Saturday, March 29, 2008

What Is Chemical Addiction

Accepting that we're dependent on drugs or alcohol is hard. We find we do not fit our idea of an addict or alcoholic. Old family values, cultural beliefs, movies and television shows have given us inaccurate pictures of alcoholics and addicts. These images have influenced our thinking. We may see people who are chemically dependent as losers or failures or as people in the gutter of life which is certainly not the way we want people to see us.

The terms addiction, addict and alcoholic carry a stigma or feeling of shame. Many people believe that addiction is a weakness (if we were just morally or emotionally stronger, we could "lick" this problem), we should be able to stop using on our own and we just do not have enough willpower (if we were more disciplined we'd be able to stop).

The only thing I can tell you is do not buy into these myths. People who've never encountered the true nature of addiction can't conceive of what an addict is going through. They have never experienced the inability to stop chemical use. They just do not understand. The responses of our loved ones and close friends can be particularly hurtful.

We may see the addiction as unfair. No one ever said "Hey you, stand in this line if you'd like to become addicted to alcohol or drugs and ruin your life". Dependency is seen as a curse in which there are no answers. But there is an answer. It is called understanding the addiction process.

Addiction to alcohol/drugs is a complex illness. It is progressive and can be life threatening. It has social, physiological and psychological components.

The process of addiction begins with drug availability to the purity and route of administration. Dose, frequency and duration of use, genetic factors, developmental factors, mental illness, chronic pain and psychosocial factors all influence the process of addiction.

Then there is the brain chemistry of addiction. When mood altering drugs are put into one's body the bloodstream picks up these chemicals and quickly carries them to the brain. Inside the brain, these chemicals set off the complex chemical reactions within the brain and distorts the reality. This altered state is commonly known as "intoxication". Some people find this feeling pleasant. Others find this experience unpleasant.

Addiction is not about willpower or weakness. Research has shown that the addiction process is connected to how the brain is wired. Powerful chemicals called neurotransmitters control brain activity. They carry messages from one brain neuron to another. Whereas the cerebrum is the thinking part of the brain, "I will never use drugs or drink again". It is the brain stem that is home to the limbic system that contains the components of addictive behavior.

The limbic system stimulates the sense of smell, motivation, sex drive and complex emotional responses. It also contains what is called the "pleasure center".

The pleasure center responds to what else, pleasurable stimulation and learns to repeat it. Neurotransmitters endorphins and dopamine activate the pleasure center. Alcohol and drugs increase the activity of these neurotransmitters resulting in feelings of euphoria. The cycle begins with that first drink or that first pill.

Over time, the body stops making these neurotransmitters on their own because they have become accustomed to the presence of alcohol/drugs. Without the alcohol/drugs , the let-down begins as the brain is awaiting more alcohol/drugs. When the body is out of balance, the cravings begin. The need for the use of alcohol/drugs becomes intense and eventually takes over. The "thinking part" of the brain screams "stop". The "limbic part" of the brain screams "go".

Part II Crossing the line into addiction.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Feelings Suck Sometimes

I'm a little over a year into my recovery and for some reason, I still get shocked at how bad feelings can feel sometimes.

I'll give you a for instance...right now I'm feeling foolish, hurt and a little angry because of a situation that just happened between my husband and myself. The details aren't really important but the way I'm feeling is.

I wish I knew how those who aren't in addiction recovery deal with bad feelings. Do you think of ways to make it stop? Do you realize that it will go away on it's own? Obviously you aren't into numbing your pain right? Or are you and I just think that I'm the only one?

My first thoughts always have to do with making the negative feelings go away by any means necessary. In the old days that would mean numbing myself into oblivion with various pills down my throat and powder up my nose.

Now-a-days my first thoughts still always go to numbing the pain but...I just don't act on those initial thoughts. Usually my thoughts then move on to other ways of making myself feel better.

This time I've chosen to share what I'm feeling with you nice people in hopes that by getting these things out of my head via the keyboard it will give me a little relief. The days of me stuffing my feelings are over right?

My new life of not looking for instant gratification has taught me that even if the bad feelings do not go right away, expressing them is a healthy start.

