By Dr. Bob Beare

My tendency for dependency
Is offending me
It’s upending me
I’m pretending see
To be strong and free
From my dependency
It’s warping me

Red Hot Chili Peppers 

 

We are pleasure seeking rockets. The absence of pain is a significant conscious and unconscious pursuit. Some of us have taken this mission to advanced levels which can be referred to as dependency and addiction. The Diagnostic Statistics Manual focuses on 9 substance use problems but are “considering” several other non-substance disorders to be included. Each of these have 11 diagnostic criteria, and 3 levels of severity. A simpler method may be: Beare Sr. quote # 3, “If it’s causing problems, you’ve got a problem”

I like the term “recreational drug use”. Deconstruction of the word “recreational” points to what is really going on. We are trying to re-create our natural chemistry – dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, oxytocin, and others. We are inducing more pleasure or trying to overcome an imbalance that is often related to the underlying discomfort of our trauma. Every time we use a counterfeit mood adjuster, we increasingly disable our natural experience of life. To recreationally use drugs is to teach our system to rely on external means for pleasure and further submerge our much needed emotions.

Sometimes wisdom comes from unexpected sources. In an old Star Trek episode Kirk is being encouraged to trade his ability to feel pain: “Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away. I need my pain”. Yup.

One useful definition of dependency and addiction is: A maladaptive ritualized pleasure seeking. There is considerable literature on the dividing lines between casual use, dependency, and addiction. Most of the dialogue is focused on the risk of lethality or the degree of harm to self and others. I’ll be using the terms interchangeably because the maladaptive use of substances or behaviors to adjust our chemistry is always lethal either physically, psychologically, or spiritually so for our purposes the hair splitting is mostly irrelevant.

There are three ways that dependency and addiction emerge:

  1. Some of us have a genetic predisposition. If it is a significant part of our family history, we may reach that point of no return more easily than others.
  2. Modeling can be a factor as well. Our development and learning are influenced by our environment. Growing up in families and cultures where substance use and mood-altering behaviors are normalized, we can see it as a normal part of life. Barbecuing without a beer can be very strange transition. For a food addict, it takes a while for large cakes and 3 helpings of mom’s flour-laden cooking to atrophy from normality. For the suicidal love addict who grew up watching the aching, codependent push and pull of unconscious relationships, its normal…that’s true love, right? Ugh.
  3. With the repeated use of any emotion altering substance or activity, the body becomes accustomed to the manipulation and natural access to the pleasure chemistry is co-opted. With minimal use there may be the ability to simply stop. With extensive and sustained use, not so much.

And these all work together wonderfully to help us disappear into what psychoanalyst David Shoen calls “…the most powerful, controlling, possessing, and dictating agenda in the psyche”. In The War of the Gods in Addiction, he writes: “…the personal shadow is looking for any way it can find to express itself, and often the addictive behavior is the first chance in many years the shadow has had to get out of the closet, the attic, or the basement, and it takes full advantage of its opportunity to take all it can get, oftentimes with a vengeance. This often manifests as the wild, dangerous, risk-taking, embarrassing, out-of-control behavior of people when they are drinking or using, which is usually so different from their normal way of acting”

Whatever path we find to dependency, there is much evidence that shows that once we go over that line, there is no coming back. Once an addict always an addict whether we are using or not. A good analogy is the cucumber and the pickle. It is very tough to turn a pickle back into a cucumber.

The recovery process is a process, not an event. And we only get a daily reprieve from the mess. This requires constant reminders that the disease exists. One of the main symptoms of addiction is that it tells us that we don’t have the disease. Our mind has become permanently “pickled” and because the using was effective medicine for a while, we unconsciously think it will continue to be an effective choice. This is why we “affirm” ourselves as addicts regularly.

Here are more than a few words on the use of the terms “addict” and “alcoholic”. There is considerable disdain in the “therapeutic” community against calling someone an addict for fear that it may reinforce the behavior.

  1. You will not arrest the disease of addiction by ignoring it or avoiding the label.
  2. You will not arrest the disease by calling its host something more palatable to you.
  3. When it is used, it is a reminder to the psyche that we have this very deeply ingrained deadly condition which can only be transformed by conscious awareness.
  4. The resistance to its use is often correlated to a level of denial within the criticizer of the word.
  5. It is not an inherently negative reference. It is data.
  6. We all have it in some form. Calling ourselves an addict simply reminds us.
  7. The folks who refer to themselves thusly seldom live under bridges, they understand the disease, and are usually naturally creative and spiritual.
  8. And, it is great to also call ourselves humans, dads, moms, artists, lovers, kings, queens, etc.

Words are powerful, and yes, we need to make sure we are not shaming ourselves or others with our language. In this case, it is a necessary reference that I would like to see de-stigmatized for the purposes of saving lives. In the face of the growing and deadly epidemics, the anonymous factor in AA has been courageously transcended in recent years by many in order to let the world know that it is possible to be an addict and enjoy happy, joyous, and free lives.