At some stage I will get my arse in gear and create a link on this blog to my sobriety library – I am constantly devouring anything addiction and recovery related that I can get my hands on. The book I’m currently reading is definitely getting me to think. A LOT. Whilst I don’t like all the AA bashing, I’m not surprised by it – even the title makes it clear that the aim is to trash the theory behind 12-step programs. Although I don’t believe there is a one size fits all solution to addiction, I will never ever say anything negative about the fellowship and, in essence, I think AA encapsulates pretty much how I view recovery – acceptance, take stock, make good, live well and be kind. Well, that’s how I interpret it anyway. Say what you will about AA, it is a life saver and changer for thousands of addicts and as far as I’m concerned, even if just ONE person gets and stays sober that’s good enough. Just to make where I personally stand very clear, and although my path hasn’t been hugely AA, the fellowship is actually the reason why I got out when I did because I wouldn’t have known where else to turn initially (or rather, perhaps, EVER) and it was in AA that I truly understood my own addiction: “one drink is too many, 20 aren’t enough“. More, more, more.
The book is called ‘The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry’.
It does rip the rehab industry to shreds, and I’ll have to say a lot of it makes sense. Did you know, for example, that the standard 28 or 30-day or whatever it is stay at rehab isn’t based on any evidence that this time period is sufficient or a good start from an addiction recovery point of view? Nope, it’s based on the time limit set by medical insurance companies (in the US, presumably, which I suppose is the birth place of celebrity rehabs) – that’s where it comes from and has nothing to do with recovery in any way whatsoever. I doubt I’ll need to ask, but did you know “equine therapy” also has no proven benefit when it comes to recovering from addiction? Or tai chi or majestic surroundings – all very nice and lovely distractions perhaps, but none of that helps treat the cause for our addictions. I’m sure that it’d be much better to have a medical detox and be given a wonderful escape from everyday life, focus entirely on recovery and engage in various therapies for a month, but the issue with sobriety isn’t getting sober, it’s staying sober, and sooner or later – or in 30 days! – we have to go back to our normal lives. Lo and behold, success rates aren’t encouraging. Besides, with price tags in the tens of thousands of dollars, this sort of start to recovery isn’t exactly within the grasp for many of us.
The bit I was reading last night however, was about types of addicts and that’s what really caught my attention. During the Vietnam war, thousands of American soldiers got hooked on heroin. Of course, heroin is one of those devil drugs where physical addiction is established almost immediately – it’s quite literally enough to just use the drug a handful of times to become addicted. A bit like nicotine, in that sense – you become physically hooked almost straight away. As a comparison, getting physically addicted to alcohol takes a lot more time and effort – interesting side note, no? Anyway. Back in the States, over 90% of those heroin addicted soldiers went back to their lives and left the heroin behind. Only a small number remained addicts. Why? How is it that the vast majority of people physically addicted to a drug that is generally considered to be one of the absolute worst ones to escape, walked away? No celebrity rehabs in sight, by the way.
Look at Hubby. He’s just had a shoulder op and has a bag of prescription drugs sitting on his bedside table. His stash consists of: co-codamol, tramadol and diclofenac. Only diclofenac isn’t addictive out of this little trio of Hubby’s little helpers. Both medications prescribed for the pain, co-codamol and tramadol, are extremely addictive and a quick browse on the NHS website and a handful of other medical information websites tells me it’s enough to use co-codamol and tramadol – one on its own or both in combination – for just a matter of days to experience physical withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. These symptoms can include dizziness, the shakes, the shits, headaches and a few other unpleasant sensations. The effect of these two drugs is obvious: Hubby gets sleepy and quite spaced out. A bit woozy and not quite with it. Thousands of people get prescribed these drugs to treat pain after surgery or other medical complaints like chronic pain of some sort. As established, physical addiction can occur within just days, yet again as with the Vietnam soldiers addicted to heroin, the vast majority of people then finish treatment and walk away. Only a very small fraction continue taking the drugs either via drug dealers or dodgy websites or wherever else you can illegally get your mitts on prescription drugs.
OK, I get that this is probably obvious but I find this so incredibly interesting! What is clear is that anyone – so long as they are made of flesh and blood and the other necessary ingredients to qualify as a “human being” – can become physically addicted to a physically addictive drug. Correct? It doesn’t matter who you are, if you take enough of the drug, you will get physically addicted. Yet, some people can walk away and relatively easily so! The Vietnam soldiers addicted to heroin, for example. Withdrawing from heroin is apparently quite shitty with severe stomach cramps and all sorts of crap (literally) but as with many other drugs it leaves the system fairly quickly and when these soldiers were over the “hump” that appears to be it. I’m sure there were lots of issues and I doubt ANYONE gets back from war and “that’s it”, but in terms of the heroin use, that’s apparently what happened. They didn’t continue using the drug.
So it appears there are two camps here. Addicts and non-addicts. All of us can become physically addicted to a drug but only some of us are addicts in the truest sense, right? The difference is that the non-addicts seem to need a concrete reason to take the drug and when that reason is no longer there, also gone is the need for the drug.
And so for us poor fuckers who seem to be the true addicts, those of us who are a little different in our wiring and who I’m so keen to figure out. In this group, I can just about begin to see two additional camps: fleers and hunters. What unites us is that when the war is over or the pain has subsided, we still continue to take the drug. Besides, we didn’t need a war or physical pain to get started in the first place, did we? It all came down to, broadly speaking, one of these two things: 1) fleeing how we feel, which we either can’t stand or are uncomfortable with, or 2) we aren’t content to just feel enough, we chase the high to get more, more, more.
