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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

Everyone’s bottom in addiction is different.  When I was using I certainly felt invincible.  Or maybe it’s because I felt like I didn’t have anything left to lose.  I had given up, the high was the only thing left that I was seeking. I had no idea the dangers of what I was doing. I had no idea how close to death I had probably become.  Strangely, revolving my day around getting inhalants, sacrificing jobs, relationships, my ethics, being in car accident after car accident, and ending up on a television show focused on my addiction still did not convince me I was at my bottom.  I still had more fight and I’m sure had I not surrendered, that fight would have led me towards and into death.

I work in the field of addiction now and I hear every one of my clients’ stories.  The extremes are different.  Some people end up in treatment because their family demanded it and the client feels they haven’t bottomed out yet, that they have it under control.  Some have nowhere else to go, they’re living on the street and selling themselves and stealing to maintain their habit.  And some are petrified of their addiction, they’ve died before, or have mental impairments from seizures from their use.  I hear a lot: “My life isn’t that bad, I haven’t lost all my money, I’m not homeless, I still have a job, there’s no way I’ve bottomed out.”

Here is where I feel the term “bottomed out” can get misconstrued in our heads.  We want to believe that we’re ok, that we couldn’t possibly be going through this, that we couldn’t be an addict or an alcoholic.  But that’s where I think we are wrong.  Although I still had a beautiful apartment, a family that loved me, and someone paying my bills, I was morally and spiritually bankrupt.  I couldn’t see it, but I was no longer the Allison to be proud of, I no longer followed the path I believed in. I look at the person I am today and I realize that I did bottom out.  I let myself down.  Those physical items, those jobs, that apartment near the beach, the money, none of that compares to the person I’ve become without being active in my addiction, compared to that empty shell of a person I was, the pain I felt, the phone calls of tears, and the wishing for death that I was in the midst of my addiction.  I no longer cause the people in my life pain, I maintain a job of integrity, but most importantly, I respect myself and I can look in the mirror and not see self-loathing, disappointment, and regret.  I abused inhalants for a total of 18 months of my life, but it grabbed on to the pain I was feeling and attempted to fill a void, which took me on a fast track to bottoming out.  And I am so grateful that I was fortunate enough to wake up and surrender, and finally realize that enough is enough.  Everyone’s level of bottoming out is different.  But the results in recovery are all the same.  We become a greater version of the selves we all remember loving before addiction took hold of us.  And it is absolutely worth it.

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Posted by on in Gambling Addiction

Hello Recovery Friends & Welcome New Seekers!


“So it’s been sometime that I have blogged on a more personal level, and holy crap I have much to share. I keep having “Gambling Dreams”?
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I’m not sure that many of you know that I had celebrated my 7th year in “Recovery” from addicted compulsive gambling last month on Jan 29th, 2014.
I was having a talk with my hubby that I was feeling a little strange. Not like “triggers & Uuges” strange, well maybe. What I told him was, “after having 7 years away from the “Bet” (gambling), I was wondering if I would happen to get “The Seven Year Itch”?….
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Now I think we all know where this “slogan” comes from right? For those who are NOT married, or in a long-term relationship, we say, “if your relationship can pass the “7 Year” mark, then the rest of eternity together will be a “Breeze” and you’ll stay together once you pass that 7 year hurdle! Well, with my recovery, instead of worrying about the 7 year itch, I have had “Gambling Dreams” instead!! And they are very disturbing. So I wondered why after all this time would I have gambling dreams? It’s not like I obsess over gambling anymore. And they are feel SO REAL…
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So I thought I’d do a little research on some of my gambling support websites to find out WHY and HOW this happens. Am I subconsciously thinking of gambling in my head? I know I suffer mental disorders, but now after the second night in a row of gambling dreams has really got me bugging! I have heard people in my gamblers anonymous meeting talk about having gambling dreams, but I thought it was because they were just starting out in recovery, and in treatment we were taught that when you go through “detox & ”grieving” period in recovery, it maybe common to have dreams. But not when you have years of recovery.
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It’s not that I’m a “must need to know” kind of person either, it bothers in a way that I know how baffling and cunning this disease is. It will lie in wait for a long time, and then out of no where rear its ugly head!
A few of my relapses happened that way. You get 3, 6, 8 months in, then BANG!, your back at out gambling all over again! So again I did search about recovering gamblers having gambling dreams, and guess what? I couldn’t find anything as to why this happens. The closet I got was from a site for women gamblers, and really didn’t mention about gambling dreams at all…
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“Women and Problem Gambling

