Col20_AddictionBack in my former punk band days of glory, I used to jam with this drummer. Though I’ve always placed “the music” at the forefront, unfortunately it’d seem that far too many players allow the “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” lifestyle to reign supreme. So was true of this particular individual.

Irrespective of the fact he signed a contract with our label agreeing to professional (and reasonable) terms of employment, which outlined that intoxication of any kind before, during or after practises or performances was grounds for immediate dismissal, he continually tried to not-so-cleverly earn his honours into the “Dead at 27” Club.

Push finally came to shove when we were on tour in the States and his driving shift came up. In an effort to “remedy” his hangover from the night prior (and importantly, believing I was asleep in the backseat), he cracked open a cold one while at the wheel on the freeway, and began to openly chug it back. I believe you are all bright enough to use your imaginations to deduce what transpired between us shortly thereafter.

As we discussed last week, having some sort of outlet for “escapism” isn’t just a nicety, but rather a necessity for overall healthy psychological functioning. Though some choices are clearly more “mature” than others (in that their benefits are longer-lasting and they require positive self-examination), everyone ultimately needs to follow their own road in order to discover what does and does not work for them.

To return for a moment to my opening tale… The point of my story was/is NOT to rain down on musicians in general nor those who like to occasionally smoke the ganga, instead what I’m trying to get at is this: drinking some brew to relax one’s nerves before a big gig or to figuratively take the “load off” after a long hard day at work is one thing, BUT if you have somehow convinced yourself the negative effects of alcohol (or any drug for that matter) can be counteracted by MORE of that same substance, you’ve got a SERIOUS problem and that problem is called ADDICTION.

Formally, “any activity, substance, object or behavior that has become the major focus of a person’s life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally or socially is considered an addictive behaviour,” (Alcohol and Other Drugs: Self Responsibility). Importantly, addiction and escapism are deeply intertwined in that they BOTH rely upon the concept of “pleasure” (ie: that’s why individuals partake in both activities to start); therefore if one chooses to recreationally ingest various substances as a means to “de-stress”, they are in effect walking a VERY fine line. At the risk of sounding like your mother, please BE CAREFUL if this is your chosen method of achieving Zen!

More in line with our purposes for today’s discussion however is the above authors’ use of the phrase, “ANY activity, substance, object or behavior” in their definition of addiction. While traditionally when we think of addicts, we envision skinny-as-a-rail strung-out junkies, addictions do NOT just have to be to substances or even the tangible! One can be “addicted” to something as seemingly “harmless” as a certain psychological mindset, such as feelings of low self-worth.

In this case, the mindset becomes the impetus (or the “drug” if you will) for behaving in self-detrimental capacities (ie: only dating abusive partners because of a belief that you do not deserve better). The pleasure derived from doing so? Ironically, the ability to “self-fulfill” your own “prophecies”.

To run with our example in more elaborate terms, if you have feelings of low self-worth, you will project that energy outward, both consciously and subconsciously. That energy projection in turn will attract a very specific type of potential mate (most commonly, a user, abuser or someone looking to prey on a weaker individual in order to make themselves feel superior or needed). The awful treatment you receive from this type of partner REAFFIRMS your notions of unworthiness (ie: you’re getting what you deserve). Consequently, you become “addicted” to this type of abusive relationship.

I’m sure all of you (unfortunately) can think of a friend who bounces from one “bad romance” to the next and can’t seem to understand why he/she is treated so poorly consistently? Though your friend likely wouldn’t be willing to admit it (as denial is a key characteristic of addiction), he/she may be suffering from self-esteem issues and subconsciously attracting less than desirable partners as a result.

While substance-related addictions are said to primarily be rooted in genetic factors (ie: certain individuals are more susceptible given their personality type and/or attraction to risk-taking behaviours), psychological addictions, such as the one I described above, generally are associated with feelings bordering depression, anxiety or general dissatisfaction with life. These feelings contribute to an overall pessimistic worldview, which in turn produces self-esteem issues (ie: self-blame as a method of rationalization).

Importantly, one must realize that addiction is NOT purely an indication of psychological weakness or immaturity however, when you become addicted to something, your brain chemistry actually changes.

As explained by Addictions Specialist, Dr. Adi Jaffe:

With repeated drug administrations, the body adjusts its internal processes in an attempt to return to its initial level of functioning. Drug use normally causes greater quantities of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, the opioids, and adrenaline to be present in the drug user’s synapses. The body counters this by reducing its own release of these chemicals, reducing the numbers of receptors that can be activated by the neurotransmitters, and increasing functions known as “opponent processes” that are meant to counter their activity.

The interesting thing about tolerance is that by reducing the level of these important neurotransmitters, addicts are left with another, possibly more important effect, which is the loss of the addicted brain’s ability to respond to any reward, including natural ones like food, sex, enjoying a good football game, or anything else. Essentially, this sort of cross-tolerance leaves the addict less able to respond to rewards in general.

The reduced response to drugs, and the corresponding changes in the body and brain’s own functioning, have long been thought to be a major cause of addiction. The withdrawal that results once drug taking stops is closely linked to the development of tolerance.

Accordingly, there’s good reason then as to why the number one step to any rehab program is “admitting you have a problem.” Given that there may not always be clear physical changes associated with a purely psychological addiction to both bystanders and the affected individual him/herself, this may prove to be a more formidable task than say if we were dealing with an alcohol abuse problem.

In either case, after one’s “admittance”, assessment of why the addiction developed in the first place is CRUCIAL for rehabilitative success; psychological maturity then, in the form of introspection, is obviously a key component here.

To bring everything we’ve been discussing the last few weeks full circle, let me reiterate that there’s nothing wrong with having fun and letting loose. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with having feelings of self-doubt or failure time and again. As I said previously, life is STRESSFUL and it takes serious moxie to persevere entirely on one’s own through the thick and thin.

With that said, as I hope I’ve made abundantly clear at this point, the secret to achieving a fulfilling mature life then, as the popular expression goes, is experiencing “everything in moderation.” When your life starts to get thrown out of balance, you put yourself and those you care about at risk. If you, as a consequence, find yourself becoming RELIANT on something to cope, have fun or affirm your perceptions, you NEED to reach out for help. Addiction is no laughing matter, nor is trying to kick one once you’ve succumbed to it.