Schools of Thought about Addiction (Excerpts from The Life Cycle and Mechanics of Addiction by Gary Smith)
A person may take drugs or alcohol either to avoid pain and discomfort, or get rid of unwanted feelings, or with a first time use, to see what it would feel like.
At this stage of addiction, the individual is prone to overdose. The body’s tolerance to the drug masks the poisoning effects of the larger and more lethal amounts the addict needs to take to kill the physical pain or emotional discomfort. Sadly, this constantly reminds the user that to “feel good” they must use the drug again.
Whether a person is genetically or bio-chemically predisposed to addiction or alcoholism is a controversy that has been debated for years within the scientific, medical and chemical dependency communities. One school of thought about what drug addiction is is the idea that advocates the “disease concept” which embraces the notion that addiction is an inherited disease, and that the individual is permanently ill at a genetic level, even for those experiencing long periods of sobriety.
Another philosophy argues that what drug addiction is is a dual problem consisting of a physical and mental dependency on chemicals, compounded by a pre-existing mental disorder (i.e., clinical depression, bipolar disorder or some other mental illness), and that the mental disorder needs to be treated first as the primary cause of the addiction.
A third philosophy to answer the question “What is Drug Addiction?” subscribes to the idea that chemical dependency leads to permanent “chemical imbalances” in the neurological system that must be treated with psychotropic medications after the person has withdrawn from their drug of choice.
The fact remains that there is some scientific research that favors each of these addiction concepts, but none of them are absolute. Based on national averages, addiction treatment has a 16% to 20% recovery rate. The message is pretty clear that these theories are just that, theories, and we have a lot more to learn if we are to bring the national recovery rate to a more desirable level.
There is a fourth school of thought which has proven to be more accurate to describe what drug addiction is. It has to do with the life cycle of addiction. This data is universally applicable to addiction, no matter which hypothesis is used to explain the phenomenon of chemical dependency.
The Cycle of Addiction
The life cycle of addiction begins with a problem, discomfort or some form of emotional or physical pain a person is experiencing. The person finds this very difficult to deal with.
Here is an individual who, like most people in our society, is basically good. He has encountered a problem that is causing him physical or emotional pain and discomfort that he does not have an immediate answer for. Examples would include difficulty “fitting in” as a child or teenager, puberty, physical injuries such a broken bone, a bad back or some other chronic physical condition. Whatever the origin of the difficulty is, the discomfort associated with it presents the individual with a real problem. He feels this problem is a major situation that is persisting. He can see no immediate resolution or relief from it. Most of us have experienced this in our lives to a greater or lesser degree.
Once the person takes a drug, he feels relief from the discomfort, even though the relief is only temporary. That drink or drug is adopted as a solution to the problem and the individual places value on the substance. This assigned value is the only reason the person ever uses drugs or drinks a second, third or more times.
There is a key factor involved in this life cycle scenario that determines which of us become addicts and which do not. The answer depends on whether or not, at the time of this traumatic experience, we are subjected to pro-drug or pro-alcohol influences via some sort of significant peer pressure that influences our decision-making process with regard to finding relief from the discomfort. Peer pressure can manifest itself in many different ways. It can come from friends or family members or through some avenue of advertising or promotion which, when combined with the degree of relief we receive from the drug or drink, determines the severity of the use. Simply put, the bigger the problem, the greater the discomfort the person experiences. The greater the discomfort, the more importance the person places on relieving it and the greater the value he assigns to that which brought about the relief.
For those that start down the path of addiction, they will encounter other physical, mental and lifestyle changes along the way that will begin to cause the individual’s quality of life to deteriorate. If the drug or alcohol abuse continues unchecked, eventually the person is faced with so many unpleasant circumstances in their life that each sober moment is filled with so much despair and misery that all he wants to do is escape these feelings by medicating them away. This is the downward spiral of addiction. At this point for most there are only three inevitable outcomes: death, prison or sobriety.
How to End Addiction – Factors that must be addressed:
Withdrawal symptoms and cravings combine to create a serious physical barrier to overcoming addiction. These symptoms can range from severe aches and pains to anxiety to depression. Physical cravings for more alcohol or drugs are the result of stored toxic residues inside the persons’s body that remain after withdrawal. When these residues are re-released back into the bloodstream they can trigger intense cravings similar to hunger pains, where the addict can’t think about anything other than getting high again to ease that feeling. For this purpose we have a superior detoxification program that uses dry -heat saunas and nutritional supplements to be able to purge the body of these residues and, ultimately, to eliminate those physical cravings.
Guilt is another major obstacle to overcome when facing addiction. Addicts often wind up telling lies, stealing, doing harmful things to themselves and their loved ones, and because of these develop heavy guilt and distance themselves from everyone. In order to fully address addiction these past wrongdoings must be fully dealt with and put behind them so they are relieved of the guilt and are no longer stuck in the past.
Once a person is in much better physical and mental shape, without the cravings, guilt and depression, they are now able to be better educated about addiction and about life in general. This is where our program really works with individuals to become more self-determined and responsible for changing conditions in life. Once someone sees that they are ultimately in control over themselves and their actions, they can see how they made decisions that negatively influenced them and therefore how to make positive and constructive decisions in the future. Individuals see that they are not some helpless, diseased person doomed to relapse, but instead a strong and confident person with the ability to handle anything that comes their way in the future without resorting to drug or alcohol use.