by jluster

On Banishing Demons

in Other Resources / Psychology / Social Issues

Wed, 07 Jan 2004, 18:33

Preface: My personal vote for the "Quote of the Week": "[...] it's a lot easier to identify your demons and deal with them when you are lucid and by yourself than when you're drunk." - Joi Ito.

In the "more food for thought" group, let's take a quick look at the root causes (or "demons") for someone's dependence on substances, This is actually a very important topic, one that is addressed in all recovery programs I have looked at, even though each approach uses a different method, depending on its understanding of the root causes.

Quite often, when we discuss dependence, we are confronted with labels, such as "addictive personality" or "peer pressure". But what, exactly, does this mean?

An "addictive personality" can be explained in multiple ways. For some, becoming addicted or dependent, is a moral dysfunction, not quite like but similar to, say, lying, stealing, or being lazy. Others take a more secular approach, and try psychological explanations of the cause, all of which, in the end, wind up being summarized under "addictive personality".

FWIW, I don't viciously believe in addictive personalities per se. Using a substance to the point, where dependence develops, can have numerous causes, however, and I am willing to concede, that there might be such a thing.

Let's quickly go over the various schools of thought, addiction is associated with:

Addiction and Dependence as a Moral Dysfunction
This school of thought recognizes addictive tendencies and addiction as a "weakness" in any individuals moral system. One of the oldest schools of thought, it strives for recovery by implementing moral guidelines, support, and tries to foster a non-addictive lifestyle by re-organizing value systems and belief structures.

The School of Physiological Dysfunctions
When medical professionals first encountered the psychiatric effects of Syphilis on patients, a new school of thought, Physiological Psychology, was born. This school understands addictions as a result of actual physiological and somatic factors, such as imbalances in an individual's brain chemistry and metabolism. Physiological psychologists also spearheaded the research into self-medicating dependencies, in which an individual's addiction becomes an attempt to overcome another dysfunction. PP scholars suggest medical treatment and habit-reorientation as recovery strategies.

Physiological Psychology acknowledges the existence of certain somatic deviations, such as a hormonal imbalance, which can lead to earlier dependency and, ultimately, to addiction, if remaining untreated. Along these lines, another phenomenon, called "self medication" is worth examining. In a recent study (Harbert et al., 2002), a joint French-American research team concluded, that over forty percent of the surveyed individuals with a known dependence on alcohol, also suffered from mild to medium imbalances in hormonal levels in the brain, as opposed to only nine percent in a similarly sized control group. The two most prevalent disorders found are subsets of obsessive compulsive disorders and attention deficit disorders.

How does this fit into dependence? Simple - your metabolism has an amazingly accurate memory. Deficits are noted and remedies are learned from very early ages on. Once learned, remedies are sought out (or "craved") through somatic and psychological means. One example, quite widely known, are the cravings women develop during their pregnancies. The changing metabolism, as well as the need to satisfy new and developing requirements in the mother's body, trigger the cravings based on learned events.

A person suffering from mild ADD or OCPD may not be aware of the imbalances in its brain. Some of the great thinkers and developers of pretty much every century we have enough data to make a wild guess on, seem to have suffered from slight personality disorders, Einstein, for example, would today be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

Once a substance, which may remedy or - in the brain's eye - positively influence such an imbalance, is introduced, the same effect we discussed with food above, comes into play. But that might not be all. Some might also witness external changes. The shy boy who finally manages to approach a girl and even flirt, for example, might trigger a proxy reaction in the brain, which notices the reward - positive feelings, "butterflies" - and associates the changed state - intoxication.
This is all not to say, that every drinker, and even most of the heavily dependent ones, are somehow afflicted with a personality disorder. It is, however, a possibility.

Society can be hardly held to a standard at which the inner workings of the brain are known and immediately apparent to the casual observer. It has, thusly, based on observation and trial, developed its own labels, such as the "addictive personality". In the end, it is important, how a remedy works, if it does, to paraphrase Hippocrates.

For those about to quit (we salute you), it is however important to understand the reasons one became dependant in the first pace. Sheer will-power, spiritualism, a regiment of living sober and staying away from the substance, can be very effective, yet it might lead to the development of substitute dependencies if the underlying cause remains untreated.

It is also important to understand the dependency cut-over, most addicts will experience. Once a dependency cut-over has happened, consuming the substance is no longer a means to self-medicate, it is entirely focused towards managing the status quo, not to improve it.

For the shy boy, maybe it's all better now. He's graduated from college, has a wife and a kid, and a very satisfying job. He still gets butterflies every once in a while, and his success serves as a powerful generator of all those brain chemistry changes he wants. For him, all would be well, if he could break that habit.

For others, attempting to recover from an addiction, may unveil the root causes again, leading to substitute habituation, such as a new addiction or dysfunction, if the root cause for the original dependency is not discovered and properly treated.

