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Tag Archives: Addiction

The Role of Abstinence in Treating Addiction

LifeRing believes strongly that abstinence from all alcohol and other non-medically indicated drugs is the only acceptable goal once addiction has occurred. All of our members accept that as the goal of our approach, and many of our members have years of successful abstinence to point to along with a vastly improved quality of life. I’m one of those and I completely endorse the abstinence approach – I’m convinced that even one drink could lead to a resumption of my addicted life.

But there are other points of view. Phillip H., a LifeRing Convenor of long standing in Northern Ireland, recently shared an article that takes a slightly different view. The article is very much worth reading for it’s clear and compelling view of the problems created by a focus on “moral failing” in treatment programs based on the 12-Step program and the so-called Minnesota Model still very widely used in the professional treatment system. Throughout the article the author takes a caustic view of an emphasis on total abstinence, although it appears by the end of the lengthy article that his position is one of viewing zero-tolerance policies in treatment facilities as punitive and counter-productive. “Discharging an alcoholic for relapsing” he suggests, “is like discharging a schizophrenic for relapsing: it is not a reason for discharge but a reason to work with the client.”

This compassionate view of relapse is very much what LifeRing tries to practice. We view relapse as a setback, not some sort of moral failing. A favorite image I’ve heard in LifeRing meetings is that “if you’re driving from New York to Seattle and your car has a problem in Chicago, you don’t have to start the trip over in New York if you can fix the car in Chicago.”

The author of the article goes on to suggest that, for some people, continued but reduced use of drugs can lead to an improved life. On this point, LifeRing parts company – too often, “harm reduction” leads eventually to a resumption of full-blown addictive usage. It’s not worth the gamble.

But the article – see it Here – has much to offer.

— Craig Whalley

Addiction: Is It a Disease, or … Something Else

The question of whether addiction constitutes a “disease” is a perennial source of disagreement among the “experts’ and among addicts themselves. Much depends on the definition of “disease.” Used casually, the term implies some sort of breakdown in the body, stemming from bacteria, or viruses or things like cancer which have a clear and negative effect on the sufferer. Addiction clearly isn’t caused by a virus or bacteria or other foreign agent.  And while the effects of drinking and drug use cause damage which can lead to conditions that are clearly diseases (cirrhosis, for example), that is not the same as the addiction itself being a disease.

A recent blog post in the magazine Psychology Today bywriter/physician Lance Dodes (author of the book, Breaking Addiction) gives a very brief history of the label as applied to addiction and then contends that addiction is a behavioral problem, a compulsion, no different – except perhaps in the physical damage it can do – from other compulsive disorders, such as out-of-control gambling:

“When addiction,” he writes, “is properly understood to be a compulsive behavior like many others, it becomes impossible to justify moralizing about people who feel driven to perform addictive acts.  And because compulsive behaviors are so common, any idea that “addicts” are in some way sicker, lazier, more self-centered, or in any other way different from the rest of humanity becomes indefensible.”

Dodes holds that the “addictive acts occur when precipitated by emotionally significant events” by which he presumably means events that lead to emotions that are very difficult to deal with. He goes on to say “they can be prevented by understanding what makes these events so emotionally important, and they can be replaced by other emotionally meaningful actions or even other psychological symptoms that are not addictions.  Addictive behavior is a readily understandable symptom, not a disease.”

Boy, I wish it had seemed so simple and straightforward to me when I was struggling to get sober! For that matter, I wish I could be certain, after 12 years of sobriety, that I had overcome the underlying cause and didn’t have to worry any more. It’s an interesting way of looking at it that undoubtedly has some truth. But it seems to me that the problem is more complex than he implies. I don’t much care if we call it a ‘disease’ or a ‘condition’ or a ‘problem;’ but I do think it takes every ounce of determination one can marshal, plus some sort of supportive help,  to overcome it. It’s not simple, whatever you call it.

— Craig Whalley

‘We look at red wine like it’s dark chocolate’ — New Book Examines Women and Alcohol

Anne Dowsett Johnston is the author of a new book entitled Drink that explores the relationship between women and alcohol. In a recent interview, Johnston said, “‘We look at red wine like it’s dark chocolate, … We know the downsides of the tanning bed and trans fats, but not the downside of our favorite drug.’

Johnston, 60, herself in recovery, is experienced in both journalism and academics and brings both those skills to bear on her contention that women are increasingly being drawn into addiction.

Unlike men, Johnston claims, who tend to drink most in social settings, women more often ‘uncork the bottle at home,’ says Ms Johnston, in order to self-medicate their anxiety and depression.

Read more by clicking Here.

 

 

You are NOT powerless!

ShelbyOne of the most-read items on this website is an essay by long-time LifeRing supporter Dr. Candice Shelby, an Associate Professor of Philosopy at the University of Colorado. I thought it might be worthwhile to draw your attention to it again. It encapsulates an important part of what LifeRing stands for. See it Here.

 

You Are Not Your Habits!! New Book Shows How to Break Free of Them

I recently read a book called The Power of Habit:  Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg.  I think that many folks in early recovery, or in contemplation of recovery, will find this book enormously useful.  It uses a number of real-life vignettes to illustrate the power of habit, how habits form, and how they can be changed.  One of the most intriguing concepts in the book is that of “keystone habits,” seemingly trivial habits that – if altered somehow – create a cascade effect that renders other, more pervasive and intractable habits, amenable to change.  Another crucial concept is that actually believing that you have within your power the ability to change your habits is an absolute prerequisite to changing them.

I think that this selection from the last chapter of the book does a fine job summarizing his thesis, and I have copied it for you below:
   “Habits are not as simple as they appear.  As I’ve tried to demonstrate throughout this book, habits – even once they are rooted in our minds – aren’t destiny.  We can choose our habits, once we know how.  Everything we know about habits, from neurologists studying amnesiacs and organizational experts remaking companies, is that any of them can be changed, if you understand how they function.
   “Hundreds of habits influence our days – they guide how we get dressed in the morning, talk to our kids, and fall asleep at night; they impact what we eat for lunch, how we do business, and whether we exercise or have a beer after work.  Each of them has a different cue and offers a unique reward.  Some are simple and others are complex, drawing upon emotional triggers and offering subtle neurochemical prizes.  But every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable.  The most addicted alcoholics can become sober.  The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves.  A high school dropout can become a successful manager.
    “However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it.  You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives.  You must know that you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it – and every chapter in this book is devoted to illustrating a different aspect of why that control is real.
    “[A]lmost all the . . . patterns that exist in most people’s lives – how we eat and sleep and talk to our kids, how we unthinkingly spend our time, attention, and money – those are habits we know exist.  And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom – and the responsibility – to remake them.  Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.”
Joseph A. Mott, M.D., J.D.