COMPULSIVE BEHAVIORS – THE ADDICTIVE ROLLERCOASTER

Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.

stoned person with open pill bottle

Addiction is a chronic and compulsive disease that has an ability of taking over your complete person. While it may start off innocent enough; the compulsive nature of the disease is capable of consuming your life. The compulsion is driven by a desire to feel a particular way. You may be driven by the perception of an unfulfilled area of your life being met. Compulsive behaviors may make you feel reassured, secure, more courageous and capable of completing basic tasks in life. The intoxicating nature of the disease has an ability of making you feel invincible, but it is all along providing you a false sense of security.

Addiction often begins with a harmless relationship to the addictive substance. You may have started off by having an occasional drink at a party or with close friends. The dependency on the substance begins to take hold when an individual’s desire becomes compulsive. Individuals with a substance abuse disorder (e.g. alcohol, drugs); may have led a perceivably normal life before becoming addicted to the chosen substance. The argument often is; did the substance choose the individual, or did the individual choose the substance? Either way, the substance changes the organic structure of the brain. These changes occur through the rewiring of the brain’s pathways. Compulsive Behaviors can lead to addiction.

Distorted or compulsive thinking is what drives an addict. Whether an addict is addicted to a substance or any other vice; the catalyst for the cravings is caused by the changes that occur within the brain. Scientific research has shown that the brain’s rewiring is responsible for individuals having more intense cravings, desires, and generally making it more difficult to be released from the substance. Moreover, the same studies have indicated that the substances often cloud the individual’s judgement; ability to make rational decisions; coping mechanisms; perceptions; and cognitive and behavioral functioning.

Why does this occur in the first place? While the substance may vary from person-to-person, the desire or craving for the substance is often stimulated by a similar need; the need to feel, or to relieve unsettled emotions or feelings deep inside the psychological makeup of an individual. For many users, the substance may be the individual’s way of coping. It may be their way of managing personal stress and anxiety. The individual may find comfort or relief when using this specific substance. They may find that they are capable of escaping the “reality” of life; even if for a short time. The benefits of the escape may outweigh the risk involved with using the particular substance. The user may not even be aware of the risks associated with the substance; or they may think that they are different and that they are in control. Nevertheless, the substance finds its way into taking over the individual’s life.

The substances not only affect the overall health of the brain, but research has clearly shown that brain function may be the least of an addict’s worries. The substance can affect any extremity or bodily organ within the human anatomy. Physiologically, each drug has a different relationship with the body. The body may interact one way with the consumption of an inhalant, while reacting entirely different with a substance that is digested. It really depends upon the method of use and the type of substance consumed; whether the substance is being digested, injected or inhaled. The method of delivery will affect the impact of the substance and what type of “high” the individual experiences. It is important to understand that the method of delivery has a direct effect upon how quickly an individual reacts to the consumed substance. When an individual injects him or herself with a substance, the substance enters the bloodstream and there is almost an instant high; whereas, an individual digesting a substance would experience a delayed effect.

Over time, we know that every substance will have an effect upon the human condition. When an individual reaches this stage, they are more than likely a full-fledge addict, and completely dependent upon their chosen substance. At this stage, an individual’s brain is highjacked, and the pleasure associated with the addictive behavior becomes rote; mechanical or a habitual act.

Strangely enough, substance users are frequently aware of their problem, but they are unaware of ways to end the addictive cycle. The addict often feels as though the magnitude of their problem is beyond help. It is often described by addicts as though their life is like an out-of-control rollercoaster. Initially, the rollercoaster ride may have been an exciting and thrilling experience; but as the ride continues and intensifies, the addict becomes less of a participant and more of a hostage. The ride takes over their life- it is an addictive rollercoaster! The dynamics of the individual’s home life and work life are commonly affected. The substance user may have a deep desire to end the ride, but the mechanics are no longer in the rider’s control.

When an addict has reached this stage, it is often difficult to reach them. For the addict is often fearful of admitting to their relationship with the addictive substance, out of the perceived fear of rejection and humiliation. Moreover, family and friends may perceive them as unapproachable or incapable of reaching them at this stage.

It is extremely important to recognize that addicts began using because of an unresolved issue within their lives. Unless the issue is resolved, the addict has a greater propensity of relapse. Even with drug and alcohol treatment, an addict is more likely to begin using again if they have unresolved baggage. It is not uncommon for an addict to begin reusing to resolve the unsettled issue(s) as a strategy of coping and managing these unresolved issues. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that an addict resolves the original catalyst for the substance use.

As with any addiction, the beginning of one’s recovery occurs the moment that they acknowledge the addiction. It is not uncommon for an addict to resist acceptance and responsibility. The ownership of such issues makes the addict feel vulnerable, and for many addicts, the feeling of being vulnerable is a sign of weakness. It is important to recognize that you are not weak if you have an addiction. You are not weak when you accept responsibility, and you are not weak if you are vulnerable.

Those struggling with addiction and compulsive behaviors, should be encouraged to follow through with treatment. The treatment process may vary depending upon the individual and the type of addiction. It is not uncommon for individual’s struggling with an addiction to have a multilayered treatment strategy. The treatments may include: intensive hospitalization; therapeutic treatment centers; outpatient programs; self-help groups or 12-Step programs (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous); and a variety of other psychological and therapeutic modalities.

Being vulnerable is key to the recovery process. Addicts must accept complete responsibility and recognize that they have an ability to regain control of their life. There is no absolute “cure” that will eliminate or relieve the symptoms that led up to the individual becoming an addict. The addict will need to be an intricate part of their journey to recovery.

Dr. Asa Don Brown is one of the most sought-after speakers in the world today. Whether it’s learning how to recover from the effects of trauma or learning to live an effective life, Dr. Brown has an array of speech topics that can cater to your organization or company’s needs. As a clinician, Dr. Brown found that if you want to genuinely reach people; you must reach them through positive communication, interaction, energy and leadership.