Saturday, September 15, 2018

Learning About the Science of Addiction

I happen to be one of those people who likes to learn lots of stuff. I like to read books, watch "how to" videos on YouTube, and am a big fan of TED Talks. That doesn't mean, however, I've ever been considered an outstanding student or that I was ever the head of the class. In fact, far from it! I just enjoy learning new things.

For folks in recovery from drug or alcohol problems, learning about how addiction and recovery works is really important. And yes, that means you need to do a little research. (Yikes!). But to be educated about the science of addiction and recovery can be really enlightening, and is an integral part of maintaining good, solid recovery.

My work with clients (as well as my own experience) has taught me why this is so critical and important: When people in recovery understand that addiction is not so much about a lack of willpower, but rather is a chemical process with negative consequences at work in the body and brain, they can begin recovery without the paralyzing burden of guilt and shame so often experienced by people trying to get clean.

The science is solid. People who become addicted to drugs and alcohol have changed their brain chemistry. And while they may have made some bad choices early on in their drug and alcohol use, at some point it was no longer a choice. And this was not due to moral weakness or lack of willpower, but rather about a chemical and physiological change that occurred in the brain, requiring help to overcome. That's the matter in a nutshell.

While there are many ways to learn about the science of addiction and recovery, here are three good places to start:

  1. Books on Amazon. I did a search for books using the term "addiction science" and it produced over 9,000 results! amazon.com. That should keep you busy for a while.
  2. Check out the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) website: samhsa.gov. SAMHSA is a government agency that seeks to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities. Lots of good information is available on this site.
  3. Another good website is the one for NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) drugabuse.gov. Specifically the following article entitled Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction on that website is excellent, and a good place to start: : drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/preface.

Accepting the fact that addiction is not so much about a lack of willpower, but rather is a chemical process with negative consequences, can be freeing and empowering for the addict or alcoholic, allowing him or her to move forward free of of guilt and shame.

What do you think? Say more about that and feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

I'm So Tired...


The Beatles' White Album is one of the best albums ever recorded. An overstatement? I don't think so. Are there valid criticisms? Yes, indeed. Is it still one of the best albums of all time? Absolutely!

I remember being fascinated as a kid with the variety of music on the album, and one of the tunes in particular that really captured my attention was the ballad I'm So Tired. The song, written by John Lennon while on retreat in India, is a lament about how exhausted he is after several days of insomnia, and features some pretty interesting rhymes, a good slow, flowing drum beat, and a bouncy, upbeat bridge. 

But what I found (and still find) most fascinating was the unintelligible mumbling at the end of the song, which some claim is either Lennon saying, “Monsieur, Monsieur, how about another one?” or the spoken words, “Paul is dead. Miss him. Miss him,” played backward. I guess the jury is still out on that one. 

I've written before about the importance of sleep on a person's physical, mental and emotional state of mind, and how this is especially important for someone in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse.
As a therapist, I work with a lot of folks with drug and alcohol issues, and I often point out to my clients that few things are more important for folks in early recovery than getting a good night’s sleep. And okay, I know it’s important for everyone, but it’s especially important for those in early recovery from a drug or alcohol problem. Sleeping well (operative word: well) is not something that happens very much when alcoholics and addicts are actively drinking or using, so making this part of overall self-care is essential.

Here are a few suggestions to help ensure a good night’s rest. (You know these already – just do them!)
  1. Turn off the lights and turn off the electronics. 
  2. Make the room cool rather than warm. 
  3. Don’t eat a lot or exercise right before going to bed. 
  4. Don’t drink a lot of caffeine in the afternoon or evening. 
  5. A general rule: 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night is a good goal for most people.

Getting a good night’s sleep gives the body and brain a chance to rest and recharge so that you can much more effectively deal with life on life’s terms. And as an added bonus: maybe you won't be so tired!

Thoughts? Say more about that...








Friday, June 22, 2018

A Little Help From My Friends

When I was in fourth grade I decided I wanted to be a drummer. This was based on the popularity at the time of The Beatles, and my thinking that if I could be like Ringo Starr I'd be really cool! Good plan. And, in fact, I went on to become a pretty decent drummer, playing in a variety of bands down through the years. Not so sure about the cool part, though. Oh well.

To this day I still think Ringo Starr was an excellent drummer -- not technically so much, but in the sense that he provided just the right background rhythm and groove for the band's music, which contributed to The Beatles' unique musical sound and style.

As far as Starr's vocal ability, well that's another story. Not exactly known for his great voice, he did contribute lead vocals to a handful of The Beatles' hits, not the least of which is the classic from the Sgt. Pepper's album, With A Little Help from My Friends.

I recently read the biography Ringo: With a Little Help, written by Michael Seth Starr (no relation), which clearly suggests that when it came to Ringo's own group of friends, he didn't always make the best choices or hang out with the healthiest people. In fact, for years he partied way too much with the likes of Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson, regularly abusing drugs and alcohol. And while Ringo and his wife, Barbara Bach, eventually found sobriety, his experience about the importance of hanging out with the right people can be a lesson to all of us.

In my work as a therapist and counselor, I work with a lot of folks with drug and alcohol problems, and when it comes to their social life, they generally tend to hang out with others who also like to drink and drug. (Surprising, huh!) So, one of the challenges for folks in recovery is learning to socialize in healthy and appropriate ways, which means establishing new groups of friends and acquaintances. While this can feel a little uncomfortable and awkward at first, it’s absolutely necessary for folks in recovery to make some new friends, as well as to reconnect with friends they knew before they started using. 

You can absolutely get by with help from your friends -- just make sure they're the right ones!

Thoughts? Say more about that....

Friday, March 23, 2018

It's Hard to be Humble

Mac Davis
In 1980, Mac Davis made it into the top 10 of the country charts with the song Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble -- a quaint country tune with a chorus that went like this: (Sing it out loud if you like!)

Oh Lord, It's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way.
I can't wait to look in the mirror 'cause I get better lookin' each day.
To know me is to love me. I must be a hell of a man.
O lord, it's hard to be humble, but I'm doin' the best that I can.

Davis, who grew up in Lubbock, Texas, began his career in the 1960s writing songs for folks like Elvis Presley and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. Then, in the 70s, as a solo artist, he rose to fame with pop hits like Baby, Don't Get Hooked on MeStop and Smell the Roses and One Hell of a Woman.
Me in the 1970s trying
to look like Mac Davis!

But for me (and others, no doubt) he will be remembered most of all for Hard to be Humble, a song that ironically epitomizes the exact opposite of what it means truly to be humble!

As a therapist, I work with a lot with folks in recovery from drug and alcohol problems, and for them humility is often a hard concept to grasp. Yet, it's of utmost importance -- because being truly humble is about getting off your high horse, recognizing that you’re no better than anyone else, and that you really do need to get some help! This is something, while in the throws of addiction, that's really hard to do. 

Step #1 in most 12-step programs is about recognizing that your life has become unmanageable and that you need to get some help. This is hard to do – at least for a lot of us. We have pretty good sized egos, and generally feel pretty good about ourselves. But at the same time, somewhere in the back of our minds – if we’re honest  with ourselves – we also wonder if we're really as good as we think we are. And therein lies the struggle.

One common description of the addict or alcoholic is that he or she is sort of like “an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.” That is so true!