12-Step And Types Of Addictions
12-Step And Types Of Addictions
Daniel Gatlin (Director, Renaissance Malibu) gives expert video advice on: In the 12 step understanding, how are behavioral addictions similar to chemical addiction?; How do I know if I need help, according to the 12 step model?; How does attending 12 step meetings keep you on course after you return home? and more...
What is the 12 step definition of addiction?
Over the years there've been a number of different models and a number of different explanations. Right now, I'd say with the latest research that's been done, everyone pretty much agrees it's more of chronic brain disorder having to do with the pleasure centers of the brain: how that is regulated, how a person responds to external stimulus. And, I think that it's nice that it seems to be unifying all of the sort of individuals that have been treating addiction. In the past, there was a lot of controversy with the medical model and the disease model. I think that now they seem to be making peace with one another.
What is the 12 step understanding of how a behavioral addiction develops?
With the behavioral addictions, there are usually strong emotions involved. Whether that's fear, whether that's excitement, or whether that's anxiety. And that brings about certain kinds of releases of chemicals within the body that affect the brain's functioning and affect your experience. By engaging in a repeated activity over and over where there is that kind of strong emotional response, you can become very addicted to that high that you get basically from your own body chemicals.
In the 12 step view, how do I go from participating in a behavior to developing an addiction to it?
When you find an activity that you get a very pleasurable response from - humans are basically trying to avoid pain and increase pleasure - so when you find an activity like that, chances are you're going to go back and do it again. I don't think that anyone ever sets out to become an addict in any way, but as we move towards pleasure we may find that it provides more than a momentary pleasure. It may become a primary way of coping with stress, coping with loneliness, coping with any of a number of painful emotions.
What is the 12 step understanding of how an addiction develops?
It's definitely on a continuum. You will find models where addiction is broken up into discreet stages. You can use those models but I would say that it's much more on a continuum, where people will start out with this pleasurable activity. They will begin to repeat it again and again to where the activity becomes a primary focus of their life. Once a person realizes that when I shop some of these other painful feelings go away, whether it's loneliness or isolation or depression. Chances are when I'm going to have those uncomfortable feelings again I'm going to go back to the activity that I found fixed them and made me feel better. The problem is, as you become habituated to the chemical changes, that are taking place in your body, the behavior becomes more important or the high becomes more important than actually what may have initially led to that. You do it compulsively. You do it to a place where you don't really have the same kind of controls in place. If you stop the behavior, you're going to be going through a kind of emotional withdrawal. You don't have a clear mind when you're in the midst of your addiction. You're not able to make rational choices because your brain has actually been altered through the chemicals in your own body.
What is the 12 step understanding of how a person can be addicted to a behavior?
If you look at all of the behavioral additions, whether it's shopping, whether it's gambling, whether it's working out, whether it's sex addiction, Internet addiction, there's all a strong emotional response that an individual will have when they do those things if they're going to be addicted to that activity. That is because of the chemicals that are being released in the body that are affecting the brain, that are affecting your perception of reality. And that's what we're really becoming addicted to. It's almost like we're becoming drunk on our own brain chemistry and on the chemical changes that take place in our body, and so it becomes very compelling.
In the 12 step understanding, how are behavioral addictions similar to chemical addiction?
They're similar in that they bring about an internal response, an internal change in the body and in the brain. And whether it's from a substance that you ingest externally or whether it's from a chemical that you create within your body, because of the emotional response you have to this activity you're definitely changing your brain chemistry.
In the 12 step model, are the chemicals the brain creates the same as a drug?
There are different types of receptors in the brain that are triggered by particular substances. A case in point is there are opiate receptors in the brain, and for instance when a person gets a runners high and the endorphins are kicked into the body, the body responds in a very similar way, as if they were ingesting opiates. That's one reason why they're very popular. Although they may trigger some of the same receptors, one is an internally generated substance and one is an externally generated substance, albeit initially a natural substance, but it's going to be having a different effect even though it may be affecting some of the same areas of the brain. there is also, with most of these manufactured substances, the possibility of them being diluted or mixed with other substances that the body would not in any way be able to handle. Basically, you are getting drunk on your own internal chemistry and we experience this all the time when we have this pleasurable experience. A good example is when you cry. There may be all of this pain that you're going through, there's all of these stories you're telling yourself, there's these painful images that you're playing through your mind, there's the feelings of desperation or aloneness or loss, and then you will cry a big sobbing cry, and then at a certain point you stop and you feel better. Your brain has responded to those intense emotions by releasing substances in the brain which are going to allow you to cope, and are going to allow you to have this pleasurable experience and you can go on living. You're not going to be lost in that grief forever.
What is the 12 step understanding of untreated addiction?
When an addiction is untreated it tends to progress, and as it tends to progress you start to see the fallout of the addiction. You will start to see problems in the social environment, you will probably start to see problems psychologically, and you will start to see problems maybe in the work environment. It's important to realize that if you have some sort of behavior, some kind of activity, which is taking you out of a balanced lifestyle, you need to really look at what the payoffs are. You need to look at how can you restore balance in your life again, and to not let it go to the point where your spouse is leaving you because you've put them into debt or because you've spent so much time on the internet that you're no longer available or you're having affairs on the outside, or you're gambling so much that you've lost everything you've built up over the years. You've got a problem and you need to get some help.
How does attending 12 step meetings keep you on course after you return home?
Humans have a tendency to fall back towards what ever is familiar. Whether that is positive or whether that is negative in their life, they're going to gravitate to what is familiar. One of the difficulties in recovery is that you're asking people to do things that are not necessarily familiar, or that don't bring them the same kind of immediate payoff that their drug or that their behavior would. So you need a lot of guidance and you need a lot of support during that time, and thats why its important to get your priorities in line, to realize that if you want sobriety from whatever your addiction is, you're going to need help. Ultimately you're doing the work inside, but because you're doing the work inside you tend to not be your own best friend in a lot of ways because the first time you come up against some stress or some kind of setback, you're going to be going back to what is familiar, and thats your addictive behaviors.