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Posted by on in Co-dependency

Increase

 

The term “infinite loop” comes from the field of computer science and refers to a programming error that leads to the perpetual and unsuccessful recapitulation of an algorithm, or problem-solving procedure. In my book Adult Children of Alcoholics: The Struggle for Self and intimacy in Adult Life, I used this concept as a metaphor for the way in which many adult children seem irresistibly drawn to an “alcoholic lifestyle”.  The alcoholic lifestyle can include compulsive drinking and drugging, ongoing destructive involvements with addicted or enabling parents, and the acquisition of new life partners who reprise important psychic themes of the childhood home, including instability, exploitation, dishonesty, and betrayal.

In recent posts, I’ve talked about genetics, trauma,  and substance-related  changes in the brain as the “usual suspects” behind many addictive problems.  They are also frequently the culprits when adult children–even those who avoid substance abuse and dependence–remain ensnared in the destructive and painful relational dynamics they experienced as children. It is well-known that genetics affect temperament as well as risk for mental illness and substance abuse and addiction.  But environmental factors such as stress and trauma are also powerful factors that influence the development and maintenance of an alcoholic lifestyle.  This is the first in a series of posts aimed at helping ACOA’s with an alcoholic lifestyle  to exit their infinite loop, and it explains how trauma-related changes to the brain predispose them to become mired in it.

It is important to know that many adults who grew up with addicted and  codependent parents, whether or not they abuse substances themselves,   manifest brain anomalies that can predispose them to a variety of psychological problems, such as  depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and compulsive involvement with substances, activities and destructive partners. These changes occur as a result  of chronic and severe levels of stress that so often occur in families where parents are preoccupied and propelled by the disease of addiction. The neurological impact of  the physical and verbal abuse and neglect that are common in alcoholic families can be seen  when imaging studies of the brain are performed, and they occur in some of the same  areas of the brain that are affected by drug and alcohol abuse.  For a good discussion of how adverse childhood events (ACEs) affect the brain, see this article: /healthland.time.com/2012/02/15/how-child-abuse-primes-the-brain-for-future-mental-illness/

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Increase

I didn’t really expect the Godfather to figure prominently in any of my blog posts, but I thought that paraphrasing Michael Corleone  here might be a good way to start a discussion about addiction as a disease vs. addiction as a choice.  It is my experience that family members (and addicts themselves) still struggle greatly with the feeling that  excessive drug and alcohol use are essentially moral problems.  So I think it’s always important, in treatment, to look at  the mounting evidence that addiction to substances, as well as certain compulsive activities,  actually change the brain in ways that undermine the ability to make  healthy choices. Learning about the neurological impact of addiction can help everyone affected by it to find compassion for their struggle with a devastating illness.

There is an ever-increasing amount of data, including results  from neuroimaging studies, that support the definition of addiction held by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, which is that,”Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry”.  Today we understand for example, how substance abuse and even activities like gambling, affect the action of dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine is the substance released by  neurons in the reward centers of the brain whenever we do something pleasurable.  The brain has evolved to reward us for doing things useful to the survival of the species–such as  eating and procreating, and a flood of dopamine is the reward we get for participating in these activities.  However, drugs of abuse, gambling, binge-eating  and even excessive internet use can cause the reward centers of the brain to release far more dopamine than we’re used to getting, and if this  happens on a regular basis, the brain remodels itself to defend against the flood of  dopamine it’s receiving.  It begins to produce less of the stuff on its own and it becomes less sensitive to  it as well.  As addicts develop this “tolerance” to their drug or activity of choice, they need more and more of it to achieve the pleasure they’re used to getting from their habit, and the brain’s reluctance to produce dopamine on its own means that they also feel less pleasure from doing the things that used to make them happy. Consequently, drug rewards eventually become more important to addicts than anything else. I believe addicts when they tell me that their need to get high  actually makes them stop thinking about other things, including food and including people, that are otherwise important to them.  I believe them because what they’re saying is completely consistent with changes that technology now allows us to  see in the reward centers of  addicts’ brains.

