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Addictions Anonymous, 1: The Challenge Of Normal Living

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This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.


If you are addicted to something there are people out there who will offer to fix your problem in a hurry, with little effort on your part, and without having to change anything important about your life. These people lie.

They will take your money and your time and leave you worse off than before. If you are looking for simple, quick solutions, pick simple problems. Although help is available, addictions are not simple problems; so don't expect quick, easy solutions. Whatever program you choose to follow, it will require hard work and a willingness to change if it has any value. Fortunately, those who become addicted are usually some of the most dedicated hard workers one will ever find.

The severity of addiction, dependency and abuse problems does, of course, vary a great deal between people. My remarks, unless otherwise noted, apply to the severely addicted person. I realize that some people who develop problems can easily change their ways without too much external help. However, a pattern of failed attempts to moderate or eliminate a pattern of over-use suggests a severe addiction.

 article about addictions anonymous
Living without having to overuse a substance or an activity seems natural and easy for those who know how, but complex and difficult for those who suffer with addiction. Living without an addiction is a simple as solving a mathematical equation, as easy as figure skating on ice, or as easy as building a rocket. These things look easy in the hands of a practiced expert, and they are relatively easy for one who is prepared, trained and willing to work hard. Ignorance and lack of skill makes all these projects impossible for most of us.

Practicing an addiction means devising clever and rational ways to do irrational things. Normal living, on other hand, requires skill and determination to do the rational things that improve life. Science today is beginning to understand the physical basis for addiction, and will be able to offer important help to ease addictive appetites; that said, addicts will still have a lot of learning and maturing to do on their own.

If you think you may have an addiction, and if you are reading these words, you are going in the right direction. There is nothing more important or more human than admitting to a problem and then learning all you can about it. Find out what addiction or addictions you have and then read everything you can about them, here and
wherever you can find information. Trust to your experience and your judgment; in the long run you may be better off selecting your own program rather than
waiting for that magic bullet somebody thinks can solve your problem for you.

An important reminder here: abstinence costs nothing. Human help is often very important, but before you spend good money on quick cures, simple or fancy, remember that no one can do it for you, no one should make your decisions for you.

If you've promised yourself to get rid of your addiction, to stop hiding, lying, denying and procrastinating, this series may help. If you've decided that building a new and rewarding life is better than dying—however difficult and impossible a better life may seem at the moment—this may help on the road to normal living. There is wonderful and effective help available if you want to give up addiction, but it all starts with your decision to abstain. It is well to remember that programs are not intended as cures, they are opportunities to learn through making good choices of your own.

If you have tried using a self-help group and did not like it or think you did not get much from it, a little further study might be a good idea. If you have tried therapy and found no relief, it may be that either you entered therapy with unrealistic expectations or that your therapist was not the right one for you. Patience,faith and willingness are essential, especially early in abstinence. Above all,keep in mind that programs and therapies don't do you; they don't automatically fix what's wrong. You have to learn to do them with reading, participation, study and making personal changes. Acting like a passive,helpless victim won't solve problems. Honest work will.

Recovery from addiction is a learning process, not a cure in the medical sense. No one knows the best and only way to escape from addiction. Although new and exciting discoveries about the human brain and nervous system are being made every day,there are no easy ways out of addiction, no magic bullets. New drugs may make abstinence and new learning easier, but they can't take the place of personal growth. Tolerance for the ideas of others is essential. Almost everything written on the subject of addictions offers at least a scrap of useful information. The addict should never shut out a voice or a message just because it seems crude, unpleasant or alien. The most important things you will ever hear are often not what you want to hear. You will learn little from those who agree with you or those who merely sympathize with your situation. We often learn the most from people who at first seem disagreeable or indifferent.

Addiction is a pattern of steady overuse of substances such as food and alcohol, or activities such as gambling and sex. The definition, of course, goes wellbeyond steady or frequent use. To appreciate the nature of addiction we mustexamine the psychology of the addicted person. There is a large number ofpossible addictions, and on the surface they all seem to be quite different from each other. However, there is a common core of beliefs, priorities and values seen in every addiction. There may also be certain biological or genetic factors, but these alone fail to explain why some people with the same factors do not become victims of addiction.

In the early columns that follow, I will outline a simple theory to help explain and understand the multitude of different addictions. A theory that I think helps us to see that whatever the specific addiction may be, we are really dealing with one underlying problem or set of problems. The nature of addiction is what psychologists call developmental because it begins in the personal development of the individual as that person evolves from conception to maturity. Addictions wax and wane with time and experience, they evolve and develop over time just like all other habits and characteristics.

In later columns there will be discussions of the Twelve Steps of Recovery, those all-important program steps used in many different self-help groups. That discussion is written from a psychologist's point-of-view and is designed specifically for recovering addicts which, for want of any better term, is the word I use to identify anyone with a pattern of addictive behavior.

This series was not written for my fellow mental health professionals; I would hope,of course, that my colleagues would have some interest in the efforts of those of us who try to write for the average person or client. As much as possible, I have used common terms and avoided technical jargon.

I conclude this chapter with a plea that readers begin to think about addictions of all sorts as manifestations of a single life problem. The smoker is obsessed with quitting smoking while the drug abuser is obsessed with giving up the drug of choice. Too many alcoholics, however, die of lung cancer caused by smoking.Too many gamblers shorten their lives by overeating. Too many addicts of all sorts go on to other addictions and wonder why life is still miserable.

Often the addict, prompted to consider all the other possible addictions, will say that taking on more than one problem will cause a relapse in what he or she thinks is the basic problem. They deny that they could ever be perfect, but no one is insisting on perfect.

Self-help groups tend to be preoccupied with a single addiction as well. In some Alcoholics Anonymous groups, members are forbidden to mention other addictions.This is why, I think, we need something like a generalized Addictions Anonymous meeting. Addicts must learn tolerance for each other no matter what the addiction may seem to be.

Those who would provide treatment for addicts often mirror the obsession with individual addictions as if their specialty were the only one that mattered. We have specialists in alcoholism, drug addiction, smoking cessation, gambling and so forth. We have very few practicing general addictionologists who are comfortable working with any and all addictions. A narrow focus on one addiction at a time is based on several factors. Money for treatment may come from a government or from an organization that wants their guilt money to pay for only one kind of treatment. The alcohol production industry gives some money for prevention and treatment of alcoholism, but isn't really interested in smoking or gambling problems. The gambling industry funds treatment and research on gambling, but isn't particularly interested in the eating, smoking or drinking of their gambling clients.

Some mental health professionals resist adding other addictions to the one they are used to treating because it would mean additional training or additional licensing. Some, of course, actually find themselves practicing an addiction such as gambling while at the same time acting as therapists for alcoholics.There are complex reasons why addicts and mental health professionals alike join in preferring specialization, but there is a small but vigorous field known as addictionology. That is where my allegiance lies.

In columns that follow I will be outlining a general theory of addiction and a format for a possible Addictions Anonymous, one that is both universal and non-religious.


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