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The Struggles of Overcoming Addictions

Colleen is a psychotherapist retired from private practice, specializing in human relationships.

When Temptation Overcomes Willpower

Christmas Stripped of Its Tinsel

Our extended family gathered in the fairly large home of two of its members. Always well-decorated, a few lights and ornaments add a sense of festivity. As our host and hostess are both gourmet cooks, the food is both abundant and wonderful. There were even chestnuts which, though not roasted on an open fire, had been toasted and warmed in the oven. Bonhomie flowed, as did the wine.

Still, no bottle stood on the dining-room table. Our host, “Irving”, pours and refills glasses in the kitchen. This is his gentle way of preventing his brother “Keith” from feeling shamed by his exclusion from this aspect of holiday revels.

"One Little Glass Can't Hurt."

We all feel a sense of triumph in Keith’s having continued to stay “clean” for almost three years after long and intensive treatment for various kinds of chemical dependencies. Now, as Irving collects empty glasses and heads towards the kitchen, Keith says, “Hey, Irv, I’d like a glass of wine.” At that, Irving halts.

As guests, we can almost hear him thinking and hoping Keith had been making some sort of joke. Still, though reddening a bit, Keith persists, “Hell, a little glass on Christmas can’t hurt. I’ll only have one, Irv."

Then, with a slight, sad shrug, Irving continues towards the kitchen. When he returns, he hands Keith a glass of wine. As Irving says later when some of us talk, “I wasn't about to wreck a good day by starting an argument with my brother. I felt bad and guilty bringing him wine, but I cannot be his sobriety bodyguard. Besides, he did only have that one glass, so things might still be OK for him.”

Each of us who had been in that room shared this wish. At the same time, we heard the truth behind Irving’s words. No level of tact, tenderness or concern can shield an addict from his own decisions and choices.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Catnip is a small herbaceous plant of Europe and Asia. It contains the chemical nepetalactone which is attractive to cats who lick and chew the  leaves causing them to writhe in ecstasy.

Catnip is a small herbaceous plant of Europe and Asia. It contains the chemical nepetalactone which is attractive to cats who lick and chew the leaves causing them to writhe in ecstasy.

What Makes Addiction Begin And Continue?

While this multi faceted answer may one day be found, countless studies thus far have proved inconclusive. Scientists have speculated addiction is rooted in evolution. In order for nature to protect the survival of both plants and animal species, some joy beyond basic survival had to be found.

This caused creation of pleasure centres in the brain. Just as the act of procreation needed to be one of life’s delights, eating various fruits, nuts, berries and herbs had to be appealing enough to justify their pursuit.

In terms of what is now called positive reinforcement, after a pleasing sensation has been evoked, the quest for its repetition will be ignited. Cats, having been exposed to catnip, tend to spurn toys which do not contain it in some form. Indeed, the naming of this plant originated from observation of feline euphoria.

Further Effects of Intoxicants Upon Birds And Animals

One need only watch a bird drop to the ground after gorging over-ripe fermented fruit to see the results of inebriation. No living creature is immune from this force. Allowed to explore the effects of various legal and illegal drugs, experiments have shown primates will, given a choice, press the appropriate button thousands of times for an infusion of cocaine.

Even after seizures distort their bodies and minds, they will strive to activate the button until killed. Barbiturates will bring about numerous presses, though fewer than those impelled by cocaine. Conversely, anti-depressants receive few or no presses. This response supports the belief that few anti-depressant medications are addictive for their human counterparts.

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz. The ancient Greeks believed that wearing it protected one from becoming intoxicated

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz. The ancient Greeks believed that wearing it protected one from becoming intoxicated

Roots of The Use of Intoxicants

Archaeological findings indicate use of mind and mood altering substances to have been interwoven into every major civilization. In ancient Egypt, private homes were available for the recovery of those who had become debilitated and wished to re-join society. In Greece, fear of drunkenness was indicated by the belief that wearing or carrying an amethyst would prevent intoxication, no matter the amount a drinker imbibed.

