Call it What it Is
In my private counseling practice, “addiction” is a word I’m careful with. “Substance abuse” and “dependency” are far more articulate and make us ask better questions. The American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V prefers the term: Substance Use Disorder. Patients are rated on scales of severity according to habits and behaviors like frequency of use and amounts. Whatever you call it, addiction is real and tragic. It’s possible, drinking/drugging/eating to excess, to drive the body and mind beyond simple recovery over time. Going past the point of our ability to control our appetite for drugs or alcohol or food is a like a slippery slope. Healing and coming back requires much from everyone involved, including family members. Substance abuse is a window into someone’s pain, and how they cope with it, even when that person thinks it doesn’t show. What do we do when we or someone we love has a Substance Use Disorder?
Compassion and confrontation are needed when sorting the person from the disorder. Caring and support is critical, but often we are confronting true insanity and “tough love” is required. Trying to be reasonable with someone crazy with alcohol or drugs can be futile. Good people are capable of doing terribly bad things when lost in substance abuse. We sometimes want to turn away. In the recent movie “Beautiful Boy” a broken hearted father, played by Steve Carrell finally tells his desperately heroin addicted son he can’t come home any more. It’s a complicated drama and there’s no universal answer. Amazingly though, under the right conditions, healing is sometimes possible.
Why Does This Occur?
A useful way of looking at the some of the causes of addiction is “developmental delay”. From childhood through aging, we all pass through stages of development. Toilet training. First grade. Puberty’s an important one. Launching into young adult-hood’s another. “Developmental delay” can occur when the person fails to accomplish the central tasks related to developmental passages (like middle school socialization, managing puberty, developing adult sexuality/intimacy, emerging successfully from the shelter of high school or college, traction in the job sphere). Adverse childhood events, especially can cause a person “stuck” in such “delays” to experience mood swings, frustration and social maladjustment. Drugs, alcohol and food can all be coping mechanisms through the comfort they offer.
A 30 year old might truly “feel” like a 14 year old emotionally, and behave that way if she was molested at 14. Feeling “stuck at 14″ may be her experience and often what she presents to others. Think of “baby doll” girl. A prime example of under developed psychology. For this person intimacy is likely difficult. She may turn to alcohol, drugs, food or even sex to soothe herself. Se may display overly risky behavior, or remain “commitment phobic”. These behaviors can be viewed as coping mechanisms for the pain of developmental failure. If lucky, she’ll find a good licensed professional psychotherapist and come to terms with this painful history.
Substance Use Disorders can be thought of as “appetite problems”. Disordered appetites arise from adverse childhood experiences that can result in developmental failure/delay. That’s why drinking and eating can so subtly turn into abusive habits. Emotional hunger becomes food and drink hunger. Sorting out emotional hunger, looking at where it has led a person and creating healthy alternatives are key. Substance Use Disorders can be thought of as “transferable” in this way because of this. Smoking, drinking, eating, gambling, hyper (or hypo) -sexuality, drugging…are all expressions of the same desperate emotional (and spiritual ) hunger. If you or someone you love is truly “hungry” in this way, and living a life that has become un-manageable, give me a call or text me at 561-213-8030. I’m right off Atlantic Avenue downtown.