I can tell you this - taking some time to write down my thoughts and feelings has allowed me to put a little perspective on what my actual feelings are. It's not feeling as bad as it initially felt. I guess this stuff really does work right?

Wow...this was like a sitcom. Everything wrapped up in a nice bow by the end of the episode. Well, thanks so much for watching and be sure to tune in next time. Goodnight.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

I find myself watching that show on A & E INTERVENTION from time to time. Sometimes I get sucked right into the addicts story of woe while other times, the addict ends up infuriating me so much that I fear I'll end up giving myself a stroke! I know that every addict is different and so is their tolerance, etc but you'll be hard pressed to convince me that someone who has just been using for a couple of years is going to have as difficult a time kicking then someone who has used for a couple of decades. Whatever, that's not really what has got me all fired up!

I am very much aware that there are a whole lot of people who drink or drug so that they are able to escape or forget some awful past trauma, or to self medicate either diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues. I also think that there are a whole lot of us out there who drink or take drugs just cause they like to drink or take drugs! I was most definitely one of them.

It's often much more difficult to watch the addicts support group as they struggle to come to terms with their addict and his/her behaviour. Without exception, they all seem to have a tendency to blame themselves in some way for the addicts problems. Maybe that's true in some cases, but I suspect that more often than naught, it is not at all related. Maybe they're simply being too hard on themselves. Certainly if they actually did something terrible, then my guess is that they already know it. So, if they are unable to actually think of anything that they could have done to cause them to drink or drug then there probably isn't anything at all. They should attempt to move on and stop torturing themselves with guilt, vainly searching for that traumatic event that caused their loved one to become an addict. They may simply have to accept that perhaps their addict does what they do simply because they love getting drunk or high for this and this alone.

I wished many times when I was young and immature and arrogant that I had something in my past to be tortured about. It's a lot more romantic and punk rock if your life is filled with some sort of angst! Unfortunately for me, I was as far removed from that lifestyle than one could possibly imagine - now, since my late teens and early twenties, I've since managed to change all of that and wish that I didn't have some of the baggage I've now managed to accumulate in the past two decades!

I was fortunate enough to be raised by involved, loving and kind parents, given every middle class advantage. I did exceptionally well in school. earning a full paying scholarship to university upon my high school graduation. I was a lifeguard at our local pool every summer and worked as a waitress at the local truck stop during the school year. I had more than enough friends and no terrible, life altering story to tell about my teen years or even any tease worthy physical defects. I had what many would consider an idyllic childhood and yet, I still managed to spend two and a half decades abusing substances as if this were my true life's calling.

I discovered booze in my mid teens, and I loved it. I mean, I couldn’t believe how much I loved it. I then managed to spend the next many years of my life enjoying it to great excess. I drank because I liked getting drunk too much. It fit just right inside my mind. Eventually, of course, the drinking got less fun, certainly less exciting, and in fact, actually started to get boring. It never got to the point where my drinking interfered with my work or life but still I could see that if I didn't reign myself in that I'd be unable to maintain the status quo much longer.

Drinking was much easier to walk away from simply because I had something newer and shinier to replace it with. I still had a pretty idyllic life even though I'd since been through a couple of really nasty relationships but even so, I never used any of this as an excuse to continue my substance abusing lifestyle. I had now simply integrated this into my everyday routine. Even at the very end of my final out of control opiate addiction two and a half years ago, I was never, ever using because of some awful trauma that I was trying desperately to suppress. To the end, and I mean to my absolute final hit with that syringe filled with about 12mg of dilaudid, I was using simply because I loved to use. End of sentence, full stop. Period.

In the end, it doesn't matter much how you got yourself addicted, once you are, you have a struggle ahead of you, and I don’t think that falling into addiction this way is any “worse” than falling into addiction and abuse for any other reason. Nobody plans to become a desperate drunk or drug addict, certainly not initially or intentionally, although as a species, we seem to be hardwired to seek out pleasure – and for those of us that seem to get more pleasure out of a drink and drugs than others, it’s understandable why we might get ourselves into trouble.