Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Moment of Weakness

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.


Thriftcriminal said...

It's a pattern. There are many things we do every day that are not classed as addiction, but are much the same thing. Patterns of behaviour, patterns of relationships, stress doesn't send me running to drinks cabinet, but induces dark moods and introspection and irrational thought processes, and it's difficult to get out of the pattern. Our brains like patterns, it's what they are designed for, so we often fail to see that a given pattern can be abandoned or replaced by a better one.

Megan said...

Well, that about excuses me from saying anything. Because I will just endorse all what you just said.

Many cheers, luv.

Kath Lockett said...

Brilliantly written, Baino and very generous of you to reveal your own struggles.

Mine have been many and varied - food, weight control, depression and - intermittently - drinking and smoking. Even 'smart' people fall prey to addiction. And the word 'weakness' shouldn't really be used as a negative: after all, who is perfect?

Anonymous said...

Very well put - nobody chooses to be addicted. Also I reckon it's often tougher for those around the addict than for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I've never been addicted to anything but I certainly wouldn't be sanctimonious about it and make out it's purely my self-discipline and common sense. There are obviously genetic and social considerations that get people hooked and prevent them giving up even if they desperately want to.

As you say, there are now lots of people and organisations out there with the expertise and resources to help an addict to kick the habit, if they're sincerely committed to change.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, brave and thought provoking post on addiction, Baino

I buy into Thrifty's logic on patterns of behaviour. You have to want to change or as you say, have the courage and strength to cry for help, in order to change patterns.

I know I have addictive tendencies but because I've been lucky enough to enjoy relative stability in my life, I've managed to remain on an even keel (most of the time). The rebel in me still longs to break out at times but these days, my constitution dictates otherwise. Right now, blogging is my addiction and it pushes all the right buttons!

Baino, you've got oodles of strengths which positively shine through. You can do it...yes, you can!

TCL said...

Hang in there. I haven't anything like what you've gone through but boarding school got me started on smoking. It's never a full habit but it's always easy to bum a cigarette after having a few drinks. The blasted habit is hard to kick.

Anonymous said...

Saying someone is 'weak' and standing in judgment on others, is often a concealment of disorders within one's own life. Maybe they 'doth protest too much'.


- who would spend all his money on the adrenalin rush of Alpine slopes!

English Mum said...

What a great post, Baino. It reminds us all to have a bit more empathy. I don't have an addictive personality at all, but I have close ties with some people that are struggling terribly. TC's right though, human's seem to be built for habit forming. Just look at my wine consumption....

English Mum said...

Oops, humans, not human's.

Lyn Truss would beat me with a wooden spoon for that one :)

Anonymous said...

I did have a bad addiction, but thankfully it is cured! I stopped chasing dust and now let it rest where ever it falls!

Good on you Baino, keep up the good work!

Ces Adorio said...

Well, it's been nice knowing you. I did not know about any of these, had I known! This is too much for my proper and straight-laced lifestyle. :)

Girl, be strong. As my friend Arija says, what won't break you will make you strong!!!

Have seen them all. Have been on the receiving end of the worst delirium tremens, the crazy-drugged tantrums. I once gave a shot of Valium through someone's blue jeans while he was being subdued by four cops and 2 male nurse assistants.

Miladysa said...

Excellent and thought provoking post.

I am aware of my own addictive tendencies. I'm lucky that I've never been interested in alcohol or tobacco or I could have easily been hooked. Cakes, biscuits and puddings are my downfall as well as blogging LOL

"inability to calm and soothe themselves when stressed."

Interesting - I would say that is me - although I may appear calm - possibly a reason for my high blood pressure too.

Baino said...

Thrifty that is so true. I find if I vary my routine, I'm less likely to crave a smoke. I'm down to about 6 a day of which I reckon 2 are satiating the addiction. The rest, force of habit.

Ha! Go Megs.

