Happy Wednesday

I know it’s not Wednesday, unless you are actually reading this on a Wednesday. In which case, happy Wednesday!

I have a different story about Wednesdays.

I talk to a fair amount of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or World of Warcraft, or porn, or masturbation, or shoes (and you know who you are), or Real Housewives of Vancouver. For most people in my line of work the actual addiction itself is almost secondary for much of our discussion. What the recent literature is saying is that what is really important is that weird stuff happening on a neurological and emotional level way way deep.

It is a fairly good bet that the reason you said yes to that rail or joint or seventh glass of wine on Saturday night had much less to do with your lack of willpower than you might think. Perhaps the cards were far more stacked against you than you ever imagined. So let’s talk about Wednesday.

You have been trying to skip a weekend for months. We talked about the problem and it’s becoming more and more about bingeing. Time to “take a weekend off” to prove to yourself that you are not a drug addict or alcoholic or whatever personally destructive name tag you want to wear.

There is a huge elephant in the room that no one wants to really talk about. The binge probably actually started on about Wednesday. Maybe it was on Wednesday that the thought first entered your mind. You know how it went. All you said to yourself was, “O crap, the weekend is coming!”. That was all. Harmless, right? Wrong.

I have heard several clinicians and university nerds talk about this. Apparently there is much more going on just under the surface than most of us realize. What if thinking about using actually gave me a little hit of happy goodness? Turns out it probably does.

Most of us have heard of adrenaline or dopamine or serotonin. Here’s a story. Yes that seems very random. Have you ever seen that cheesy commercial “This Is Your Brain On Drugs”? You know, the one that makes you want to eat eggs. Cocaine addicts, lots of cocaine addicts, have reported to me that commercials like that actually make their mouths water, and not for eggs.

Why do you think that is? If you’ve ever had an extended encounter with cocaine you will know there is a very specific and pronounced taste to that white powder. Users will often rub it on their gums to numb the surface of their skin, just for kicks. You taste every line, every puff. It is a very sensory experience. Ten years later a person who was once addicted to cocaine finds her mouth-watering during a story about a weekend binge. A wedding celebration has brought back some bad thinking about drinking. Apparently when Johnny started fixating on the weekend some of the good stuff was released in his brain and an association is made. More thoughts can equal more goodies and by the time John gets in his car on Friday night to drive to his dealer’s house he’s pretty much toast. Many addicts report that during the ride over they often berate themselves for being weak, yet again. Many promise themselves they will never do this again, or at least get help. At this point it’s just a game you play every time you disappoint yourself. This is familiar territory. You keep your foot on the gas pedal because you are, in a very real sense, already high.

The science on addiction is changing. Clinicians and front-line workers are incredibly open to new information and are much more willing to speak about dangerous subjects than we once were. Addiction humbles people. The carnage of broken lives that my colleagues in the addictions field and I have witnessed changes a person. I respect the drug more than I used to.

Today my colleague  Dawn and I spoke with some amazing parents who were absolutely frightened by the prospect of their teenager’s exposure to drugs in their local high school. They should be. At the end of the day there was a real sense that those parents needed to become better informed. Information really can be powerful. Knowing that I am vulnerable earlier cannot but help me when I find myself hungry, angry, lonely or tired (HALT). Knowing I am vulnerable can literally be half or more of the battle.

3 thoughts on “Happy Wednesday

  1. Scott, I am curious what you think about whether addiction is hereditary? Like, is a person predisposed to be an addict. In my family that seems to be the case. My dad’s side of the family 2 out of 7 siblings were alcoholic, I had a counselor tell me that my dad was a “dry” alcoholic, in that he acted like an alcoholic without the booze. Does that make sense? He used to drink a lot but then he would quit to prove he could, as he got older he drank less but was a miserable SOB drunk or sober. My ex husband side of the family were all alcoholics every single one of his siblings and his parents. French Canadian, they drank beer with breakfast.
    My brother has battled coke and heroin. I had a real drinking problem that took me years to kick. I started only drinking on weekends and then the weekend started on Thurs night because Knotts Landing was on. Then Wed because my son got taken by his dad on Wed nights.
    Anyway, my son has battled addictions his whole teen and adult life. I think he has a drinking problem now but I’m pretty sure he is clean of drugs.
    I have told him since he was a teen ager that he has to be aware he is predisposed to addiction but I have a nephew who doesn’t have any issues and his mom’s side of his family are severe alcoholics and my brother of course has had his issues.
    Just curious. Not that it changes anything but I was wondering.
    Thanks

    1. I think the evidence suggests that the jury is still out on the nature/nurture debate when it comes to addictions. There is copious evidence to suggest the neurological links of dopamine, serotonin, gaba, etc. There is also strong evidence to support the relationship of environment. There is, unfortunately, a great deal of evidence-based stats to support the profound impact of growing up around a lack of impulse control and that direct link to dysfunction. This is not to say that all addiction is learned. Such an understanding would perhaps be too simplistic. There is also strong evidence to support the development of neuropathic routing as a result of addiction – thereby redefining the whole “addictive personality” stereotype. Certainly I don’t know everything in this area but we generally point to things like “family systems” and the strong link between early trauma and experience in general and later value systems and impulse control.

      There is much debate on both sides, but I have difficulty labelling the child of an alcoholic as an automatic ticking time bomb. Often in counselling I find that the early imprints have a far more significant impact of future behaviour than some people wish to admit. If you google “addictive personality” there are many smart people to hold to this theory. I try to treat people on a “case by case” basis. Some of the strongest non-drinkers I know, for example, have grown up in addiction environs. They don’t seem to have a major struggle with addiction, in spite of the common wisdom that “everyone is addicted to something”. This may, in point of fact, be true but sounds very much like a common cognitive distortion “all or nothing” thinking. Everyone is a big number.

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