So according to Anna’s Addiction Index, I’m a hunter addict. My greatest trigger? A great mood! Chase that good stuff! Pour more wine on it! Sprinkle glitter everywhere! Go, go, go! I’m restless and want to move to the next level. It’s never quite enough where I currently am. More, more, more!
Some clever person posted something on This Naked Mind’s Facebook page yesterday. She said in her opinion addiction is never about the drug itself, but about what we’re trying to get away from and figuring that bit out. She put it really eloquently and this doesn’t do her words justice, but that’s the gist of what she said. I think she’s on to something. I’d go as far as to say that the physical side of addiction is the smallest, and by far the easiest part to deal with. OK, not meaning to sound flippant and I’ve had the shakes enough times to know how deeply unpleasant it can be and withdrawal should never be taken lightly. Alcohol can be very dangerous to withdraw from, shakes can progress into fits and convulsions and ultimately death. What I’m saying is that the physical addiction when dealt with in whatever way it needs to be dealt with – warm baths or emergency room detox – is done. When it’s done it’s done. When the poison is out of your system you are no longer physically in its grip.
Let’s look at a drug which is super easy to withdraw from: nicotine. 48 hours and it’s all gone. During those 48 hours the worst symptom you’re likely to experience is a slightly restless and empty feeling, kind of like feeling peckish. If Angelina Jolie or Bradley Cooper (depending on your preference) walked by just as you’re in the middle of it, you’d forget all about wanting that cigarette. That’s how weak nicotine is. So really, you don’t need the strength of Hercules to get through those 48 hours and you certainly don’t need a medical detox. Or nicotine gum, for that matter, which is only in existence to bolster what the government will have lost out on in terms of tax money from tobacco. You don’t need a chewing gum to fight off a craving so weak it doesn’t even give you a headache, OK? Trust me on this one. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that after those couple of days, it’s all in your head. Nowhere else. It’s not habit either – if breaking habits was so damn difficult it’d be illegal to drive from England to France. You switch to the other side of the road, bit weird to begin with but hardly DIFFICULT. It’s not the habit that makes stopping hard.
Actually, nicotine is a bad example because it’s actually the only drug that gives no high whatsoever. Nothing happens when you smoke. You literally just ease the slight discomfort caused by the previous cigarette. Terrible example. My bad! At least with heroin something happens (anyone? I can’t offer any input on that one) and with booze you get drunk. Nicotine? Hahaha! What a fucking con trick! If it didn’t kill so many people it’d be funny. Extremely expensive, tastes like absolute dog’s bottom and you have a one in two chance – 50%!! – of dying a very painful death as a direct result of smoking. You’d think there’d be some extraordinary high, no? If you’ve never smoked, here’s the secret: there is nothing. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. People smoke because they’re addicted to nicotine and kept that way because the economy would collapse if we stopped buying tobacco tomorrow. Just like the economy would collapse if we stopped buying booze. But I digress – let’s go back to Big Brother some other time though, eh?
I think the conclusion is something I think we’ve mostly agreed on whether we are AA superstars or follow other sobriety paths: there’s something that sets some of us apart, makes us “true addicts”. Is it the fabled addict’s brain? It’d make perfect sense to me because I can absolutely see how I’m wired differently to non-addicts. Something in the way I react that’s different perhaps. Sometimes I see it in others, perhaps a bit too much excitement at the mention of alcohol? I dunno. I think it’s also clear that addiction isn’t perhaps all that much to do with the physical side of addiction. Personally, I mostly sniffed around that part, didn’t quite experience the true depths of it, but then with alcoholism that’s usually right on the last stretch, right? So it would make sense that it’s in our heads. Those dopamine levels and all those pathways in our brains that get fucked up and re-routed? But the drug affects the dopamine levels and how our brains produce those, so why is it that MY brain goes into full-on Christmas time workshop at the smallest hint of a high and Hubby’s just doesn’t?
Just last night I suggested (and yes, I realise VERY foolishly and MASSIVELY irresponsibly) to Hubby after he’d told me he’s slept quite poorly since his operation:
“Well, just take them anyway before bed because they’ll help you sleep better.”
“Nah, I’m not in pain,” he replied matter-of-fact.
They’re for pain, nothing else in his world. Therefore, unless he’s in pain to the point of being uncomfortable, why in God’s name would he take them? Me, I saw several additional reasons. I would personally have taken the two (yes, addictive) painkillers even if the pain I was in didn’t require it simply because I like that dopey feeling and knowing it’d send me to sleep. That didn’t even seem to occur to Hubby. Is it that non-addicts just prefer reality to feeling dopey? Fucking weirdos.
Is it an inner sense of being unsettled? AA seem to answer this part of the question with the neatly packaged “spiritual malady”. Perhaps true? Oh, I know I’m not exactly doing a great job of tying the loose ends together as I’m concluding this post but the truth is I don’t know how to. I’m just looking at all these loose ends. Perhaps I’ll never find the answers and that’s OK, but I do find it excessively interesting. I salute anyone who made it to the end of this post – I know I ramble….
Feel free to throw your two-pence into the hat. As always, gratefully received and I always learn so much more here in the blogosphere than any book could possibly teach me.
Today I’m not going to drink.