Addictions

Addiction and compulsive behaviour can ruin lives but they can be overcome explains Dr Marysia Kratimenos

To most people the word “addict” conjures up images of a down and  out, lying semi-conscious in rat infested squalor, surrounded by filthy  needles and broken bottles. Helpless, hopeless, rejected by society. And  yet we only have to scan the daily papers to see famous celebrities  confess to alcoholism, cocaine habits and addiction to love and sex.

So what is addiction and what makes an addict? Is there such a thing  as an addictive personality, or is it a case of “there by the grace of  God”? When does having that whiskey after a hard day’s work transform  into something more sinister, turning one into an alcoholic?

The definition of addiction is by no  means clear. When does a social habit end and an addiction start? The  Oxford Dictionary says it is “doing or using something as a habit, or  compulsively”. Webster’s Dictionary defines addicted as “enthusiastic  devotion, strong inclination or frequent indulgence”. Psychologist John  Bradshaw provides the clearest definition of addiction as “a  pathological relationship to any mood altering experience that has life  damaging consequences.” By using the word experience, the net is spread  wider.

Addiction is not just about the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” scene. One can be addicted to gambling, food, tobacco, stimulants, prescription drugs, exercise, the Internet, television, designer labels, work… the list is endless.

The key in understanding the nature of addiction lies in John  Bradshaw’s words – the “pathological” relationship and its “life  damaging consequences”. It’s as if too much of a good thing is not  enough. A pleasurable habit, such as a drink with friends, is not an  issue, but a compulsive need to drink oneself into oblivion each and  every night is an obvious problem that needs attention.

The consequences of many addictions like smoking and drinking to  excess are recognised, yet ignored by the addict. At one level there is  an understanding that a price must be paid, but the person is so  dependent on the habit that the realisation of the risks involved is  almost irrelevant.

In dealing with any addiction, it is fundamental to understand what  the addiction is doing for the person. It is not as simple as changing  the behaviour. If it were, why would people be constantly on diets,  battling with their weight?

To quote Garfield, the world’s most famous lasagne addict “Diet is  die with a t”. Garfield’s pleasure in life is food. Take that away and  what does he have? The company of a socially inept, neurotic owner, and  slobbery, half-witted dog and the resident flea population! Hardly the  perfect recipe for fun! Garfield, a classic Sulphur personality, lives  for lasagne. He loves the taste of lasagne, he adores the way it fills  the emptiness he has within him, it provides him with excitement (will  dinner be lasagne or cannelloni?) and it distracts him from the boredom  of his life. What is Garfield without lasagne? It’s his raison d’être.

Now imagine the scenario if a gorgeous little sex kitten came to  stay. Garfield might just fall deeply in love and decide that there is  actually more to life than the contents of his food bowl. And, in order  to attract the delectable siren, Clawdia, a trim figure would certainly  be an asset. Suddenly, the besotted Garfield has a new goal in life…  impressing Clawdia. He is so in love that he’s literally love sick and  in no time Garfield transforms into a sleek tom. Clawdia falls equally  deeply in love, they marry and live happily ever after, sharing small  portions of lasagne with their ever growing family.

Ridiculous as this fantasy tale may sound, many people do conquer  their addictions for the sake of love, and certainly with the help of  love. There are many reasons why people feel the need to take drugs or  excessive amounts of alcohol “to get through the day”. Merely abstaining  from the habit is insufficient to cure the problem. It is not a matter  of the strength of one’s character. Many give up smoking, only to  replace the cravings with food.

The first step in any successful treatment programme is for the  person to admit there is a problem and want help. When living in the  delusion of “this isn’t a problem, I can stop drinking/smoking/using any  time I chose” there is no way forward. Denial of the problem must be  faced first. This is not as easy as it may sound.

In the world of the music industry alcoholism, drug addiction and  promiscuity are rife. It’s almost as though one needs to indulge in this  hedonistic life style to be accepted. It’s almost the norm in the  industry. There is a very high price to be paid. Wonderfully talented  artists like Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix and Phil Lynott to name but a  few, died prematurely as a result of heavy drinking and drugs.

The lyrics of the songs reflect the artists’ perceptions of life and  their lifestyle. Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wildside” was banned once the  BBC finally understood it was about drugs! In this day and age it’s  judged as rather tame. Children are happily singing songs that advocate  the use of hard core drugs.

Not every artist has fallen into the trap of using mind-altering  substances to enhance their creativity. Apart from the squeaky clean  acts there are some like Ricky Martin who use meditation to open the  doors of perception. In fact meditation and yoga are fast becoming the  latest addictions. At least that is wholesome and health enhancing,  assuming one understands the true meaning of tantra as oppose to the  salacious corruption!

Alice Cooper, infamous for his theatrical stage acts with defenceless  pythons, demonstrates one man’s courage in dealing with alcoholism. A  friend of Jim Morrison of The Doors, he lived the rock and roll “dream”.  The lyrics of his songs illustrate the other side; it really was a case  of “Welcome to my Nightmare”. Even the death of Jim Morrison didn’t  stop him swigging back the beer. Neither did the constant hangovers nor  the failing physical health and vomiting of blood. He was surrounded by  hard drinking, drug using musicians. It was a way of life. How else  could he get up on stage and perform in front of thousands of screaming  fans? Alcohol provided the Dutch courage to overcome the stage fright.  In interviews he talks of the alter ego – the mad, bad, black leather  clad, hard core persona. With alcohol, he became that person. On a  rational level he knew the alcohol was destroying him, mind, body and  soul, yet he felt powerless to change despite having his personal  version of Clawdia by his side.

Fortunately for him, the time came when he did receive help in a  specialised unit. His lyrics and interviews bear testimony to the  struggle of overcoming the physical effects of the drying out process  and the psychological issues that had to be faced.

