Addiction affects us many ways. We work too much, eat too much, and drink too much. We look for ways to self medicate when we feel the slightest of uncomfortable feelings. Society doesn’t really encourage us to feel what is really going on or to stay in touch with what is really important either. To be sober, or soberminded, is to be in touch with reality. It is to see what really is there, hear what is really being said and to experience our feelings. We don’t need to always follow our feelings; but they do provide us with information. It is what we do with them. Christ despised the shame, but still experienced it.
Recovery is the process where we are tired of using and we say good by to our ‘drug of choice.’ The process of recovery is three-fold: Physical, Emotional and Spiritual. Some substances have a direct effect on our nervous system like alcohol, pot, street drugs and prescription medicine. Other addictions are called process addictions as they involve behaviors like sex, gambling, spending, work and Internet use. Don’t be fooled. These behaviors can be very addictive and affect our brains just as much.
Emotionally, addicts are numb. That is why many people with addiction look so good. They function pretty well. They appear even tempered at the beginning stages, because they are sedating ourselves with the glass of wine at night, the porn fix weekly or the “shopping therapy” on the weekend. They really don’t really think that there is anything wrong. This is what is called denial. A spouse, parents or concerned person begins to feel more than they addict is feeling. As the concerned person becomes more motivated to help the addict, the addict does less to help their own life. The need to be “independent” and not controlled is a very strong need. It surpasses rational thinking and logic. They unconsciously choose to continue in their addictive cycle rather than look at the reality of what is going and doing what their spouse wants. Thus feeling “independent,” they are actually dependent on the eating, drinking, working, shopping, gambling, lusting or drug use.
What Addiction does to Us
The Physiology of Addiction
There is a center in our brain called the “Cingulate Gyrus.” This area has to do with attention. It is the “channel changer” in our brain. When this works well, we are able to see options, have cognitive flexibility and be able to shift our attention from one idea to the next. When it doesn’t work well, we get STUCK, not being able to get a thought, worry or resentment out of our minds. People who struggle with “Cingulate Gyrus” problems tend to hold on to resentments from the past, worry a lot, and their brains gets into a lock-in mode. These people often come from alcoholic homes. Addiction is appealing to them. It momentarily takes away the obsession and resentment and numbs it with pleasant feelings. But the obsession become switched to the obsession to use or compulsion to act out. We know that sexual addiction and compulsive gambling affect the same center of the brain, “Cingulate Gyrus,” as in cocaine addiction. Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist whose clinics have looked at more that 20,000 SPECT brain scans of individuals, has provided us with a lot of useful information regarding addiction. His website, amenclinics.com is very helpful.
No one wants to think about brain damage from alcohol and drug use. It is a great way to bring the part down. But it is the truth. Drug users and alcoholics who have used think that once they stop using their brains get reset back to their original state. This is not the case. To be fair, there is evidence to say that antidepressants and other psychotropic medication alters physical structures of the brain. People take fish oil, Omega 3 which contain the fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are the building blocks of the brain. So, what we put into our bodies has an effect not only on our body but our brains.
An Example – MDMA (Ecstacy)
Let’s look at the damaged caused in the brain of a monkey that was given MDMA (Ecstasy). Ecstasy affects serotonin levels. It is like getting four days of serotonin in four hours. Although it is pleasurable, it is like an “ice cream scoop to the brain” as one colleague put it. Fig. A shows the brain of a monkey before the MDMA was administered. Fig. B is two weeks after the after the monkey was administered 5mg of MDMA twice a day for four days. There is a reduction of serotonin fibers of 83% – 95% in the brain. After 7 years it appears that the brain is regenerating, but much of the damage is still there.
This may be really disturbing if you are one who has used Ecstasy. I would encourage you that it might be better for you to know this than not. This will help you realize how to recovery physicially, emotionally and spiritually. I have counseled with people who have put their lives back together. They used every thing than can from medication, exercise, supplements, fish oil, brain boosting products and brain exercises. We know that our livestyle can influence brain growth. So be encouraged. To read the full article this image was taken from, click here.
Opiates and Painkillers
Pain killers can really become addictive. Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percoset and Heroin can destroy one’s life faster than alcohol and pot. The reason is that you can build tolerance pretty fast. This is when you need more of the drug to get the same results or “high.” People say that they had a knee or back problem, they go to the doctor and the doctor gives them oxycontin. It is difficult to know whether they are “drug seeking” or the doctor is pushing it on them not understanding the dangers. It is hard to believe that this is happening, but it is. Heroin is less expensive the Oxycodone and so more and more people are getting hook on this opiate. Teens, adults, men and women who are good people but started to have their judgment affected. People may not steal for alcohol or marijuana, but they will for opiates.
