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Addiction and Love

Addiction, a changing tide.

There is an obituary, feel free to click right here,  that is floating over the Facebook stratosphere.  A woman died of addiction and heart break.  We all see this combination.  A mother has a history of addiction and then the most meaningful person in her life is taken away, her child, and it breaks her.

Her parents saw her as a person, who had to struggle, but she was not her struggle in its entirety.  The obituary is a love song. They show a vibrant, happy, open, courageous woman battling a serious illness, with a few road blocks that she simply could not surmount, …that most people can not surmount without a history of addiction or mental illness, her child was taken away from her.

Recently, I read a mirror image of this on the alumni Facebook page of my highschool, a beautiful woman who had her struggles and had her 3 children taken away from her, and then she died.

People’s usual cause of death is heartbreak.

With family members and loved ones drowning in frustration and pain, I do recommend the book CoDependent No More.  You can love without being enmeshed in something beyond your control.

The beauty of this obituary, and the post on the alumni page, was how much love surrounded these people.  With the obituary, the family saturated her in warm memories and empathy, with the post on the alumni page, the woman’s sister so lovingly and dilegently searches for her sister and then finds her dead.

What is addiction? Why is it so lethal?

Dr. Volkow, the world renowned expert in addiction, explains that addiction is a biological variant. People who struggle with addiction have low levels of dopamine T2 receptors. If interested to learn more, please read this article.

We also have neuroplasticity.  The ability for the brain to compensate for one deficit in one area via overcompensating in another, think of a person who is blind who has enhanced  abilities in his or her other senses. If interested in neuroplasticity, one of the best books that illustrates this is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

People who struggle with addiction, with the low levels of Dopamine T2 receptors, take a drug and feel normal while others without low levels of dopamine T2 receptors take that same drug and feel sick.

How can people struggling with low levels of dopamine T2 receptors compensate in other ways?

There is medicine now that targets dopamine.  And alongside the medicine, the key to healing is in building community and purpose.  You need to begin relying on the people who love and care for you and if there are not any right now, you can build that too.

Bottom line, what a person struggling with addiction struggles with is very very different, most likely beyond what a person with a non-addict brain could fully understand.  So many of my clients have said, “I want to drink like a normal person.”  Sure, I get it, but your brain is different, more vulnerable to addiction, more vulnerable to loneliness.

It does not mean you can not overcome addiction, you can. 

It means you can not compare yourself to others.

And that love that people have for the person struggling is not weak, it is the most powerful emotion.  It is a matter of understanding:  love that person, yes,  but you can not work harder than the person you love.

More than anything, I believe addiction is a disease of isolation.

There is way too much shame. And then the person struggling isolates and then plummets even deeper into the drug of choice. That is where I do believe AA works, meetings decrease the serious isolation our society currently struggles with in a muffled frazzled tone. AA can lift that away.

Our problem in general is that we can get up and move to another state or country…so easily. Airplanes have ruined us. We need to be and stay connected. The decrease of connectivity is enhanced as the gap between the have and have nots increases, however there are solutions.

In our current state of affairs, the most important thing to do is to find a place and build a community and to also find meaning and purpose. Not so easy and not done overnight. Wherever you can find meaning, grab onto it and hold it.  If you can not find meaning right now, be open to it and you will. Most people find meaning in something they have survived, whether it be a mental illness, an awful childhood, or they find meaning in art, or nature, or having a child… every person has a unique path written for them alone.

I would like to introduce this TED talk that has over 10 million views, and here is why…

In this TED talk, Everything We Know About Addiction is Wrong,  the speaker describes how Portugal began treating heroine addiction. Portugal approached curing addiction in a very different way than westernized societies do and the percentage of heroin addiction plummeted.  Over 10 million people have listened to this talk.  Because we have hit epidemic levels of addiction in our society.

Here is an excerpt of the TED Talk:

Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, which is kind of mind-blowing, 

and every year, they tried the American way more and more. They punished people and stigmatized them and shamed them more, and every year, the problem got worse.

And one day, the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition got together, and basically said, look, we can’t go on with a country where we’re having ever more people becoming heroin addicts.Let’s set up a panel of scientists and doctors to figure out what would genuinely solve the problem. And they set up a panel led by an amazing man called Dr. João Goulão, to look at all this new evidence, and they came back..

And they said, “Decriminalize all drugs from cannabis to crack, but” — and this is the crucial next step — “take all the money we used to spend on cutting addicts off, on disconnecting them,and spend it instead on reconnecting them with society.”

And that’s not really what we think of as drug treatment in the United States and Britain.

So they do do residential rehab, they do psychological therapy, that does have some value. But the biggest thing they did was the complete opposite of what we do: a massive program of job creation for addicts, and microloans for addicts to set up small businesses.

So say you used to be a mechanic. When you’re ready, they’ll go to a garage, and they’ll say,if you employ this guy for a year, we’ll pay half his wages.

The goal was to make sure that every addict in Portugal had something to get out of bed for in the morning.

 And when I went and met the addicts in Portugal, what they said is, as they rediscovered purpose, they rediscovered bonds and relationships with the wider society.

I will conclude with the brilliant speaker’s, John Hari’s powerful words…

And I think the core of that message — you’re not alone, we love you — has to be at every level of how we respond to addicts, socially, politically and individually. For 100 years now, we’ve been singing war songs about addicts. I think all along we should have been singing love songs to them, because the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.


“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” -Lao Tzu


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