Well nobody's perfect Kath but we can try! I'm just pleased I've kicked 4 kilos in the past 3 weeks, that's enough incentive to keep going.

Connor that's true. My kids hate me smoking. Oddly enough the heavy drinking wasn't a problem for them but probably just as damaging. It's worse for those around drug addicts.

Nick you're lucky or smart, not sure which, maybe both. There's nothing less common than common sense!

Nah not brave Steph. I probably make it sound worse but I used difficult times as an excuse to abandon my exercise regime and use alcohol as a crutch. I'm not very good at asking for help.

Well you surprise me TCL, the extreme traveller . . If I could just bum the odd one, I'd be a happy camper! Sadly, can't stop at one drink, can't stop at one smoke so better to have none.

Well there you go Ian, you fall into the 'thrillseeker' category only you've chosen to bang shins rather than take up drinking or smoking.

EM . . mmmmm . . .wine . . .I have discovered a passable low carb bubbly which I might have on occasion.

GAH! GM don't go there. It's cleaning day tomorrow, that's one addiction I can't give up.

Ces . .you jest surely! Yep, I bet you've seen the worst of addictive behaviour. Fortunately, drugs of any kind have never been my 'thing' other than the odd panadol. Even took the morphine out hours after my surgery, I didn't like the way it felt. Control freak I am (God there's another addiction)

Miladysa, that's like me. I used to rant and rave, suffer stress palpitations, these days I hold it in which just tends to make me teary. I find deep breathing techniques really useful. Just taking time out in a quiet place works wonders.

Melissa said...

Awesome post, Baino! And from experience, the addict is as baffled as that blogger was about how and why addiction works. Addicts wish they could handle their addictions and are horrified at their inability to stop, despite the damage that's done to themselves and loved ones. From my own experience addiction is a combination of things ... a two-fold malady described as an obsession of the mind triggered by a physical allergy. The physical "allergy" is how the addict's body reacts to whatever substance/activity is their bane ("normal" people don't have this allergy, so it's hard for them to understand), the obsession follows with the constant need to continue ingesting/acting out the addiction. I've tried to explain my own food/sugar addiction and nothing ever suffices, and those who don't have addictive genes don't always understand and many can't (it's not their fault and I don't hold it against them :) ). It is possible to overcome it! It will always be a part of me, but I deal with it every 24 hours in a way that has me very happy, peaceful, and handling life as it comes. Thanks for your honesty! Hugs, my friend.

Terence McDanger said...

Brave in a few respects, that. A good read too.

Ces Adorio said...

Seriously, I was always exposed to people who abused substances, alcohol and food when in private college. I never understood that. I was very young then (15) when I went to college and most students were a couple or more years older. They smoked, drank, smoked cannabis, snorted cocaine. I found it all to distateful and stupid. Then I went to nursing college where we stayed in the dorm. We were all addicted to studying because we were all very competitive. After nursing college, in graduate school again many students were addicted to smoking. I know a couple of recovering alcoholics. I am very proud of them. I know several people addicted to smoking. Sometimes I talk to one when she takes her 3PM fix. She smokes 2 cigarettes (1) when she wakes up (2) before driving to work (3) at 10:00 AM (4) at 12:30PM (5) at 3PM (6) after work (8) after dinner (9) before bed. That's a total of 18 cigarettes in one day, at least!!! But I can't smell it in her unlike some smokers who make me nauseated and I sometimes gag when they share an elvator with me.

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough, I bought a book today called 'Sex, Drugs and Chocolate', which is about addiction and pleasure and the psychology involved.

I believe I have an addictive personality. The only reason I don't smoke and haven't got involved with addiction is pure luck, I feel.. I won't judge those who are not so lucky. Circumstances - as you have discovered - have an awful lot to do with our ability to cope at any given time, and for some, a crutch is needed.

Blogger said...

I got my first electronic cigarette kit at Vaporfi, and I think its the best kit.