Once an addict always an addict.
That saying has always mystified me. What’s the point in asking for help with your addiction if the very people you turn to are saying “sorry, you’re always going to be an addict.”
I’ve heard various reasons for addictive behaviour from the ridiculous to the plain silly. Even the most common interventions have a remarkably high failure rate and it’s never the fault of the intervention, it’s the person with the addiction that gets the blame hence the ‘Once an addict always an addict’ statement.
In the terms of alcohol addiction the mainstream go to is groupwork. The success rates have been meta-analysed and the findings are quite alarming. The findings are that the groupwork is only 5-10% successful and because of the way it’s sold when you fail it’s believed you have no hope as it’s the gold standard treatment. The 5-10% success is believed to be because of the camaraderie effect. You see, humans are pack animals and we feel secure in a group and our need of being wanted/belonging and being understood is being met in the group, so the addictive craving is temporally sated. When the group intervention comes to an end then you’re put back where you come from, right back into the same environment, and then this triggers the addiction and you’re back to stage one again, sound familiar?
You’re also taught that complete abstinence from the substance is the only way through an addiction. That’s simply not true. You’re only told that as the intervention you’re receiving is so poor that the merest sip of alcohol will trigger the need to drink and do what is needed to get that drink.
In the US they are successfully taking addicts of the streets and giving them gym programmes and this is freeing them of the addiction, be it alcohol, drugs etc. Now this is working because of the environment change and having something else to focus on.
An interesting study with rats was carried out based on an experiment in the 1980s. The experiment was simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
A professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have coloured balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling. The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
What this study taught us about addictive behaviour is that the very addiction, at some level, is a coping mechanism for an unmet need which the brain duly tries to satisfy. If all our needs are being met then there is no need for the brain to ‘help’ you by finding something/substance to find satisfaction in.
The Brain Chemicals
We have two neurotransmitters/modulators, in a simplistic view, in our brain which drives addiction: Dopamine and Serotonin. On a very basic level it's the dopamine that motivates us to do what is necessary to meet our needs and once a need has been met then serotonin is released which makes us feel sated and happy whilst inhibiting the motivation drive of dopamine. When serotonin levels are low, the motivating effects of dopamine in the brain become amplified. In this scenario, anything that might be associated with the motivating need, say hunger, becomes strongly provocative. Stress, especially chronic inescapable stress, lowers serotonin. When serotonin is low, not only do cravings increase, but depression and anxiety can also result. In this way, a person can become vulnerable to any substitute that has an effect on dopamine and serotonin levels, such as alcohol, drugs, or addictive processes such as sex, gambling or overeating, thus, the addiction cycle begins.
Our past seriously affects our addictive response. If we grew up watching mum and/or dad having a few too many Martinis in the evening and getting drunk then we learn this as appropriate behaviour “If it’s good enough for my parents…”. So in times of stress the coping mechanism that we reach for is what we learnt from our parents.
Watching Mum puff down 20 cigarettes a day from the comfort of our pram teaches us these wonderful white glowing sticks must be great as the people that we love do it so often, learnt behaviour is then engrained waiting for a chance to be triggered.
Trauma, if not reconciled, leaves a footprint in our mind of certain needs not being met. For example, child sex abuse can leave someone growing up with a warped idea of love and thinking that to feel love you must have sex, so the need for love becomes a sex addiction. A drug, to some people, is more reliable than a family who constantly lets them down so the drug fulfils a need so then you have drug addiction. When the stress of daily life gets overwhelming then getting drunk is a way of escaping that so you develop an alcohol addiction. This is only a small representation of how an addiction can be formed, there are many, many others too.
So what are we learnt?
To successfully treat an addiction for permanence of resolution you have to turn to the mind and satisfy its unmet need, coping mechanism or learnt behaviour. The problem isn’t the substance, it’s the desire for it, and the methods I use effectively deal with that desire so you can regain control over your life.
Paul believes hypnosis is empowering and life-changing. Look around the website and get in touch should you have any queries