape – it replaces the brains need to regulate itself chemically. Thus, whenever a person feels a “low”, instead of the brain producing the needed chemical regulations, the addict’s brain flags that feelings as a “craving”. It is at that point that the addict starts looking; searching for a fix to regulate their equilibrium and pick themselves up artificially.
While it provides a temporary relief, the problem with this solution, is that it is maladaptive. Ultimately, it will deteriorate a person’s health, well-being or relationships. Addictions are certainly enjoyable as they provide a temporary escape from reality, pain, loneliness or suffering. However, what happens afterward?
Often, a person is left in a state of shame, depression, lack of funds, or perhaps, deeper emptiness – which for the addict only has one solution – further indulgence in their drug of choice. It is in this context, that a mere "innocent" indulgence, such an extra piece of desert (or two) can start to get out of control, and like the flip of a switch, turn into an addiction.
It is this uncontrollable spiraling, which requires intense support from friends and family and the help of a properly trained therapist to teach the addict new coping mechanisms which are healthy. On a positive note, over time and through recovery, the inner void can be filled with new and more productive habits. The brain itself can be slowly weaned from the addiction and can be “recalibrated” to once again regulate itself in a healthy manner, without the need to seek the soothing of an addiction in order to cope with the stress of everyday life. While anyone can be susceptible to developing an addiction, the good news is that they are also capable of recovery!
When Does an Addict Seek Treatment?
There tends to be a significant barrier to therapy for many addicts. Consider the road that the addict travels. They manage their secret as long as possible, slowly sinking deeper and deeper until one of two things happen. Either they are discovered and face the shame that comes with it – forcing them to seek treatment and rebuild their lives.
Alternatively, they reach a point where their secret is too much for them to handle and the addiction has taken over their life to the extent where they simply can no longer function. In this case, the addict is in the pre-contemplation stage. This is where they he or she knows that an intervention is needed and something has to change. They feel ready to make a change, however, they still need to cross the giant chasm that is moving from thoughts of recovery toward action.
There are a number of avenues for recovery including the renowned 12-Step programs, which can be invaluable to support the addict and their family. The primary barrier for many people this case, however, is being “found out”. To walk into an open meeting, one faces the fear of bumping into their neighbor, pastor pharmacist or child’s teacher.
“How can I seek treatment if it means that word is going to get out?
This might cost me my marriage, job or standing in the community?!”
The important thing to realize in these settings is that it is a safe and confidential environment. The meetings are built upon a fellowship which is aimed at embracing and supporting each other, as everyone else at the meeting has the same secret and is equally trusting you with it. Many have reported that by sharing their addiction with others, it has been liberating, as if a weight has been lifted from them. This is particularly true, in an environment where they feel that others understand them, and without judgment, support them.
Furthermore, in today’s tech environment, those with busy schedules who may otherwise not be able to attend daily meetings can participate in online and phone meetings throughout the day. Though they are absolutely helpful and effective, they still do have the same impact as face-to-face meetings.
Finally, having a properly trained therapist can make all the difference, whether in addition to, or in place of 12-Step meetings. It should be someone you feel comfortable with and are willing to open up to honestly. The types of modalities which have been proven to be particularly effective includes a combination of Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and psychotherapy. The support that the addict receives will be most effective, when in conjunction with therapy or support for one’s family members. Since the recovery process can be a long road which impacts the entire household, thinking about the bigger picture will produce stronger results.
To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.