Opiates work in the center of the brain that would make you “care” about pain. It doesn’t really take the pain away, but changes the way you perceive the pain. When we are using an opiate the body/mind doesn’t really distinguish between physical and emotional pain. How does one know if they are taking the pill to fix the physical pain from the back injury at work, or are they taking it for the stress, anxiety or depression associated with financial mess, or boredom or family problems now that they are home all the time. With increased tolerance, the body wants more and more of the drug.
One problem is that opiates work too well. Some describe it like a divine or heavenly state, free from all care and worry. Others describe the extreme pleasure associated with it. There are small amounts of opiates in cheese and chocolate. No wonder have a hard time just having one piece. If one took Naloxone, an opiate blocker, before eating chocolate, it would not taste good at all. The “good taste” is the chocolate that we think is about our taste buds is really about a warm sensation in the brain. One of the side effects of opiates is constipation. It is no wonder that cheese can be constipating. We may not steal for chocolate or cheese, but we would for that feeling that is magnified 100-1000 times. Recovery from the heroine or oxycontin addict can take many forms. It is really important that they get the necessary support from doctors, counselors, pastors, priests, friends, and family members. We may not understand what they are going through, but we can educate ourselves to learn what is helpful and what is not. Narcotics Anonymous is a 12 step group that is useful for successful recovery. Family members could look into Al-Anon Family Groups which could help you learn how to enable and how to walk this fine line between being controlling and enabling. A video on Oxycontin – Hillbilly Heroin. Click Here
Solutions to Get Free
There is not just one single method to get free from addiction. I do believe that 12 step programs is the single most powerful approach to getting free. That does not mean that one shouldn’t use counseling, mindfulness, ACT therapy, nutrition, exercise, sleep and treatment centers. It just depends. Where you are, what you are struggling with, how long you have struggled with it and other circumstances in your life.
Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs
Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs (Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous) have helped countless individuals who have struggled with addiction. The steps are simple spiritual processes that when utilized help people overcome what they could not do on their own. These principles, even though they appear simplistic, are pretty profound and life changing once they are explored, understood and practiced. The recovering addict claims “spiritual progress, rather than perfection.” (taken from the book Alcoholics Anonymous) Perfection was part of the disease. Addicts could not admit many mistakes, imperfection or any problems prior to recovery. Why? Shame is a big part of it. We tend to use the word shame to describe what in fact is really, “toxic shame.” Healthy shame reminds us that “we are not God.” Most of the shame addicts experience is this “toxic shame,” that is not being human. To compensate for the sense of shame, they are perfectionists. It is difficult for them to be honest with themselves about their faults, their shortcomings and the life in general. Without honesty, there is little growth. So unrecovered addicts tend to repeat the same mistakes without ever learning. Shame makes them arrogant, prideful and “better than life.” They are in a “better than/less than” dance. You are either better than them or less than them. Health is recognizing that each person was created by God and that we have all been affected by the fall. This disease has affect us all. Since we have the serum, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, why then do we pretend to not have the disease. Shame? If we can only see ourselves as we really how, think how much more we could repent and make progress. In a shame-free environment, there is acceptance. Acceptance of another human weaknesses and strengths. By accepting we don’t meaning condoning sinful behavior, but acknowledging and dealing with it. Because of shame we don’t even want to deal with it. We bury it. We repress it. We actually don’t think it is there. That is why so many alcoholics don’t really think that there is a problem. Shame is the experience of being a “defective human being.” Recovery helps us see that we are a “human being with defects.” This shift in our approach to ourselves, helps us see ourselves as we really are and then repent and recover.
The Illusion of Control and the Letting Go Process
Another element that addicts experience is that they feel so out of control, that they overcompensate by trying to control the externals–people, place, situation. Letting go is foreign to the life of an addict. In essence, they are “control freaks.” We tend to think of negative situations involving control. But control can be trying to make everyone happy. Not ever really telling people that we are upset, because we don’t want to upset the proverbial apple cart which would ultimately make us feel out of control. We don’t want to be rejected, so we lie. Lying could be seen as form of control. We would any of us lie, except to alter peoples perceptions of ourselves. God knows that truth. We try to control our feelings. The more we seem to control, the more out of control we feel. We use our drug of choice, to give us a false sense of control.
Addiction: Friend or Foe?
I have heard it said that an addiction is like a friend. It is always there to comfort, to be there at all hours of the day and to help you solve your problems. I think a better way to think about it is like it is like a companion. It seduces us into thinking it is a friend to us, but really it just wants to be near us. The addiction says:
“I promise to comfort you when you feel like no one else will.”
“I will take you away from your problems.”
“I will reduce the stress in your life by making life easier.”
“I will make you feel special, attractive and loved.”
“I will never leave you.”
Guess what? Our addiction is no friend. There is not one of these promises that are true except one–“I will never leave you.” In fact, it will try to destroy you even though you don’t think it will. It will bring more distress and discomfort than it will relieve. It will make you feel worthless, ashamed and special in the wrong kind of way. It will make life harder, not easier. Whatever it numbs will get that much stronger and more difficult to deal with, once you wake up from its trance.
