Category Archives: Addiction

Learning from your addictive thoughts

thoughtful reflectiveSome time ago, I listened to a podcast about recovery and spirituality by Krista Tippet, on what was then called “Speaking of Faith (now it’s called “On Being“). In the interview – which unfortunately is no longer available – she talked with a Native American leader and healer about his recovery from alcoholism. He talked about the importance – in his own recovery, and with others that he works with as a healer – of what he called “listening to your addiction to find out what it has to teach you.”

My colleague Mark Laaser at Faithful and True works with a similar idea when he talks about the important spiritual question of “What are you thirsty for?” as part of recovery. The way he talks about it, this question has to do with the deep needs and longings of our soul. We get pulled into addiction in its various forms, because the feeling we get from the addictive substance or activity fills a need. It soothes something that is agitated, excites something that feels dead and empty, makes us feel valued and significant, etc., etc.

Laura Chapman recently wrote me about an article she wrote with Lance Dodes about “The Surprising Value of Addictive Thoughts.” Here’s what she says about the article:

Continue reading

Is Sex a Struggle but not an Addiction? Here’s what to do

strugglingOver the years in my work with sexual strugglers, it became clear that there is a spectrum of struggle … some people simply fight a battle with sexual temptation (and periodically lose), and others would fall into the category of sexual addicts. The line between the two is not always clear — it’s more like a spectrum, not a simple either/or — and many people struggle to honestly face the extent of their problem.

I have come to call this group of people — who fall repeatedly into sexual temptation, but don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for addiction — “sexual strugglers.” Often people in this category don’t have the patterns of emotional and sexual trauma from early life, and they don’t give evidence of other problematic addictive behaviors. But for some reason, they still struggle with behaviors around sex — often related to Internet pornography.

I believe that sexual strugglers need to focus on four things. If they keep these four things in place, they will do well. Also, at the end of this article I will give you an easy, sure-fire way to tell where you fall on this spectrum. So here we go … the four things strugglers need in order to deal with their struggle:

1. Vigilance

Sexual strugglers need to maintain an awareness of their vulnerability to sexual temptation, and realize that this will be an ongoing challenge area for them. Many people who are dealing with sexual temptation at this level try to downplay its importance, or view it as a temporary thing. They may tend to blame other people — especially their spouse — but the problem is internal, not external. If they were in a relationship with someone different, they would likely still struggle sexually.

Often sexual strugglers downplay the problem in their lives, because they are able to go for certain periods of time without falling into behaviors. But inevitably, if left unchecked, their sexual struggles will come back, and they will get into some kind of problematic behavior again if and when the circumstances allow. In other words, they can stop, but they can’t stay stopped.

The solution is a bitter pill for some people to swallow: recognize that this is an ongoing issue, and it won’t go away. We need to keep vigilant. How? Read on …

2. Boundaries

The sexual struggler needs to establish new guidelines or safeguards around his or her behavior. This is the flip side of the first principle, the need for vigilance. Sexual strugglers need to be aware of their vulnerabilities — and do something about them. They need to put filters on their computer, establish guidelines around safe conversations with members of the opposite sex, establish plans for business travel, and for time spent alone (like when their spouse goes away on a trip and they are home alone).

An important step for sexual strugglers is to look back on the times they have fallen into inappropriate sexual behaviors and pinpoint the areas of vulnerability that were in place that led up to his behavior. Then they need to decide what kind of limitations or boundaries need to be put in place. People often resist this because it creates limitations and hassles. But the alternative is more acting out, and further movement on the continuum of sexual health towards addiction.

Continue reading

What is the Difference Between a “Slip” and a “Relapse” in Recovery

relapseI was recently asked this question: What is the Difference Between a “Slip” and a “Relapse”? by the concerned spouse of a sex addict.

This question is important for any addiction, but it’s fraught with heavy emotion in relationships where there is sex addiction, because sobriety is so important for the restoration of the relationship. Here’s what I said (with some slight editing):

  Thanks for writing. I define a slip as a short duration, one time drift into addictive behavior that the addict puts a stop to by reaching out to get help and get back on the recovery path. It’s not about what the specific behavior was (porn, masturbation, looking at a woman lustfully, engaging in sex, etc.), because different people are struggling with different behaviors to begin with.

  

A slip is different from a relapse in that a relapse indicates a shift back into the addictive pattern. Instead of seeking help after a brush with addictive behavior, the addict stays isolated and acts out again (and often multiple times, over a period of time). This person has taken him or herself off the recovery path, and is now “in relapse.”

