This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.


While going through old notes from my therapy groups, I was reminded of many of our long and often difficult discussions of critical problems in abstinence and recovery. The next few chapters take up some of these problems, problems that can make worse the difficult struggle to maintain abstinence. . . .



A client once gave a vivid description of the sudden, overwhelming sense of anticipation that may occur when a problem gambler enters the intense gambling environment of a casino. A similar anticipation envelops the drug addict as the chance to use occurs, or the alcoholic who enters a familiar bar after a hard day's work. With intense anticipation, rational thought stops and resistance is often impossible.


Some years ago I stationed myself inside the main entrance of a large casino at Lake Tahoe, and spent about an hour observing reactions as people entered the bright, noisy world of commercial gambling. Quite a few people just stopped in their tracks, eyes wide, with a dumbfounded look on their faces. Others looked neither right nor left, but hurried on as if on their way to an emergency.


Similar reactions may be seen, at times, with patrons of a pornography shop or a comfortable tavern.


What you don't see much of in a casino are relaxed people laughing and talking in groups, but I did see some families and groups of friends who seemed to be taking it all in stride. The loners, however, worried me. Many looked rushed and stressed.


Alcohol anticipation may take people in the other direction and make them hostile or just oblivious to feeling. Many gamblers have described their anticipation of action in detail, so I'll make a few generalizations, none of which are based on real research.


Sudden anticipation

Sudden, mind-numbing anticipation may come over an addict when accidentally confronted with a temptation. A sound, an odor or a voice can trigger a kind of flash back or flash forward, and a strong impulse to use. I see this often in the market when an overweight person confronts the elaborate candy section. This, of course, is why self-help groups may advise members to avoid tempting establishments or situations. I suspect there is a physical mechanism some brain or body chemistry, perhaps that underlies this sudden anticipation. Personally, being often tempted to buy the wrong kinds of foods, I find it necessary to eat before I go to market, use a detailed shopping list, and just avoid certain isles in the store.


What to do?

What to do is probably what you might least want to do. Admit the sudden impulse or temptation and talk to someone about it immediately. In this age of cell phones, you might be able to make an important call that might save your abstinence. Talk to the people you may be with, even if they're not addicts. Call a sponsor or strike up a conversation with a stranger if need be. Leave the situation, but don't be afraid to study your reaction and talk about it. This is not unlike stage fright when you get up to speak to a group. Start by admitting to the group that you are nervous, and immediately much of your hesitation will leave you.


Calculated anticipation

Sometimes people make a conscious decision to use again, and they set about figuring out how to get some money, where they will use, and how they will go about it.


Racetrack fans spend hours studying the papers that publish facts about horses, jockeys, and tracks. Reading books about gambling, watching others gamble or using movies about gambling are all parts of calculated anticipation for the gambler. To stop the anticipation, the addict must break up the pattern and talk about it with people he or she trusts. The worst things you can do are to deny and hide anticipation.


Anticipation as an anti-depressant

Use of an addictive, whether a behavior or a substance, produces a high or artificial state of mind that helps one escape from emotional problems and life crises. The high cannot be sustained forever because of financial and physical limits, although the user may strain these limits beyond reason. When the action or using stops from exhaustion, either of money or energy, the great crash occurs. The addict enters a rebound depression full of self-reproach, guilt and anger. Next, of course, sudden or calculated anticipation pulls the user back up, gives new hope and re-energizes life. The alternative to anticipation would be difficult and boring, it would involve facing all those problems and unmade decisions that cause depression in the first place.


The mood cycle

The addict's mood swings seem to be something like this: (1) the high produced by addictive trigger ends in (2) the depression of losing and coming off the high, but finally (3) the excitement of anticipation leads back to (1) the high produced by action, etc. This goes on repeatedly until the user cannot find a way off the emotional merry-go-round alone. The door to rational choice has been slammed shut. It's time to get help.

So, when anticipation of using a trigger strikes, talk about it, bring it out in the open, and let others share you problem. If you stay silent, you will almost certainly lose the battle one more time.