Many find comfort in alcohol; it helps them to forget the pain of  life. It can be a form of escapism. Alice Cooper was faced with the many  challenges sobriety brought. His wife had married an alcoholic. Would  she still love him sober? Who was the sober Alice Cooper anyway? How  could he go on stage and act out the alter ego in a sober state? And  what about the touring?

Addiction impacts not only on the addict, but also on the whole  social group, and it is imperative that any treatment takes this into  consideration. Alice Cooper felt that the only way to cope with this was  to avoid the company altogether. Apparently he stays in different  hotels from his band, appearing to do his act before vanishing  immediately afterwards. Mixing with them could potentially bring him  back into a position where his self confessed “addictive personality”  might rear its ugly head. He now channels that energy into the golf  course and has a handicap many professionals would envy. He also uses  his experiences to help others with similar problems and in his music is  deliberately provocative and challenging about the drug scene. Black  humour conveys the message that drug use is only for the “stoopid”.

Alice Cooper has demonstrated immense courage in overcoming his  addiction within a social setting that condones such behaviour and also  in sharing his experience with a broad audience. And without the help of  homeopathy too!

Homeopathy may be used as an adjunct to the treatment of dependency  problems. Obviously the main stay of treatment must be on a medical /  psychological level, but homeopathic treatment from a professional may  assist in the detoxification process and help with healing the emotional  issues.

Alcohol, tobacco and drugs leave their mark physically. Nux vomica is  a classic hangover remedy and when combined with Sulphur is very  helpful in a deeper cleansing process. Many addicts eat very poor diets  and essential vitamins and minerals must be replaced. In heavy alcohol  and drug dependency, the deficiencies may be so severe as to necessitate  injections of vitamins and minerals into the veins to prevent serious  nerve damage.

Alcohol literally pickles the liver, and several herbal remedies,  such as Milk Thistle, are beneficial in improving liver function. The  liver not only acts as the body’s natural detoxification organ, it also  manufactures many important chemicals, including those relating to  normal blood clotting. It is not uncommon to find a bleeding tendency in  those who consume excessive alcohol. Fortunately, the liver has immense  powers of regeneration. One literally has a new liver every six weeks,  which is why alcohol abusetakes so long to bring about permanent liver  damage. Homeopathy and herbal treatment can enhance this natural  self-healing process.

Appropriate homeopathic remedies can facilitate the detoxification  process and assist with the emerging emotional issues. When addiction  has been used to mask the emotional turmoil within, this will rapidly  emerge. The demons within emerge as soon as the drink departs. The  person is left vulnerable, frightened and often overwhelmed by the force  of these long buried emotions. It takes great strength not to relapse  back into former habits.

As homeopathy deals with the whole person, on every level: mind, body  and spirit, it is perfect for assisting in this transitional phase.  Expert counselling assists in the process. Some homeopaths are trained  in counselling skills, others work in conjunction with counsellors.

Most of the self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and  Narcotics Anonymous provide group and individual therapy, as well as  support for the relatives. It is essential that the family receives  help, not only in the short term, but also to prevent history repeating  itself. Statistics show that between 50 and 80 per cent of alcoholics  have a close family member with alcohol problems. That is a terrifying  statistic and demonstrates the urgent need to address the issues within  the family framework. Quite why this occurs is debatable. The scientists  take it as conclusive proof that there is a chemical imbalance which  leads to addiction. The psychologists claim this is because of  sub-conscious modelling of the parent. The young boy sees Father return  from the pub drunk and maudlin, and take out his fury at losing his job  by beating up Mother and the children. Young boy witnesses this and, on a  sub-conscious level, decides that this is what grown men do. Get drunk  and morose, then violent.

The reality is that there is probably some truth in both scenarios.  In homeopathy there is a belief in the miasms, the inherent weakness or  taint that manifests in future generations. Medicine recognises the  hereditary component of many diseases, homeopathy takes it one stage  further and includes conditions that are not genetically mediated. It is  common to see family members share the same or similar remedies, and  therefore behaviour patterns. If the men in a family internalise their  problems and drown them in drink, the child will learn that in their  family this is the way to deal with life. Alcohol may be freely  available in that household so the child develops a taste for it early.  This is not always the case. Many alcoholics, including Alice Cooper,  come from families of teetotallers.

Many of the support groups work with modifications of The Twelve  Steps to Recovery. Admission of the problem and one’s lack of power in  dealing with it is the start of the process. The idea is basically to  put one’s trust into God for assistance. This focus on a spiritual level  is very important, but the wording may be unacceptable to atheists.  Robert Dilts, an American Master of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)  has modified the language to make it more spiritual and less religious,  thus broadening the appeal.

Many addicts lack an awareness of a higher force which is benevolent.  They feel alone, rejected by society. By uniting them with a higher  consciousness the sense of isolation is replaced with a sense of oneness  with the world and a purpose in their existence, which is beyond  religion. The Yoga Centre at the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital  offers meditation classes that aim to achieve the same goal. There are  many methods to bring this about and the choice must be a personal one.  Many find the help they need within organised religion, others need a  more individualised approach.

The emotional issues that have been long buried under the veil of  alcohol, drugs, over-eating or compulsive shopping must be addressed  sensitively and conflicts resolved. With assistance a new sense of self  will emerge, a stronger, more stable individual who is able to deal with  the stresses of life without the dependence on an external prop. It  takes real courage to embark on this hero’s journey, and the rewards are  immense.

The treatment of addiction is challenging, but highly rewarding. It  is essential that there is excellent communication and collaboration  between the professionals assisting, and that a deep, trusting, non  judgmental relationship is established. Homeopathy has an important role  to play as it views the whole person as a unique individual.

Dr Marysia Kratimenos MB BS FRCS(ED) FFHOM

Related