 

Help for parents of teens who are experimenting with drugs or alcohol

substance-abuse-teensTeen drug use freaks parents out more than just about anything. Parents desperately want to keep their kids safe and healthy, and when they find out – or even suspect – that their kids are using drugs, they don’t know what to do. The two most common mistakes are the opposite extremes:

Some parents under-react, making excuses for their kids and/or denying reality. They may not be sure what’s going on, and may choose to not learn more, because they don’t want to know. They may try to pretend nothing is happening, while their child is headed down a very destructive path.

Other parents over-react. Their fear causes them to lash out, react with hysterics, and try to enforce punishments that are either too unrealistic to be followed through on (like being “grounded” for a year), or so serious and damaging that they escalate hostility and push the kids further away. Parents who over-react tend to make decisions that harm their children, damaging their relationship, and driving them into addiction, rather than steering them away from it.

There’s got to be a better way. What follows is an article by Barry Lessin, who heads up HAMS, an organization devoted to promoting the Harm Reduction approach to recovery. While I don’t necessarily advocate the Harm Reduction approach, I certainly recommend that people consider the principles behind it — especially when working with teens. The teenage years are times of exploration and experimentation. In other words, what follows is important food for thought for parents (and church staff) who might be prone to over-react.

Continue reading

What addiction and recovery taught me about “believing in God”

beleiveThe Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines belief as: “A state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.” The experience of addiction messes this up for Christians, whether they want to admit it or not. They say that they “trust God” to help them be happy in life, and to help them overcome their addiction … but somehow this “faith” doesn’t seem to be working. Why not?

My experience of addiction and recovery has forced me to admit that professing to believe something doesn’t mean I really believe it. It has forced me to be attentive to situations where what I observe and experience in “real life” don’t fit with the set of beliefs I espouse.

Coming to believe is a process

In 12 Step language, recovery is a process where people “come to believe” in a Higher Power who can help them overcome their addiction. It’s not assumed that anybody is doing this when they start. It’s a process … and it takes time. And for people who come into this process with a set of beliefs about a “Higher Power” already established, the scary reality is that part of their problem is likely that some of those “beliefs” are inaccurate and destructive.

Religious people hate hearing this. They want to think that their spiritual life is all fine, just the way it is. Continue reading

Why are so many people having such a hard time growing up?

Forever-youngAddiction often rears its head among young people who are struggling to make the transition to adulthood. Because many young people have trauma and deep wounds in their lives – and often get little help learning how to deal with those challenges – they are prime candidates for the siren song of addiction. They turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or other behaviors, instead of doing the hard work of dealing with their issues, and taking up the challenge of new life responsibilities.

In other words, they turn to addiction instead of growing up. But the reverse also happens … the struggle with addiction delays the natural process of growing up. It’s a feedback loop.

Many good writers have tackled the confusion that exists today about what it means to be a man … how a boy becomes a man. Part of the problem relates to the breakdown of families … and the loss of good role models for many young men. Part of the problem also relates to the breakdown of community … it’s not just fathers that young men need to relate to and learn from, but also other significant men. (I suspect it’s not much easier for girls trying to learn what it means to be a woman.)

Steven Foster and Meredith Little — who have led wilderness retreats for many years for teens and adults – write in their book “Vision Quest” about this struggle, and they point to another culprit: lack of meaningful rites of passage. It’s a powerful paragraph, with an indictment against our society for how many people go through life and never really grow up, and never really fully live. Listen to what they have to say:

How many Americans, regardless of age, are caught in an adolescent holding pattern, waiting for the time when they will magically become adult? In the meantime, they will dream the infantile American dream of wealth and power, addict themselves to alcohol and (legal and illegal) drugs, become enamored of the glittering surface of the material world, fall into puppy love and get married, readily dream the clever dreams manufactured for them by media and politicians, fight their own kind with rockets, lasers, and nuclear bombs, worship celluloid and stereophonic personalities, become obsessed with sex, wallow in the depths of narcissistic depression, persist in self-destructive excess, dislike having to be responsible for personal actions, fantasize as a way of facing tomorrow’s verities, try to stay forever young, ignore the eventuality of their own death, put off cleaning up their messy room in the house of the Earth, and restlessly cruise the neighborhoods of the world looking for action. These signs of cultural crisis, and many more, point to the inability of the culture itself to provide meaningful rites of passage by which Americans can initiate themselves into expanded stages of growth.

So what do you think? Do you agree?

 

Here’s Some Help with Step 11

12-StepsI was teaching at The Bridge Recovery Community last night about Step 11 in the 12 Steps. In my prep for this talk, I came across some great information from the Hazelden website. I referenced some of this information in my talk, and people asked about it, so I thought I’d include the information here. Enjoy!