Other parts of addicts’ brains change too.   In addition to this malfunction of the reward circuitry, there is a weakening of the executive control mechanisms in the pre-frontal cortex.  This is the  part of the brain that  helps people to regulate emotions and impulsive behavior.  So heavy drinking (including intermittent binge drinking) undermines the very functions that are needed to make healthy decisions about future drinking. Moreover,   the brain isn’t so quick to heal once someone abstains from alcohol and other drug use. A recent study of current and former cocaine users for example,  found that even after 4 years of abstinence, there were abnormalities in some brain regions involved with reward processing.

But family members , friends and romantic partners can’t see a broken brain the way they can see a broken leg, and so the addict’s destructive behaviors  feel very  personal to them.  It really  hurts to come in a distant second, time and time again, to opportunities to drink or drug. It hurts to be lied to,  stolen from and blamed for everything that goes wrong in a relationship.  These and other terrible betrayals actually cause a cascade of stress-related changes in the brains of people who love addicts.  Or, to state it a little less clinically, the addict breaks their hearts.

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Posted by on in Co-dependency

Increase

Last week I wrote about the power of one parent who remains emotionally sober to preserve the mental and emotional well-being of children growing up in a family struggling with addiction. A colleague,Glenn Richardson who is a trainer and consultant in Texas, responded to my post noted that 12 step guidance about emotional honesty, openness and willingness points the way for parents who are striving for emotional sobriety. I agree with Glenn that emotional honesty is a crucial pillar of emotional sobriety. But what exactly does emotional honesty in an alcoholic family look like? Two things come immediately to my mind.

First of all, there is the classic matter of acknowledging the elephant in the room. Are you (or the family you’re treating) discussing addiction as a central fact of life (perhaps the central fact of life) in the home? Recovering parents often ask me what…or if…they should speak at all about the problem. In fact, I think they must speak and must offer age-appropriate explanations of the addiction, just as families should openly and honestly discuss any other medical disorder that is affecting a loved one. Children who don’t receive important information about problems that are afflicting their parents are left to their own devices to explain the problem and the troubling events that stem from it. They will invent explanations using their own immature cognitive and emotional resources to do so. Children are “ego-centric” in the sense that, lacking the capacity to see the big picture, they seem themselves as the center of most family events. This leads them to believe that they are responsible for the problems–that the adults they love are experiencing distress and behaving badly because of them. This can cause real damage to the sense of self and self-esteem.

Another important aspect of emotional honesty is a willingess on the part of the adults in the family to express their own feelings about important events in the family–in a contained and proportionate way of course. Sadness and anger are natural things to feel about illness of any kind in a family. Children know when their parents are unhappy and worried, even when parents think they are concealing it well. Parents are often surprised at their childrens’ responses when they finally admit that they are sad/or angry about the circumstances the family’s facing. I remember well what happened when one father, who had been keeping a stiff upper lip about his separation from his drug-addicted wife, finally told his young son how sad he felt that his wife had left the home. His normally reserved son began to sob about his own grief. This dad had always believed that his son was temperamentally quiet and limited in his ability to express feelings. However, now it seemed that what he’d needed all along was his dad’s permission to grieve openly about his mother’s departure.

As I thought more about the importance of emotional honesty, another question came to mind: What are the barriers to emotional honesty in alcoholic homes (or in any home, for that matter)? My colleague’s comment about AA led me to look for what Bill W had to say about emotional sobriety. Pretty interesting things, as so often is the case. In a reflection on the roots of his own depression and the disappointing failure of his 12th step work to provide more relief from it, Bill W. defined emotional sobriety as the development of of “real maturity and balance (which is to say, humility)” and suggested that the things that tend to destabilize people come from (often less than conscious) striving for “approval, perfect security, and perfect romance”. (See http://www.barefootsworld.net/aanextfrontier.html)  That is, people lose their balance when the “(demand) the impossible”. And he observed that such demands usually stem from “false dependencies” on people or circumstances” for “prestige, security and the like”. Bill W concluded that his own demands for “possession and control of the people and the conditions” surrounding him was blocking his own emotional sobriety and also, feeding the depression that frequently plagued him.

