I was reading a blog recently and among other issues, the author mentioned not being able to 'understand' the power of addiction and that it was actually a sign of weakness. The same author had difficulty understanding how anyone could become 'addicted to stuff', knowing that it is potentially destructive to self, family and friends - the reference was particularly to alcohol but had wider implications for the addictive persona.
Being an 'addictive' personality myself, I took a slightly more empathic view. I think it depends upon the circumstances that actually bring you to that addiction in the first place. Someone addicted to painkillers due to a chronic illness is hardly 'weak' but a victim of the nature of the drug. Someone with a genetic disposition to alcoholism, is not necessarily weak but hard wired to be so.
At first I took issue with addiction being for the 'weak' until I realised that 'weakness' does indeed mean - the property of lacking physical or mental strength; liability to failure under pressure or stress or strain . . and frankly this is exactly why so many of us resort to some level of substance abuse even if the 'weakness' is momentary and fleeting . .
Once in the grip of an addiction . . .climbing from the depths is daunting and finding the will to do so often impossible. I envy people who have experienced these moments of weakness and have managed to claw their way forward without resorting to something potentially addictive to get them through.
However, I think it's far more important to understand why intelligent, well informed, vibrant people become seduced by addiction of any kind. I know people who are addicted to tobacco, alcohol, sex, weight control, illicit drugs, legal drugs .. I've known people addicted to gambling who have put everything on the tables . . . they aren't bad people, they're not generally 'weak' people. They did make poor judgement calls for a variety of reasons, at a time of particular vulnerability and are now facing the consequences. Whether it's wanting to be accepted, dealing with death, injury, loss, pain, lack of control, genetic disposition all had valid reasons for resorting to the course of action they did, and some, most actually, have moved forward.
Edward J. Khantzian, a Harvard psychiatrist and author of the “self-medicating” hypothesis of drug addiction, says many substance-dependent people who make it into therapy show a profound inability to calm and soothe themselves when stressed. This condition could be interpreted as weakness or simply as a failure of the brain's wiring. So what causes addiction?
Genetics - Yes, as Plutarch stated an eon ago, "Drunks beget drunks" and there is now some body of evidence that addiction of varying types may be genetically pre-disposed although the jury is still out. Generally the predisposition to abuse one drug, translates to almost all other drugs. Alcoholism, for instance, may be present in as many as 75% of illicit drug users
Thrill seeking - risk takers are indeed prone there is no way to tell which adrenaline junkie will get hooked on bungee jumping, venture capitalization, high stakes gambling or heroin
Self absorbtion - some of us are so self absorbed we do not understand the world around us or the effect our addiction has on others, nor do we care, it's all about us.
Peer Pressure - a need to be involved and belong to a group - a need for acceptance
Emotional disorders - anxiety, depression, bipolar, post traumatic stress - by feeling 'better' after taking a drug, having a drink, a self perpetuating cycle is born whereby the only way to relieve the fear and stress is to keep using/drinking. Sadly the chemicals released in the brain which induce euphoria are outlasted by those which cause stress and anxiety. Individuals often use drugs, alcohol, food, exercise, or work as a way to self-medicate and escape the symptoms of their primary disorder.
Ignorance - being misinformed about the dangers and pitfalls of addiction whether it's betting on the pokies or lighting that first fag, dropping a Yaeger Bomb or an eccy before a rock gig
Environment - children raised in addictive/alcoholic and abusive households are more likely to view the addiction as 'normal' and acceptible and become addicts themselves
Abuse - for those enduring physical and emotional abuse, addiction becomes a coping mechanism
I first puffed a cigarette when I was 15 years old. In those days, tobacco companies sponsored sporting events, the Marlboro man was featured on TV ads sitting atop his mighty quarter horse being manly as he puffed a fag, beautiful women smoked Kool or St Moritz, a cigarett case adorned every boardroom table and there was no such thing as second hand smoke.
My excuse? I wanted to fit in - desperately! After moving 12,000miles, through two states and 9 schools in as many years, I needed friends. I needed to be accepted and the peer group I chose all smoked, so I started. Once in it's vice like grip . . .difficult to conquer. I've been addicted to nicotine since. I've constantly fought. I've given up for prolonged periods and didn't smoke during either of my pregnancies but fell by the wayside until recently when smoking has become such a social pariah that I rarely do it in public. Once I've got the drinking and eating thing under control, I'll nail the demon for ever.
The alcohol bit began after Ray died. I was slim, happy, in love, replete until that unbelievable and sudden event. I began to drink, . . . it helped me sleep, it helped me forget, it helped me cope with two small and demanding children. Then the 'habit' took over . . .I was just about over it when two more immediate family members died within a week of each other . . . .so much sadness, so much consoling . . . the drinking continued as long as my father was alive (and beyond) and lasted many years. Nothing hard, I kept telling myself, just wine . . no spirits, nothing damaging.
I rarely got drunk but I couldn’t deal with the pressures of abandonment, loneliness,personal isolation, financial hardship, depression much better after a few bevvies . . . I drank a lot and regularly - I liked the comfortable numbness it afforded and it made me less introspective, more sociable. I'm not actually giving up the alcohol because of disgraceful behaviour (there wasn't any) or even the possibility that I might be addicted, it's purely fiscally driven and an by an overwhelming desire to lose weight. I won't be imbibing at the same level ever again. Giving it up has not been a problem, so clearly I'm not addicted on that level!
But addiction is a weird thing. We don't consciously decide to take on a bad habit because we're self-destructive, weak, stupid or because we want to be its slave for the rest of our lives. Usually it's a slow progression from a lesser, initially harmless evil to a greater, less controllable one.
The silver lining however, is that there are people, agencies, friends, family . . someone . . who will help us overcome our addictions, but we have to step out of the weak spot and have the courage and indeed the strength to cry for help.