Over the past year, I have been asked by various colleagues, professionals, patients and friends, “what are you seeing the most of in your office since the pandemic?” My response is basic – Whatever issues people were dealing with, or trying NOT to deal with before the pandemic, have grown more prevalent, more severe. The proverbial elephant in the middle of the room has now somehow learned to poop right in the middle of the living room floor and due to the stressful craziness we have been forced to live in…the stench can’t be ignored anymore.
So, Tell Me About Addiction…
To use a technical description, an addiction is when a person (adult or teen) uses a substance, or engages in a behavior, for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeat the activity, despite detrimental consequences. Addiction may involve the use of substances such as alcohol, inhalants, opioids, cocaine, marijuana and nicotine, or behaviors such as gambling, vaping, video gaming, codependency, work, shopping, exercise, food, pornography, and the internet.
In my practice I have seen a significant rise in addiction or addictive behaviors in the last year. We all know the pandemic has brought on many different adversities. But what seemed to gradually sneak up on us are the addictions which have been fed or created by stressful elements such as : increased periods of being alone or isolated, increased time with significant others, boredom, fearful thoughts of the future, and uncertainty.
NOBODY PLANS ON ADDICTION – INTENT IS MEANINGLESS
Just to be straight, I have been in this business for almost 30 years. I have never witnessed a patient who planned on becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, a person, or a behavior. In fact, the individuals I have worked with over the years talk about their false beliefs in thinking they “had it under control”, “that is stupid” or “that won’t happen to me.”
Not everyone who uses drugs, drinks alcohol, or participates in certain behaviors becomes addicted. Each person’s body and brain are different and nothing about this is as concise as a formula or equation. No, that would be far to easy… People react to drugs and behaviors differently. There’s no rule about how soon someone becomes addicted. It can happen quickly or take time. People don’t plan to get addicted to drugs. Without fail, I hear genuine comments about how someone “never intended” to end up like this, or “hurting him was never my intention”. Here’s a harsh reality – our intentions don’t mean anything in this case.
When people first use a drug, they might like how it makes them feel. They believe they can control how much and how often they take the drug. People who have a deep-seated love for a certain behavior often think they can control their usage or feel it is “just for fun”. Here’s a hard fact that is true in my world – addictions sneak up on you and want to ruin your relationships and your life. They begin with fantastic feelings and oftentimes end in hopelessness.
Both substance abuse disorders and addictive behaviors have an increased likelihood of being accompanied by mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, or other pre-existing problems.
KEEP HOPE, TAKE ACTION
Very few of us were ever taught healthy self-care skills such as how to self soothe, regulate our feelings, journal into pure blissfulness, offer ourselves grace, embrace or acknowledge our feelings, or be our best friend.
We observed others masking pain and finding a solution with tangible things outside of our own minds and feelings. Something, ANYTHING, to avoid the emotions.
Most of us were also not taught how to be alone. Really alone. The type of alone where you embrace the time and have the desire to embark on learning about your weaknesses, strengths, and ways we can love ourselves. Solitude isn’t somewhere most of us see as a positive place so we look for people, places, substances, or activities we can self-medicate with.
I am not saying this is all bad. With boundaries and balance, we can enjoy many different things that don’t always prove to be detrimental. When certain behaviors and substances are harmful, this generally stems from individuals continuing to pursue the activity despite the physical, behavioral, or psychological harm it incurs, even if the harm is exacerbated by repeated use. Typically, one’s tolerance to a substance increases as the body adapts to its presence.
Addiction is a real disease and not a moral weakness or character flaw!
Because addiction affects the brain’s executive functions, centered in the prefrontal cortex, individuals who develop an addiction may not be aware their behavior is causing problems for themselves and others. Over time, pursuit of the pleasurable effects of the substance or behavior may dominate an individual’s activities.
RECOVERY IS THE RULE, NOT THE EXCEPTION!
All addictions have the capacity to induce a sense of hopelessness and feelings of failure, as well as shame and guilt, but research documents recovery is the rule rather than the exception. There are many routes to recovery! Individuals can sometimes achieve improved physical, psychological, and social functioning on their own—so-called natural recovery. Others benefit from the support of community or peer-based networks. And still others opt for clinical-based recovery through the services of credentialed professionals.
The road to recovery is seldom straight: Relapse, or recurrence of substance use, is common—but definitely not the end of the road. Keep hope and keep trying!!
In closing, I truly believe everyone has something under their hood. Yes, every single one of us. Whether our “something” soars out of control or stays at bay is to be determined. Knowledge, awareness, education, heredity, boundaries, honesty to self, counseling, self-care, self-accountability, honesty from others, and just plain hard-ass work is what determines the outcome of our “something”.
Thank you for reading, please share with friends and loved ones. We’re continuing our Addiction topic in April so be on the lookout for our next newsletter!
Interested in more? I would love to virtually meet to you! Email or call anytime to schedule a virtual session. (817) 701-5438 | firstname.lastname@example.org
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.