The beginning stages of recovery are difficult. You say goodbye to this companion. You leave it and divorce it from your life. You do not negotiate with it or decide who gets what. In this case, a quick goodbye is better than a long one. But. . as difficult as the beginning way, the journey gets better and easier in some ways. It is not that life is not constantly throwing curve balls at us. It does, but I guess we get stronger as we continue to admit our weaknesses. We get stronger and we depend upon God. We get more comfortable with letting go of blame, shame and taking responsibility. In the long run life gets easier when you have developed the skills and the 12 steps have become a part of your life.
The Four Paradoxes in Recovery
In recovery, paradoxes become evident.
- We surrender to win.
- We give away to keep.
- We suffer to get well.
- We die in order to live.
We SURRENDER TO WIN. We need to totally surrender unconditionally. We acknowledge that we cannot win the battle against addiction and have totally made a mess of our our life. We are better off if we stop running our life and let God run it for us. We pray in Step 11, “asking only for God’s will and the power to carry it out.” We are like a prisoner of war who who surrenders with our hands up and we do whatever our higher power tells us to do.
We GIVE AWAY TO KEEP. This strange expression identifies our selfishness and understanding that we can only be healed as “we give away what God has given us.” “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) When we are hoarding, greedy and stingy we are likely to use our addiction again as we have left a state of Grace.
We SUFFER TO GET WELL. There is no way to escape pain or suffering in this life. It is a truth that most alcoholics as well as most people try to ignore. The alcoholic, drug addict and sex addict use their substance to avoid suffering. This is why they use. Many people reserve the term alcoholic for those that really suffer–shaking, needing another drink, getting sick from drinking. But perhaps they are numbing themselves in minor ways and are too out of touch with themselves to identify that they are drinking as a form of self medication. To recover, we must go through the pain. We must learn to be mature and to face reality. Thankfully, the 12 steps help us face reality with the Grace of God.
We DIE TO LIVE. This beautiful paradox comes right out of the biblical idea of “losing our life” (Matt. 10:39) and denying one’s self and carrying one’s cross. (Matt. 16:24) The harder we hold on to our life, the more it slips through our fingers without us realizing it. (We call this white knuckling it) But when we empty ourselves of our ego, and die to our dreams, our will and our ways, God will give us life. We must die daily. While we may decide to surrender at a certain point of time, we must surrender every moment, so as to acquire God’s grace to keep us sober. This only comes through death, his and ours.
Handouts on Addiction
Here are some handouts that I use in counseling with people. Feel free to use them.
Personality Traits of Addiction
Defensive Mechanisms of Addiction
Warning signs of Alcohol or Drug problems in Teenagers
How do I know I am a sex addict?
The 4th Step Handout (PDF Format)
“My Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson
Signs of Love Addiction
Continuum of Addictive Risk and Healthy Behavior
Questions for Alcoholism Assessment–developed by John Hopkins University
The Passions and the 12 Steps of AA
The 12 Steps in Reverse
Who am I? I am your Disease This chilling letter from the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction wakes the addict up to the damage addiction causes and the battle that takes place in recovery.
Articles on Addiction
Prescription Addiction” by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (in PDF format)
“How can I be codependent when I am not married to an alcoholic?“by Erik Bohlin, M.A.
Emotional Leprosy by Erik Bohlin, M.A. (MS Word)
The Neurobiology of Addiction – by David Marley, Pharm.D.
Treatment for Sexual Addiction (PDF) – by Erik Bohlin, M.A.
Treatment for Sexual Addiction-mp3 recording. This talk was given to the Stephen’s ministers at Northcreek Presbyterian Church. The above handout on Treatment for Sexual Addiction can goes with this.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Debtors Anonymous (DA)
Debtors Anonymous (DA) – Washington State Link
Business Debtors Anonymous (BDA)
Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) – Everett Area and Snohomish Co.
Overeaters Anonymous (OA)
Overeaters Anonymous (OA) – Seattle Area Link
Gamblers Anonymous (GA)
Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
Gamblers Anonymous – 12 step for Compulsive Gambler
20 Questions for Compulsive Gamblers
Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) – Puget Sound Area
Workaholics Anonymous (WA)
The Jaywalker.com –a website dedicated to recovery principles
Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting List (Greater Seattle Area)
This list covers from the Eastside (North Bend) to West Seattle. From the North (Shoreline, Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mill Creek) to the South (Federal Way, Enumclaw). Open the list the day you want the meeting for.
Alcoholic Anonymous Meeting List (Western Washington) Look for your particular area or district for the list.
Debtors Anonymous Meeting List for Washington State
GA Meeting List – meeting list for Gamblers Anonymous
Narcotics Anonymous Meeting List (Everett area and Snohomish Co.) PDF
Sexaholics Anonymous Meetings List in Puget Sound Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) in Puget Sound Area (in MS Word format) (in PDF Format)