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The Story of Addiction

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

“Don’t ask the question ‘why the addiction’, but ‘why the pain?’” – Gabor Mate Who comes to mind when you hear the word “addiction”? Perhaps it’s a loved one; a friend; or maybe it’s the stranger you see on the street each day. How do you feel when you hear the word “addiction”? Is it disdain? Maybe it’s sadness; or perhaps strength. Our personal experiences and emotional responses work together as we develop a story of addiction. This post will provide a synopsis of the addiction cycle, focusing specifically on:

  • Distractions

  • Psychological and Physical Dependence

  • Case Examples

  • Stigma

Distractions Let’s talk a little bit about short-term relief… Distractions are a purposeful skill, utilized in moments of distress. When we’re placed under extreme stress, urges to engage in destructive behaviour suddenly become appealing and easily justified. Although they’ve picked-up a bad reputation, distractions have the potential to be beneficial when coping under tense circumstances. Activities that fall under this category include watching a TV show, going for a walk, or reading a book. The short-term relief from these distractions guide us away from reacting to emotional impulses, and provides a moment for the urges to pass. Ineffective distractions are used to cope under extreme emotional discomfort and as a result, worsen you physically, emotionally and spiritually. Whether you’re eating a slab of cake, injecting heroin, drinking alcohol or gambling, these are impulses attempting to relieve discomfort. Although a short-term relief, its strength increases and transpires into a means to survive. Don’t Worry, Be Happy… Psychological Dependence The phrase, “pleasure-center”, refers to our motivation and rewards processes. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for this function, works to regulate moods and creates sensations of power, energy and elation. Overwhelming negative emotions motivate a desperate search to find relief. Whether you’re drinking alcohol, injecting heroin or binging on food, the pleasure-center kicks-in and a powerful sense of liberation is experienced. What once took priority is no longer significant. In fact, quite the opposite. Euphoria, relaxation and happiness are emotional responses associated with the biochemical processes in the brain once a substance has been consumed. Repetition of this positive reinforcement is what we’ll refer to as a psychological dependence. Physical Dependence On the other hand, physical dependence is characterized by physical disturbances in the body when the administration of the drug has seized. Yes, we’re talking about withdrawal. Do you remember that one night you indulged in too many glasses of champagne, and woke up feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus? Headache, body aches, nausea, sweating, cognitive disturbances, disorientation and anxiety? It goes a little something like that, except with far greater intensity and prolonged duration. Physical dependence occurs when the body can only function normally if the drug is present. The pain of withdrawal becomes such a negative reinforcement, motivation to use is extremely high. Withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from 3-14 days and range between manageable to death. What might this feel like? Being shackled by the disease, as it relentlessly sinks itself into your body, mind and spirit. What might this look like? Manipulation, deceit, abuse, abandonment, and sacrificing basic needs as she single-mindedly fights to use. The Blame-Game Here’s where the discussion begins to intensify. The person that chooses to walk into the bar to have a drink, or into the street to access heroin, is he to blame? Shouldn’t he have known better? I mean, rooted in our DNA are healthy coping mechanisms, allowing us to thrive and become benevolent human-beings, right?? Expanding Our Awareness… For all of my friendly souls who are crying, “YES”, allow me to invite you to deepen our discussion further as we explore a few case illustrations. “Heroin(e)” Every morning you religiously stop by Starbucks in the downtown core, before strolling into work. On your way, you pass by countless others who are mindlessly carrying themselves to their destinations. This one woman, however, remains crisp in your mind as you watch her unravel from her blankets and nod off on the side of the building. She’s homeless, at times, aggressive, but always, alone. What if I told you that she was born into a home without a father, and whose mother was addicted to heroin? She was physically, verbally and emotionally abused by her mother until the day she found strength to leave. Isolated her entire life from community support, resources, positive role models and healthy coping strategies, she seeks solace in the one tool that she came to trust, heroin. “Privilege” What about that all-star athlete who injured himself during a game and became addicted to Fentanyl? Some may be inclined to suggest he is held responsible for abusing the prescription. What if I told you he was criticized by his father his entire childhood; nothing was ever good enough. HE was never good enough. This young athlete, although supported by wealth and prestige, recited a story of unworthiness and inadequacy. Upon being injured, he was stripped of the one tool that provided him with a sense of fulfillment and connection to others. The prescription, intended to alleviate the physical pain of his injury, quickly transpired into a means to alleviate his emotional agony. Stigma

Stigma - "A severe social disapproval with a person on the grounds of a particular characteristic which distinguishes them from others in society" (https://www.yourdictionary.com/social-stigma). Oppression of addiction is multidimensional, and since ingrained within societal norms, is not overtly challenged. It prevents individuals from engaging in social interaction and aspiring for personal development, as their identity is solely classified by one behaviour. Countless studies have demonstrated our irresistible need to belong. Emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual needs are designed to feel connection with others. Neglecting these needs results in a vulnerable core. The negative stories we tell ourselves are further exacerbated as isolation and disconnection become reality. Oppression reinforces the self-destructing core beliefs we hold of ourselves, fuels judgement and, ironically, perpetuates the cycle of addiction. Consider the following statistics:

Although tempting, solely placing accountability on PTSD and traumatic experiences would be inaccurate. Instead, a lack of healthy support systems, mental health disorders, cultural impositions and environmental factors must be considered in order to develop a true story of addiction. “Before you pass judgment on one who is self-destructing, it’s important to remember they usually aren’t trying to destroy themselves. They’re trying to destroy something inside that doesn’t belong.” —JM Storm


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