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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

Waterfall L.A. ArboretumRecently, I have heard a lot of talk about what exactly it means to be sober. Somebody mentioned they were sober because they had stopped using drugs, but they still drank. Somebody else argued that they had never drank or used in their entire life, and they understood what it was like to be sober. Finally, a non-alcoholic friend asked me about caffeine, smoking, and prescription medication, and their relationship with sobriety.

Just Drinking

This example of somebody who quit hard drugs and just drinks is very common. I did this myself for years. Although some people benefit from this tactic, it is absolutely not sober. My personal experience was that I was simply no better off switching drugs. As my sponsor puts it, it is like switching seats on the Titanic. I still repressed feelings and pain. I didn't look within or grow. Although marijuana may physically be less harmful than methamphetamine, it is no better for my spirit.

However, it is not for me to judge how other people choose to live their lives. If somebody can quit using crack but continue drinking alcohol, then I support them. My personal Buddhist beliefs are that I should not ingest anything that leads to heedlessness, but I would never push this on somebody else (just as I don't want somebody pushing their religion on me). Just because I wasn't able to continue using one substance while quitting another does not mean everyone will have the same experience. However, this simply does not make one sober.

Having an Addiction

Although the word sober actually means not intoxicated, there is a different connotation in recovery circles. Being sober implies that the person once went through an addiction. If somebody never picks up or uses in their life, they are technically sober. However, they are not sober in the same way that somebody is who has gone through an addiction. This does not make their sobriety any less valuable or important. However, it is just not the same.

I was recently in a position where a non-alcoholic was speaking to a newcomer. The non-alcoholic said they had never used, and understood what the newcomer was going through. Because this person had never used, they had experienced much pressure and desires to try drugs and alcohol. However, this is completely different from trying to get sober from an addiction. Although the non-alcoholic here had a valid point about choosing not to use, the non-alcoholic simply cannot understand the addict's feelings. When we get sober, our brains are suddenly without substances they are accustomed to. We have been spending much of our lives running from every feeling. Suddenly, we are confronted by our feelings, and are often overwhelmed. However, the non-alcoholic has had many years to face their feelings.

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Posted by on in Other Addictions

Teenagers usually consider their adolescent years as a time to try out different things and experiment with what they see others doing usually out of boredom or peer pressure or simply for fun. It is only natural for curiosity to get the better of them as they are young adults with raging hormones and an inquisitive mind. They strive to be cool and want to “fit in” with what they consider as the happening crowd in society and this pressure to fit in is what drives their activities and interests.

Many teens try alcohol, drugs and tobacco at some point or another. Most of them get over it after a couple of trials and move back to normal life, while some get latched on to them and are unable to resist the urge to take them every day. They become so dependent on these substances that they find it difficult to function in their day to day life without taking them. This abnormal dependency is called substance abuse.

Substance abuse does not only affect the life of the user and his family but can also end up becoming a matter of legal concern in the user’s neighborhood. It has been found that substance abuse, if not controlled or treated, can increase the chances of the development of a violent streak in the user. If you or your loved one has been on the receiving end of violent acts at the hands of a substance abuser, you can seek legal recourse against this crime by engaging an experienced dangerous drugs and pharmaceuticals attorney.

What most parents usually worry about is that their child might get addicted to drugs such as cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, marijuana and so on. But what they tend to overlook is that they are more likely to get addicted to substances like alcohol and tobacco which are available more easily than any of the other drugs. Teenage alcoholism is not unheard of and most teenagers will get hooked on to anything that is easily within their reach.

