We have been asked in this episode to look at addiction with particular attention to alcohol.
We use the word ‘addiction’ to indicate an illness which is based on the behaviour of a person who is compulsively or habitually ‘addicted’ to a substance or a set of behaviours. Most behaviours that are described as addictions are seen as negative. When we hear the word addiction we tend to think of drugs or alcohol. We might even consider the workaholic. Which ever way we view it addiction is seen negative.
I will get onto alcohol in a minute but first consider this…
Perhaps we are all addicts
I would like to suggest another way of looking at it, we are all addicted, we are all addicts, it is just that we are often unaware of what we are addicted to. So my question is…
What is your addiction?
An addiction is simply a chemical state, that is in both our brain and our body. We become addicted when we have learned to accept this chemistry as our ‘normal’ state of being. The chemistry comes from the habits that we have practiced from the moment of our both. We know that when someone exercises regularly their brain responds by releasing powerful endorphins. We also know that once this chemistry has been established as their normal they can become addicted to this exercise. Once this habit has been established we find that if they are unable to exercise, perhaps because of an injury, they go into withdrawal just like any drug addict. All the symptoms of drug withdrawal are played out through their brain and body until either they restore the exercise and the chemistry or undergo the ‘cold turkey’ of drug withdrawal and re establish a new chemical norm.
Any behaviour from meditation to sex, from knitting to hill walking, from laughing to crying, will have a chemical effect on our mind body system. Once these are established in our mind brian they become our habit and our chemical normal. The issues of anxiety, anger, depression, love and happiness may also be our addictions.
As an ex drug addict, mainly opium and having had an interesting relationship with alcohol, I know quite a lot about alcohol and drugs as a therapist but also as a practitioner.
Let’s have a look at alcohol
Alcohol is probably one of the most natural substances we can become addicted to. I have seen horses in very strange states after eating fermenting apples that had fallen from the trees in an orchard. Human beings probably slipped quite easily into using alcohol as the vegetables and fruits around them fermented and the relationship was made between the alcohol and the pleasurable feeling of being tipsy or drunk.
The way that alcohol works is that it turns off the frontal lobe of the brain which takes away our worries, concerns and feelings. Alcohol is an emotional anaesthetic. We stop feeling. Then we get the rebound of the depressant effect as the frontal lobes attempts to fire up again. When the depressant effect is on us the easiest thing to do is to have another drink, known as the ‘hair of the dog’, and anaesthetise the depression. Once the cycle is established it is the normal behaviour of addiction. However the cycle will vary. Some people can drink a lot of alcohol before their frontal lobe switches off. For others it may be half a glass of wine. The thing is that once the frontal lobe switches off resistance to more alcohol and normally unacceptable behaviours diminishes. Plus all reason and cognitive thinking is lost.
Controlled drinking/drug programmes
My experience is that for the vast majority of people controlled programmes do not work. For most of us you are either in or out. One of the main problems with alcohol is that, outside of Muslim countries, there is an alcohol pusher on every street corner, in every super market and in television adverts. It is the wests acceptable addiction.
Therapy is usually the only answer. That often means rehab and some supportive medication as the addictive cycle quietens down in the system. In our society in the UK I do still commonly deal with alcohol, nicotine, skunk and anger addictions. Though I experience that we are all addicted to something even if that means being addicted to having a completely clean system.
So what is your addiction?
Your chemical normal is the one that makes you feel just right. It comes from the habits that you have established throughout your life. If something happens to alter your ‘normal’ you will adopt behaviours that will return your chemistry to recreate your normal. My normal involves meditation, cooking, often running, definitely playing music, mainly guitar, certainly working with other people and always my lovely Rie and holidays away. When I am deprived of my addictions I feel withdrawal and need to act to bring my chemistry back to my normal.
Some addictions are good, as in they do not harm us or others. Bad addictions do harm us or other people. We have a choice. Once we mindfully examine our behaviours we can decide which addictions we will feed and allow to grow and which once we will starve and allow to wither.
We may decide that allowing our children to develop the habit of internet gaming is a good or a bad addiction. Current evidence would suggest this is a bad addiction.
Be happy and check your addictions.