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TrackBacks

Jan 7, 2004 6:49:32 PM
a preponderance of evidence

My latest entry on wequitdrinking is up. It's about banishing the demon, and getting sober by understanding the root causes...

Jan 8, 2004 4:52:08 AM
Joi Ito's Web

I disagree somewhat with Adina. I think that traffic is similar to attention. Attention is not the same as power...

Jan 8, 2004 11:32:07 AM
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Jan 8, 2004 11:33:20 AM
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Comments

Jan 7, 2004 6:56:04 PM

You took the punchline for my comment and put it into the entry! ;-)

I think this is a very interesting point. How much is about drinking and how much is about OCPD or some other disorder? I am finding that since I quit drinking, many of my demons are suddenly in my headlights and some of them I can deal with. Some have to do memories and personal experiences that I haven't dealt with or resolved, others involve relationships that need to be cleaned up or dealt with, others involve my personality. Understanding your demons doesn't mean you can beat them, but it's definitely much better than ignoring them or trying to escape them without understanding them.

I can feel myself trying to escape into other forms of obsessive behavior and can feel my urge to escape my demons, but being aware of this at a meta level allows me to analyse this process and collect more data about the way I behave. It's all quite fascinating.

But to address your initial point... I think that I started drinking because of social context (peer pressure?) and discovered the ability for alcohol to have certain effects on my psychology and probably slowly began developing a relationship with alcohol where I was using it for a variety of purposes including escaping/dealing with my demons. I think the rebel in me liked the idea of drinking a lot and getting drunk and the moral/social aspects of drinking definitely helped lead me down the path of "discovering" alcohol as a psychological "tool". Once I was "there" my relationship with alcohol began to exceed that of just a social tool and became a way to deal with issues inside myself.

This brings up another question which is how I dealt with my demons before I started drinking the way that I do. In hindsight, I realized that I used to be a lot more spiritual before I started drinking. Tai Ji, reading books about spiritualism, meditation, dancing, etc. Once I started my relationship with alcohol, I didn't "need" all that spiritual support.

Jan 7, 2004 7:01:27 PM

Which brings me to a completely OT question - anyone know a good Tai Chi place in the Silicon Valley? I used to practice Aikido six days a week, but when I moved here, I kinda gave up on finding a good dojo. I am certainly missing it, though.

Jan 7, 2004 9:19:24 PM

Chungliang Al Huang is THE BEST I've ever had the pleasure of learning from and you can often catch him at Esalen.

Jan 22, 2004 11:13:20 AM
4 - Denali

hi i dont know any tihng about demonds but i am interested in preventing any contact with them please write me back

Feb 15, 2004 6:44:30 PM
5 - justin

How do you battle against an addictive personality?

Feb 16, 2004 3:09:40 AM

Justin: That's a battle better not started. In either way. Addictive personalities, in lay terms, are easily addicted. So, the fight begins way before the addictive personality kicks in - by not supplying things one could become addicted to.

Once you realize, something has become an infatuation, has actually started to create an addiction - abstain. That's the only real working way. And while I know, this sounds very fatalistic, it's the way one should take, if such a personality is known.

Now, we all can get addicted to "good" things. The trick is moderation and a switch in habits, once the addiction is at risk of kicking in. Learning to listen to ones own body can be a great help, here.

Mar 6, 2004 6:13:03 AM
7 - Michael

Drinking for me has always been a way of cocking a snook at society. Same with smoking - it made me feel excited that I could do something that wasn't illegal, but wasn't really right either. I gave up smoking, but drinking stayed, and I suppose became a crutch. It is easier to meet new people, and feel part of a group when drinking with them, and as long as this isn't taken to excess, its ok... But then I got divorced (three years ago) and couldn't cope with this and the changes it led to in my life. I would get so drunk that I would pass out in various rooms in my house, waking up feeling aweful.

I still do this, and know its wrong, but when I stop drinking I have to face the reality of being alone.

I am now going to change this. I will confront my demons - I know that I can cope and that each day will bring a new challenge, which i will del with.

This is a great site, allows people like me to put our rambling thoughts "out there", and hopefully will lead to meaning ful change in my life and others.

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Aug 6, 2006 10:49:40 AM
9 - wubs

I need someone to talk to about my drinking problem I have hit rock bottom I have no one to talk to. Please help

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Aug 1, 2010 10:49:09 AM

I have had a lot of friends who have had great success with the SCRAM device. This device monitors the alcohol content in one's body every minute of every day. Alcohol intake can be very hard to quit and I know that device is awesome because you can't fool it.

Aug 16, 2011 9:56:43 PM

These kind of devices always alerts us about our health status. Excess intake of alcohol is always dangerous to health.