Addiction – What Can We Do About It?

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 addicts but also the lives of people they love and in turn love them.There are other forms of addiction such as gambling, working long hours, exercise addiction, sexual and pornographic addictions, shopping and even chocolate. Whilst we may smile at the last two any behaviour in excess where there is no ‘stop’ button can be classed as an addiction and the outcome of these addictions is that they are harmful 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 about a certain repetitive behaviour. The person feels rewarded in some way because the behaviour has made them feel good – for example a couple of drinks makes them feel relaxed and able to socialize better which reinforces the action and they do it again. This is positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is also a problem because if one smokes a cigarette (the negative device) and it makes them feel less anxious they tend to repeat this behaviour to avoid feelings of anxiety. The negative device helps them to avoid another negative feeling (anxiety). This is negative reinforcement.So people often become addicted to substances to try to get rid of stress, depression and anxiety. The person realises they don’t feel these tense emotions when they use the addictive substance and this motivates them to do it more and is a way to avoid the ‘lows’ of withdrawal. The addiction then becomes both emotional and physical in a need to avoid the bad feelings of withdrawal in the body (in the case of drugs, alcohol etc).What then happens is that over time there are changes in the brain and it produces less dopamine which means the person needs more of the pleasurable substance 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 is also a key reason and that excess abuse on the part of the parent has an undesirable influence on the behaviour of the child, so they are more susceptible to addiction when they grow up.Regarding the genetic impact we need further research as none of the evidence has yet been deemed as conclusive given that society, environment, and peers have an impact 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 the person must want to stop their addiction and whilst the family may also need support and therapy, ultimately they cannot be responsible for the actions of the addict. This becomes emotionally draining for the people who love the addict who is often perhaps in a drunken stupor, loses their social network, is aggressive and withdrawn.So people, who were once highly competent turn to their addiction as a tool to numb their emotional pain and for those of us that love them it is useless to ask them to stop because they don’t know how to heal and detox. They don’t have the tools to do it. So instead of giving them ultimatums, nag or argue it would be better to sent them to learn new tools to cope. The key factor here is they must want to do it and if they don’t nothing can change that. This leaves difficult choices to make about these people and how they affect us. 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.Good, skilled therapists in NLP, hypnotherapy, counselling, acupuncture and energy work can help addicts as well as the many mainstream psychological and psychotherapists practices out there. It also becomes important to teach them about nutrition, balancing sleep, relaxation, exercise etc as tools for them to feel physically good. However this would be later 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 come to that point is often long and hard for everyone involved however with enough support many addicts 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.