Alcoholism & Addiction: PlusThe Process Addictions: Food, Gambling, Sex and the Internet.

Alcoholism & Addiction: PlusThe Process Addictions: Food, Gambling, Sex and the Internet.

written by: Mr. Brian Green
by: Mr. Brian Green
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There is some dispute among some Doctors, Psychiatrists and Psychologist as to whether compulsive behaviors such as those in the title are addictions. If one defines addictions only by physical withdrawal symptoms, then possibly they are not. Though as the mind and body are so intertwined, emotional withdrawals can also lead to physical distress with process addictions. This facet can be concealed by being fused with the more obvious intense physical withdrawals in the case of substances. But if one defines addictions through the prism of a multi-faceted process developing across time, they can easily be viewed as similar to substance addictions, different from them, but no more different than substance addictions are from each other. Some authorities deny that Marijuana is addictive, though my experience tells me otherwise for some persons. The significance of this is that one's theoretical basis largely governs one's approach to providing assistance in these areas.

This kind of reservation is uncommon among those who work in the treatment field. They are aware that most of the developing process of addiction is not only a physical, but mental, emotional and spiritual, (in terms of beliefs, ethics etc. at the very least). This is clear with alcoholism. The intake of alcohol in the early stages may be intermittent, spaced out, while a knowledgeable observer can identify the emerging stereotypical thought-forms and behaviors of addiction to alcohol appearing at this stage even so. The physical addiction is a later stage. Because physical dependency and withdrawals are so concrete and easily identifiable, our scientifically based medical culture has focused on them as the identifying events for addiction.

But as I have already begun indicating, addiction is a more complex process than this. It can include the sub- processes of abuse, compulsion, physical and psychological dependency, habituation, tissue and metabolic adaptation. Any of these can exist without addiction, or combined within it. Primarily addiction on the psychological level, is an addiction to a process of avoiding, evading and escaping from inner and outer realities. This is accomplished by disconnection from these realities, numbing them, suppressing them, distraction, plus the increasing overuse of many psychological defense mechanisms, such as compliance, denial, minimization, rationalization and so on. Of "fixing" the self, and the self esteem. Of dealing with "stress" by depending on the addiction for alteration of mood. This may result from a gradual learning process, or abruptly right from the get go. As the addiction proceeds, compulsiveness becomes amplified, self-esteem is eroded, and there is more stress needing to be escaped from.

So let's examine the process addictions and compare them to substance addiction. We can begin with food, which in some ways is intermediate between substance and process. A friend of mine, a sober alcoholic for many years remarked. "Food was my first addiction." With a tinge of disbelief I queried with the equivalent of, "How so?' "Well, food tranquilized me." I immediately realized my blind spot. Because food did not have that effect on me, I had not understood its addictive power. The classic trap of projecting my own experience onto others. Non-addicts do this routinely with addicts. They don't realize the alcoholic is having a totally different subjective experience with alcohol than they are themselves. Ditto for gambling, etc. Many foods have been discovered to have an effect on brain chemicals, (neurotransmitters), such as serotonin, that affect mood. The physical act of eating, like smoking, can "push down" (repress), feelings. The weight gain can provide a layer of emotional "insulation." Like other addictions, family upbringing can reinforce the process.(food is love/eat everything on your plate, and so on). So to those who are vulnerable, an addiction to depending on these effects can be initiated. For those so inclined, food can make the intolerable more tolerable. Escaping from anger and guilt with food are commonplace. The food addict then becomes, in a typical addictive self-feeding (recursive) feedback loop, angry with themselves and self-hating, thus creating a greater and greater need to escape. Like all addicts, using self-blame, they create low self-image, (I'm fat, weak, bad, crazy, worthless, hopeless etc.), so the very act of fixing themselves with food lowers self-esteem, creating a greater need for food to further fix themselves. This is a feature of most addictions.

