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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Pacifiers

Pacifier

So what is a pacifier? It is anything you do to soothe yourself when you are feeling uncomfortable. Some of these, like drugs, alcohol, or gambling have all been known to cause serious problems in some people’s lives. That is primarily because people feel extreme levels of discomfort and want soothing. That, and the amount of dopamine, and other chemicals, these substances and activities are known to release in a user, are such, that the person can easily be taken well beyond comfort and straight to escape.

Today, in our consumer society, we’ve learned so much about how to activate these dopamine responses in people that almost everything we engage in is connected to “feeling good.” This creates a dangerous environment because if something doesn’t engage a dopamine response it is likely that a person will feel discomfort because they have an expectation of things making them “feel good.” It is this that then turns people to search for a pacifier.

The thing about pacifiers is that they are often things that are simply what we enjoy doing. However, there are times when we will engage them less as a healthy enjoyment and more as an escape. We have to understand that it is within the expectation to be comfortable, or happy, that can get us turning to our pacifiers and those can turn out to become addictions in our lives.

I agree that there are some substances that are far easier to become addicted to than others. However, in the world of addiction, we are going to want to step away from trying to define things as addictive or not addictive. This sort of approach has primarily been used to allow people to engage in pacifiers, at a greater level than is healthy, simply because they are not classified as addictive. These definitions also create bias, as well as stigma, depending on what drug you are engaging. If we look at “Cali Sober” there is a further stigmatizing of opioids and alcohol, which are deemed addictive, while marijuana and psilocybin as seen as saviors due to the widespread idea they are not addictive. As it relates to stigma, the idea of being addicted to a substance frame the one who suffers from addiction as weak.

In all mental health and addiction work we need to begin to center on the person we are working with and stop looking at the substance or behaviors as addictive or not. Anyone can have a problem abusing anything in their lives. If we are turning to something to help us "feel good" we are turning away from our own ability to be content in the moment and that is the prize of living.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Cross Addiction and How to Address It

We all definitely need more conversations around addiction. Most of the posts I see that relate to addiction are about how great sobriety is vs how bad the alcohol companies are for their approach to marketing. This simplifies the entire problem and it doesn't really help anyone. It separates us into two factions, and that has never been helpful. I understand that those who attack the alcohol industry are not attacking individuals, but it is the individual who will defend, and be offended by, the attacks against the Alcohol industry. Today I want to address Cross Addictions because it is my belief that we all have some form of addiction and if we have one of the big recognizable ones we probably have a dozen smaller ones waiting in the wings as well.

Cross Addiction, although not new has really been popping up with my clients these days. We not only are surrounded by so many things in our world today that can become addictive but also... pandemic. In times of discomfort, we can turn to social media, food, television, relationships and so many more things (God bless America, right?). In a world in which consumption is praised, almost anything can become addictive. We have since we were children taught "If a little is good, then a lot is going to be great!" In short, Cross Addiction is having co-occurring addictions that may or may not be affecting one another.

The biggest issue here today is that most people focus solely on the obvious addiction (the one that is traditionally understood as being addictive - alcohol, drugs, gambling). I had a client who had a Cross Addiction between Alcohol and Relationships. Their main problem was the relationship addiction and they used alcohol to maintain and continue that addiction. They came to me with the alcohol issue in the fore without fully recognizing the relationship addiction was driving the alcohol dependency. Once they realized and face the real problem the alcohol was something that could then be engaged in moderation. The addiction to alcohol was only there due to it upholding a deeper addiction they were not willing to let go of, mainly because they did not see it as being the problem. (I would like to add that the "problem" was not the relationship addiction, but that was the primary symptom of their problem. Sorting this out brought new attention and awareness to their life as a whole making it easier to cope with their triggers and their subsequent addictions.)

If you suspect that you are struggling with Cross Addiction I encourage you to seek help from someone who doesn't have the answers. Therapists and counselors, are extremely overworked and can often see a sliver of your life, and because they've seen it before building a solution for you without being open to the whole of your experience. But just as you want a therapist who doesn't have an answer you also want to be open to not having the answer. It is always a good idea when looking for a therapist to be open to their opinions and not attempt to guide their thinking. If we do that we will focus on what we see and guide conversations to include that which WE think are the problems without revealing things under the surface. 

Most addiction, and escapes that we make from our lives, are done due to trauma in our past. These might be slight traumas in the grand scheme but for us it is relative. It is, for this reason, I would suggest if we have any addiction issues we are trying to gain control of to seek someone who is trauma-informed.