Addiction-Taking Another Look
By Mary Ewing, DC, CMP, ABC, C.Ad.c
We all love to feel good! Most of our behavior as human beings, no matter how it manifests itself, is an attempt to feel good, normal, happy, and/or balanced. Despite this wonderful intention, addictive and sometimes compulsive behavior can become problematic for some who use those strategies to feel good. I call strategies for feeling good simply “feel-good strategies” (FGS). Feel-good strategies can be anything that feels good. Some of my favorite FGS are working, dancing, laughing, walks in nature, getting a good night’s sleep, eating good food, and so on. My FGS list used to include alcohol, crack/cocaine, meth, and other strategies that stopped working. So, let’s talk about the difference between addiction and compulsion.
What’s the difference between addiction and compulsion? How do you know if a behavior has moved into an addictive feel-good strategy? The two behaviors are very similar. Both are characterized by a repetitive behavior that takes on an obsessive quality. Both behaviors are chronic and progressive. Both cause a change in the way a person feels. Both behaviors can potentially create suffering and strong negative consequences for the person doing the behavior, the family and friends of the person, and the environment the person is in. Here’s the difference. If a behavior is addictive, it will continue despite strong negative consequences. Usually, a compulsive behavior will change if there is a strong negative consequence. An example of a strong negative consequence would be things such as DUIs, blackouts, car accidents, significant physical symptoms, getting in deep with a bookie, alienating one’s family members, loss of work due to behavior, putting one’s children in danger or having them taken away, and so on.
In my office I call the path to recovery—you guessed it—“feel-good recovery.” I offer supportive therapies such as chiropractic, massage therapy, auriculotherapy for craving, nutritional suggestions, and amino acid protocols to balance neurochemistry. I strongly recommend addiction coaching to assist the recovery process, either with me or another program or professional. Feel-good recovery addresses the five main addictive strategies—alcohol/drugs, sex, food, gambling, and codependency—as well as other compulsive strategies, such as ADD. Addictive and compulsive strategies are seen as any other type of behavior in that they are an attempt to feel good, normal, or balanced. In feel-good recovery, addictive and compulsive strategies are viewed as behaviors that manifest from a combination of physiological, spiritual, sociological, and environmental components, all of which are vibrationally/emotionally influenced. All of those variables are affected by, and exacerbated by, the isolation and separation that our society insists upon for those suffering with the “disease.” Each person is invited to explore which of the variables are at play in his or her individual case. They are supported as they decide if the feel-good strategies they are using are creating value in their lives or not and in learning new strategies if needed. While 12-step is honored, encouraged, and respected, in some cases alternatives are explored with the understanding that group support and face-to-face connection are essential to make the shift to new strategies.
Why is group support so important? Addictive behavior loves to occur in isolation. Connection with others is an important key to healing. Therefore, group support is very important for shifting out of FGS that are no longer working. For example, when it comes to the FGS of drug and alcohol use, research with rat populations suggests that addiction to substances isn’t just about the pleasure centers of the brain being stimulated, nor the change in neurotransmitters available to feel good. It is also about bonding behavior or a lack thereof.
Bruce Alexander, creator of the Rat Park experiment back in the 1970s, noticed that when rats had connection with other rats, fun, and good lives, they were not interested in drug-laced water or food. Rats kept alone with drug-laced food or water would repetitively use. Johann Hari, in his book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, suggests that the current and prevalent method of cutting addicts off from human contact is outdated. He quotes Bruce Alexander, who stated that “we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery—how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog. … But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.”
Contact Mary Ewing at 530-899-9988