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Addiction is amongst the toughest problems facing the world today. The growing amount of family problems, in addition to a number of other cultural stressors, make addiction a national and international problem which has grown by leaps and bounds. In South Africa we now have promoted a "feel good right now" mentality that sometimes feed the addictive process.


Despite some popular thought, people do not become dependent on drugs, alcohol, or sex for the fun of it. You will discover, there usually are reasons why a dependancy happens. And these same reasons make an addiction challenging to stop. Addiction has two elements that needs to be understood to comprehend the real nature of it. The very first element is tolerance.

An individual is attracted to an addictive behavior or substance due to the way it affects their emotions. It enhances some feelings and numbs out others. Emotional pain is reduced momentarily...and the hope is that it will not come back. Obviously, it does. Tolerance implies that over time a lot more of the behavior or substance is needed to produce the desired effect. More intense sex or even morealcohol is required to numb out feelings, or maybe more cocaine is needed to get the heightened feeling of excitement and competence.

Eventually the intensity of the behavior or substance required to produce the high become dangerous in and of itself. Furthermore one becomes an impaired driver in the case of chemical addictions, but an overdose can occur or maybe the liver can eventually fail. Regarding sex one runs the chance of an arrest, loss of a primary relationship or job, or becoming infected with HIV. And in the case of other behavioral addictions for example eating, spending, or gambling increasingly more intense experiences are neededfor satisfaction. Eventually even those fail.


The next element that is important to understand is withdrawal . Withdrawal will mean thatan individual has an extremely painful physical and/or emotional reaction in the event the substance or behavior is stopped. Withdrawal occurs in two phases: acute withdrawal and post-acute withdrawal. Acute withdrawal occurs within hours and days of the cessation of use. Alcohol withdrawal can be accompanied by hallucinations and delirium tremens. After a person has become adjusted to a certain level of the drug/experience removal of it affects the emotional/biochemical balance that has been established. The person then has to readjust to living without the previous level of stimulation, etc. Post acute withdrawal can last two years or more. It also has emotional and physiological aspects which are very tough to endure.

As you can see, addiction is an ever-growing downward spiral which has NO pleasant ending. This is not a pleasant picture.

Factors that influence addiction


There is certainly often a genetic "leaning" towards one sort of addiction or other. This is not to say that genetics alone is sufficient to put an addiction in place, but that the nature of the addiction may be influenced by genetics. For instance, an alcoholic often has alcoholic parents or grandparents and could have an unusually strong "positive" response to alcohol.


Trauma could also shape and foster addiction. Sex addicts frequently have a background of being sexually abused as children, whether overtly or covertly. Alcohol and drugs are often used by individuals who have a history of trauma and post-traumatic stress, for example guys who fought on the border.


Another important concept in addiction is shame. Shame is definitely a powerful feeling that one has when he feels he does not measure up. It often masquerades as other feelings, but is always present in major proportions in the lives of addicts--both as a cause and a result of addiction. Shame spirals upwards as an addiction progresses.

Anxious depression:

One last major cause of addiction, in my opinion, is an anxious depression. An anxious depression is the type of depression in which the next two hours seems like the rest of your life, and you must do something to change how you feel. It is an agitated feeling, quite different from the more often melancholy depression that causes a person to sit in bed all day unable to get up or get dressed.

Tough early experiences, genetic predisposition (at times), shame, an agitated/anxious depression, and the processes of tolerance and withdrawal may easily result in addiction. What is not easy is recovering.

The Basics of Recovery:

Recovery from any addiction is hard. Both acute and post-acute withdrawal must be allowed to occur without resorting to the addiction, the emotional issues that helped to cause the addiction initially have to be addressed, and the damage in the person's life caused by the addiction must be gradually corrected as much as possible. It is a lot of hard, tedious work.

12-step programs have been shown to be very helpful for the majority of addictions. When a 12-step meeting functions as it should it provides a place where the addicted person can go to obtain help and fellowship without having to be shamed for having the addiction. Though individuals and meetings can wander from the best practices, the original basis of Alcoholics Anonymous was to offer help without telling one another what they "should" do. The 12 steps are just 12 suggestions, according to AA literature, and people are free to recover any way they wish. The meetings provide an an opportunity to gain strength and hope through the stories of others, and also to find friends and a sponsor (helper/guide) who can help them through their recovery.

Like any other movement, the 12-step programs and the people who attend them have ample faults.

A good recovery program from addiction usually includes the following elements:
  • Attendance at appropriate, healthy 12-step meetings
  • Working the 12 steps with the aid of a sponsor and recovery friends
  • An emphasis on finding out how tomeet one's personal needs for intimacy and emotional health
  • Psychotherapy to address the difficulties in one's life that gave enough emotional fuel to put an addiction in place.

Getting started in recovery:

If you're planning on entering treatment for an addiction, begin by attending several 12-step meetings. You'll know when you have found several that are best for you. Ask around for a good therapist, and look for someone who specifically works with addiction. Interview several therapists if you need to do so. Choose one that you feel can help you. And, get it done today. The rewards are excellent and will begin sooner than you think!