There is no one Addictive or Compulsive Behavior. There are many. Sex, gambling, internet pornography, cutting, eating disorders, these would be the more common examples of just a few. Additionally, there is not just one drug of choice. There are many. For example, alcohol, opiates, meth, cocaine and marijuana, are some that are readily available and waiting. Yet rarely if ever, does any one person find themselves compulsively engaging in all of them. The compulsive and addicted individual gravitates to a drug or activity of choice. They participate in that special primary relationship that defines the nature of their addiction. How did that happen? Did we just pick door number three and suddenly become a meth or opiate addict? Or perhaps we spun the wheel and it clattered and clicked then slowly settled on alcohol abuse and addiction. Did that door or wheel ultimately lead us to multiple DUI’s, career mishaps, incarceration and family destruction?
Are we just passive participants waiting for the next spin of the wheel to determine if there is a reward or a bankrupt? Should we have opened a different door? Make no mistake about it. We chose our addictive compulsive behavior ourselves. We chose which drug or activity to become our new best friend. Not by the chance spin of a wheel or opening a mystery door but by our own choice, and we chose it for a reason. How does that happen? Why would we choose such a life? Let’s explore a little.
Summer is coming to an end. It is a breezy beautiful day, late afternoon in southern Nevada. I am driving by one of our city parks, a welcome oasis in the middle of the desert.
Children are playing tag on the grass, throwing Frisbees, swinging on swings by the dog park and just enjoying the remaining few days of summer vacation. Most of them are pre-teens, laughing, smiling and enjoying the day. Now here is the amazing and alarming truth. Within the next few years over half of these children will have experimented, used, habitually abused and in some cases become addicted to some form of chemical or compulsive activity, and they haven’t even gotten to high school yet. That is a fact. This is how it begins.
We are who we are. We have parents and they had parents too. We have a family and genetic connections. Family history is a factor to be considered and understood in addictive behavior. Now understand this. No family is the cause of addiction. Remember the door and the wheel. We are not passive participants. We have choices. Genetics and family history do determine many things. Some people will get a beautiful tan when out for a day or two at the beach. Others like me will get sunburn in a much shorter time. That is genetics and family related. I have a choice to burn or monitor my time, wear proper clothes and use sun block. If I burn do I blame my great grandfather or my mother? I had a choice. Here is my point. If your father and mother are alcoholics perhaps you cannot be a social drinker.
And your alcohol history will tell you something about you. If you have family members who have engaged in compulsive behaviors you also may be at risk. But you have choices. It’s not fair and it may not be easy but a choice is going to be made one way or another. You have a choice. I do understand that someone already in active compulsive behavior and addiction has temporarily lost the cognitive ability to choose but we will talk about that in a short time.
We are who we are. We have a Psychological Nature. We have a particular personality, a personality unique to us. Are we shy or out-going? Do we make friends easily? Does it take us time to fit in? Are we comfortable around others? Is your sales call or interview stressful? These factors determine our emotional state.
If we are not content with ourselves and who we are, what drug or activity could we use to change that state of emotion? Would alcohol allow us to relax and fit in more? Would stealing something or gambling give us the thrill we have been craving? Would marijuana make the boredom of school or work easier? Did that experimentation with meth give us a lift to see the world in a more exciting way? Does cutting my arm, just a little, make me
feel more alive? Will that work again? Forever?
We are who we are. Within our brain we have billions of brain cells called neurons. Each one of these neurons has hundreds of thousands of receptors. These receptors receive information. How do we know the difference between our house key and our car key? Are those people friends or strangers? Are they going to hurt me? Do I feel safe? For us to be able to interact with the world, have a sense of well-being, have the ability to learn, sleep and eat, each one of these neurons and receptors must communicate with another neuron. But neurons don’t touch each other. They communicate by sending chemicals back and forth into the many receptor sites. Our entire body and mind is receptor driven.
Brain Chemistry, the neurotransmitters,such as Serotonin, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Endorphins and many others. All these neurotransmitters play a major role in how we function, how we feel and who we are at any given point of time. When we or those children in the park first experimented with an outside drug or thrilling activity, brain chemistry began to change. Receptor sites became blocked, temporarily stimulated or sedated. If we did not like the feeling we did not return. We would not use that drug or engage in that activity again. But what if we felt better? What if we liked it? Could we talk to people and fit in? Were we less shy? Were we less hyper and intense? Did we feel better about ourselves? Did our emotional state seem to become more functional for the situation? Was school more tolerable? Was it easier to go home? Was the sales call or interview less stressful? Maybe that same drug or activity will work again, and another time too. We have just found our drug or activity of choice and it is different for everyone. Brain chemistry continues to change. What once was working one way now begins to work another way. More and more of the drug or activity are now being compulsively craved to try and maintain some level of perceived normal function. Less and less of the normal brain
chemistry is being produced causing craving, anxiety, insomnia and a lack of well-being. What seemed to work in the beginning and make us feel better now never seems to be enough to get us where we want to be. In fact now we feel worse than we ever did. We are chasing an illusion. Our best friend is letting us down. And to make matters worse everyone around us can see it happening and we keep chasing the dragon.
Instead of the brain functioning cognitively and logically we now have the mid brain in control, the midbrain, the reactive brain, that is the involuntary part of the brain. We now do things that are irrational and illogical. We do what we don’t want to do, and we do it over and over again. We have lost our ability to choose. We now have a compulsion and an addiction. It may have all begun by experimenting with friends after a day of playing in the
park, having fun at a party, perhaps after a high school football game, or getting to know new peers in a college dorm, but it had a beginning. We have gone from abstinence to addiction within a progressive process that seems mere a moment.
Now let me end with some wonderful and positive news. News that I hope you would also share. There are millions of people around the world who now lead positive productive lives. People who have had their health, families and careers restored. They are in recovery, free from compulsive and addictive behavior. Recovery is available to anyone no matter how long or how severe that addiction is or has been. I know. I have been helping
people successfully achieve and live a life of recovery for over 3o years. Recovery is real. It begins with recognition and the decision to change.
The first step is by breaking that mid brain compulsive cycle. That requires treatment, and I don’t mean switching one drug for another. That is not treatment . That is insanity.
The power of choice returns once the cognitive mind is back in control. This is the point where counseling will have its most beneficial effect. We get to choose how we conduct and live our lives. We get to live a life of recovery.
If you need help, get help. If you know someone who needs help, don’t enable them, help them. You will be a part of a better life for someone not yet born.
Dr. Michael J. De Vito is a diplomate and is board certified in Addictionology. He is the founder and program director of NewStart Treatment Center located in Henderson, Nevada. He is presently in private practice helping patients from all parts of the world attain and successfully live a life of recovery from substance abuse and addictive behavior. NewStart Treatment Center utilizes a drug free and natural approach to addiction treatment. www.4anewstart.com Dr. De Vito is a graduate of Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and
Northwestern Health Science University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has been an instructor of Medial Ethics, Clinical Pathology, Anatomy and Physiology at the College of Southern Nevada. Dr. De Vito is the author of Addiction: The Master Keys to Recovery