These secondary levels are identical in process addictions as with substance addictions. Food can lead to terminal physical problems. Sex addiction too. A major cause of death for gambling addicts, as others, is suicide. So however one categorizes them, the process addictions are as destructive and serious as all others. One male client informed me that he was the "Adult Child Of An Overeater". Inwardly I raised my eyebrows. He then described how as a child, his father would come home from work, ensconce himself in front of the TV, with a plate of food, (doughnuts I seem to recall), and eat all evening. Functionally no different from watching TV while drinking a six-pack of beer, or sipping whisky all evening. No connection, nurturing, guidance, no positive interaction. None of his parenting needs being met. I realized he had a point. I used to discount these "lesser' addictions after dealing with alcoholics and narcotic addicts, who can often be seen as very flamboyant and colorful characters. But I have come to understand that the misery and suffering of addiction, both of the addicts themselves, and those emotionally close to them, can be as severely painful in any one of them, and usually is!

So how about gambling? Well, gamblers brain scans when gambling show similar patterns to those of an alcoholic when drinking. Gamblers get "high" on the on the adrenaline created by the tension and excitement, a similar 'high" to speed, (amphetamines), and cocaine. Again there is a brain chemical involved. Probably addictions cause changes in brain functioning in most cases after a while. Just as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, (OCD), shows up as localized hyperactivity in various connecting brain centers. There is also a gambling social world, just as there is an alcohol world and an addict world, which supplies companionship and camaraderie with people on the same wavelength. So it becomes a full-blown lifestyle disorder, controlling the addict's life choices. At least one addict knew this. During my intake I asked him if he were married, and he answered, "I've been married to gambling all my life." Alcoholics sometimes when sober talk of their "love affaire with the bottle." Any addiction can become a substitute for close relationships.

Now we come to the least understood of the addictions. Sex. This usually provokes either disbelief or sniggers, as its true nature is rarely understood. I was working with a young man in his early twenties, sober from alcohol and drugs. He was always "bleating" about women and rejection, but I paid little attention. Then one day he said, "Brian, you don't understand, I have had sex with over one hundred women in the last three months!" I thought to myself, "That's not fun, that's hard work." I saw him "operate" in social situations, and his behavior was exactly as described in the sex addiction literature, ie stereotypical. As large areas of thinking become in all addictions. He had a desperate drive that was exhibited by a male in a video I saw on sex addiction in my college Counseling course.

Another sex addict I saw would masturbate in the morning shower, have a prostitute in his office around mid-day, sex with his wife in the evening, then watch pornography and masturbate after she had gone to bed. Another gentleman would go to peep shows and receive oral sex from anonymous men, and he was not gay! He was so addicted to the orgasm. This man stayed with me for long term recovery, and his thought/emotional difficulties were identical to those of a recovering alcoholic. This led me to supply AA solutions, translated from alcoholic thinking, and it worked every time. He is now married with a child. Presumably the man who was identified as having sex with thousands of women in Alfred Kinsey's monumental groundbreaking study, "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male." was a sex addict. This condition was first outlined by Patrick Carnes in, "Out of the Shadows." Again, sex produces "feel good" neurotransmitters in the brain, endorphins. These chemicals are analogues to opiates, but hundreds of times more potent than narcotics, though the amounts in the brain are far smaller. So here again there is an addiction to the addict's own brain chemicals. The self-feeding negative cycle described above for food addiction applies to this "fix" also as it devours the sex addict's life.

To further confuse matters, addictions may be combined. Gamblers who drink. Alcoholics who are overeaters. The large majority at least smoke heavily in addition. Internet Addiction easily feeds into Pornography Addiction, a sub variety of Sex Addiction. Online gambling has mushroomed. Shopping and Ebay are easily available to "Shopoholics." These Dual Addictions intertwine and fuse. Any of them can be combined with an initial mental condition, Dual Diagnosis, further increasing the difficulties for those populations. Some addictions create partly permanent mental problems of their own. Addiction to the Internet is obviously a recent phenomenon. In Asia this is recognized as a significant problem, and treatment centers have been opened. On my web page I have an article written by a journalist regarding his brother's Internet addiction, and a link to a site devoted to this topic. Internet addiction seems eminently feasible to me, just as addictions to shopping, overspending and debting are. I just have not encountered them in my practice as of yet. c. Brian Green. 09/20015. Holistic Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy – Los Angeles

written by: Mr. Brian Green

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