Step Eleven: Cultivating conscious contact with a Higher Power

In 1938, an alcoholic stockbroker named Bill W. wrote a prospectus for the One
Hundred Men Corporation. The name of this entity referred to the number of people who had gained sobriety through an obscure new program of recovery from alcoholism. Bill planned to make this program the subject of a book, but first he needed money to finance its publication. For this purpose he was soliciting investors.

The program that Bill championed was based on 12 suggested steps. It was also unabashedly spiritual. In fact, the One Hundred Men prospectus noted that the spiritual aspect of the program had to be so simple and so practical that one alcoholic could easily explain it to another. Bill’s yet-to-be-written book would show how.

Today there are over 25 million copies of Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) in print. And Bill managed to distill the essence of spiritual practice into the 32 words of Step Eleven: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” Continue reading

What we mean when we talk about addiction – Part 2

addiction2In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the challenge of understanding addiction. This challenge is illustrated — and also shaped — by the fact that word itself means different things to different people. I pointed out how the word has been around for a long time in the English language, and that its emphasis has shifted.

Today we use the term in four distinct ways. Maybe it would be helpful to create subcategories. In his great book “The Globalization of Addiction,” addiction researcher Bruce Alexander does exactly that. In the book, he outlines four types of addiction, giving them the names “addiction 1” “addiction 2” “addiction 3” and “addiction 4.” I’m going to give them different names, which might help clarify the distinctions.

 

1. Chemical Addiction 

The first of Alexander’s categories of addiction is the traditional view: “An overwhelming involvement with alcohol or drugs.” This is one of the most common understandings of the word, with its focus limited to chemical dependence — drug addiction and/or alcoholism.

The keyword here is “overwhelming.” This word is important — this is not simply involvement with alcohol or drugs, but overwhelming involvement. This is when drugs are a significant (and destructive) part of one’s life. Estimates vary today about how prevalent chemical addiction is in our society. Estimates are that 5-10% of Americans are addicted to alcohol in this way, and about 5-8% are addicted to illegal drugs, meaning 12-15% of Americans suffer this kind of addiction … chemical addiction.

 

 2. Chemical Use/Abuse

This usage of the term addiction is more controversial. It refers to the ongoing use of “harmful” substances of any kind. This understanding of addiction is at play, for example, when a person goes to rehab for ongoing marijuana use. Some people say that since marijuana is illegal, a person who uses it at all must have a problem with it.

The challenge here is that the line between what constitutes the “use” and “abuse” of a substance can be very hard to determine. When does a recreational drug user become an addict? At what point does someone’s participation with a drug become “overwhelming?” In the minds of many people, some drugs are so destructive to users’ well-being that it’s best to treat even their occasional use as an addiction.

 

3. Behavioral Addiction

Behavioral addiction is “overwhelming involvement in something that affects one’s life negatively.” This obviously applies to the abuse of alcohol and other drugs (“chemical addiction”), but this use of “addiction” is more broad. The focus here is on processes or behaviors: things like food, sex, gambling… things that take control of a person’s life and become destructive for them.

The argument could be made that this type of addiction is still chemically-based. For example, in sex addiction, a person gets addicted to the chemical reaction that takes place in the brain during a sexual experience. This is the case with food, gambling, shopping, video games, work, and so on. But the key here is the broad understanding of the sources or objects of addiction. In this understanding, object of the addiction is not a chemical, it is an activity or behavior.

 

4. Positive Addiction

Addiction four is “strong dedication to a pursuit or cause that is helpful and constructive … but may become so absorbing that other aspects of life are neglected.” This goes back to the 1884 definition, “the giving over of oneself to some pursuit.” It might include things like being really into fitness or some sport, or hyper devotion to a certain cause. The activity or focus of attention is actually good and healthy, but it may be that our involvement with it gets to be so great that we are neglecting other things in life.

A positive addiction may seem similar to a behavioral addiction — the difference is whether or not the object is a good and worthy pursuit, and whether or not its pursuit is destructive to us. Think of the difference, for example, between someone “addicted” to pornography and someone “addicted” to running.

The lack of consensus on what addiction really is makes it difficult to help those who suffer from it. I feel that the most helpful and most accurate way of looking at addiction is the third definition, an overwhelming involvement in something that is destructive. This still leaves room for confusion and disagreement about what constitutes “overwhelming” involvement, but at least it gets us started.

What do you think?

****************

Get our new 90 day

home study course

Click here to learn more about The

Recovery Journey — a 90 Day Course