The Link between Substance Abuse and Violence

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Tagged in: drugs and alcohol

Posted by on in Co-dependency

 

I recently updated Raising Healthy Children in an Alcoholic Home, a book I wrote in 1992 to help parents in recovery from addiction  and co-dependence to heal relationships with their children. As I re-read and edited the book, I reflected on its essential message.  I  was heartened to discover that over 20 additional years of treating addicted  individuals and their families  has only  strengthened my views about the most important things  families in recovery need to know. Moreover,  the central idea  I was trying to convey then still seems to me to be the most important thing for parents in recovery to remember: A child’s chances of remaining healthy when a family plunges into crisis depends, to a great extent, on the ability of at least one parent (or other  adult caretaker) to remain emotionally sober–that is, stable, supportive and capable of holding the child’s most basic needs in mind.

Certainly other factors, like the child’s basic temperament,  influence a child's resilience in the face of extraordinary stress. However, even  sunny, hardy children   experience fear, sadness, anger, and many other kinds of emotional distress when a family is struggling to cope with severe illness. And typically, the younger children are, the less able they are to soothe themselves and maintain a hopeful and confident outlook when frightening things happen. Their cognitive and emotional resources are just too immature to help them assess the situation accurately and  imagine a path forward for themselves and the people they love. So a parent’s ability to maintain his or her own emotional footing, and to  notice and respond appropriately to a child’s pain is critical.  (Please continue reading.)

A parent's  response to a child in crisis does not have to be perfect. In many cases, it is good enough, at least in the short-term, if the parent perceives the child’s distress, conveys that it is normal under the circumstances, and offers assurance that it is okay to talk about feelings that  are bubbling up. Even if a parent has no clear ideas about how  or when the family’s problems will be solved,  it is very reassuring to a child in crisis to be “seen” and to have painful feelings noticed and validated by a person  she counts on. A parent who says, “I see you are scared, I see you are worried and sad”, and adds, “I understand why you feel that way and I want you to know we are working to figure this out and will make sure you are taken care of” makes a child feel safer and calmer.  A good many of the people I see in my clinical practice  grew up with an addicted parent. The ones who had at least one grownup they could trust and rely on during dark periods  are the ones who find it easier, as adults,  to find and form solid relationships with healthy  friends, partners and therapists who can help them construct rewarding lives.

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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

I am a recovered drug addict.  While pills were never my thing, I still used them when I didn't have other alternatives to numb out. Additionally, I have witnessed other people in recovery pick up one pill to treat pain and the body doesn't know the difference between medication and recreation.

As a result, I decided long ago that should I ever require surgery, I would only take a narcotic if it was a dire emergency.  So far, in the past year alone, I have had two surgeries (one on my ankle to remove a nodule and, now, an umbilical hernia repair). I have opted to use Tylenol alone to address my pain. Even after my C-Section in 2006, I only used extra strength Motrin to relieve the pain and it worked.

I follow this course because I have a great respect for my disease of addiction.  While I havent used anything in close to 15 years, I still believe that I could pick up where I left off if I put drugs that feel nice into my body.  I have never lost that fear and I am grateful for it.  I believe it is a reasonable fear and I value my recovery way too much to toss it away for a pill. One is too many and a thousand never enough.


Best,

Increase

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Hits: 1768

Posted by on in Drug Addiction

In "What Addicts Know," Christopher Kennedy Lawford revisits the topic of addiction and provides an eye-opening explanation as to how our culture has become dependent on the instant gratification of gambling, drugs, alcohol, technology, and material possessions. Here's an excerpt.

The “Gifts” of Addiction

'What Addicts Know'
BenBella

I've dealt with a wide variety of individuals afflicted with the disease of addiction, and in my estimation they are the most interesting, fascinating, and gifted people I've come across. They are also the most challenging; addicts are deviously manipulative and self-absorbed. Their illness causes suffering and pain for themselves, their loved ones, and the rest of society. Yet from their struggle comes an opportunity for all.

Recovery is about exposing and healing the darker sides of being human. And honing the skills necessary for sustained recovery from addiction reveals a life-enhancing recipe that can benefit everyone. From the darkness come exquisite, profound gifts.

People who get punched in the face by the 800-pound gorilla of addiction for decades and who live to tell about it are remarkable human beings on many levels. They are not just survivors, they are teachers. And it’s time we all pay closer attention to what they have to teach us about human well-being.

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