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Laws to prevent excessive Bacchanalian pleasures seem to have proved more-or-less pointless in that the use of wine was central to religious festivals (perhaps a pretext for some of them?). The Roman poet Horace wrote of wine as “the spur of the spirit,” and this spur was equally central to religious ceremonies both in Rome and those parts of its Empire which conformed to its customs.

Alcohol in The American Colonies

Although early American settlers tend to be viewed as puritanical, this was by no means always the case. While proving accurate in some areas, the majority of English, Dutch, French and Spanish colonists brought a hefty supply of alcohol from their homelands. A priority, once having rooted themselves and their families in fresh soil, became the guarantying of its continuing wellspring via trade.

A further historical misconception is the exploitation by these settlers of Native Americans. True, they were unaccustomed to alcohol, distilled in any form. Still, nearly every tribe possessed an understanding, developed through centuries of herbal lore, regarding the curative and hallucinatory powers of herbs and plants.

Their struggle lay in their lack of understanding as to the use and effects of alcohol. Hence, while some Native Americans became addicted, others found the loss of dignity too humiliating to allow themselves to continue.

"The Good Creature of God"

Perceived as a blessing from the almighty, many colonial settlers consumed alcohol as a part of their daily lives. Seen as alleviating both mental and physical anguish, they held it to be a gift from a God of love and benevolence.

Major Differences in Societal Views

The most astounding aspect of colonial life lay in the regular consumption of alcohol, at all hours, by men, women and children. It was enjoyed at work and social occasions, much as coffee and tea are today. While laws were set forth to prohibit public drunkenness, they were meant to discourage lewd or disruptive conduct, rather than over-indulgence itself. In modern terms, there were almost certainly numerous alcoholics who were not recognized as such by themselves or those close to them.


Substance Abuse Awareness in America

Dr. Henry A Reynolds, graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1864, served as a surgeon in the U.S. Civil War. Having returned to his hometown of Bangor, Maine, he established a medical practice, which thrived and expanded. Despite the effort and diligence needed to attain these achievements, Reynolds became stripped not only of his practice, but of every other dignity due to his increasing dependence on alcohol.

Having vowed to end his drinking, Reynolds sought others who, though determined to halt this self-destructive behaviour, had failed thus far to succeed. When his grass roots quest for fellows struggling proved nearly futile, Reynolds advertised in a local newspaper for others sharing his suffering to join him in mutual support.

Shortly thereafter, his 11 respondents met and founded The Bangor Reform Club, with the motto “Dare to do Right”. This type of comradeship, one of the first self-help groups to be formed, laid the basis for the later international organization Alcoholics Anonymous.

As awareness of the dangers of drinking and drug abuse proliferated, a growing number of clinics and treatments began to gain eminence. Despite differing theoretical frameworks and treatment modalities, all were in accord as to one basic need: unconditional abstinence.

It was held that opiates, as well as alcohol, should not be given to an addict unless necessitated by the saving of life. This knowledge, continuing to our own day, was that one dose of an opiate could undo years of hard-won self-discipline.

The Connection Between Tobacco And Alcohol

As far back as 1877, the supervisor of one New York treatment centre stated that treatment of alcoholics could only succeed when use of tobacco was eliminated. His view has found no scientific support. Indeed, continuous smoking, combined with intense caffeine consumption, prove lifelines for many of those in the throes of ending dependence on alcohol and/or drugs. Still, smoking and drinking are often combined, one enhancing enjoyment of the other. Numerous people have said they only smoke when they drink.

This video is the famous erotically charged scene from the 1942 film "Now Voyager" between Bette Davis and Paul Henreid

The Habit of Romance

Today, those in their late teens and early twenties may be amazed by the social control and almost forced acceptance of smoking, for around three quarters of the 20th century. In fact, smoking was viewed as a source of romance and rebellion.

One of the tenderest moments in movie history has long been held to be the scene in the movie "Now Voyager", when Paul Henreid lights two cigarettes, in his mouth, then eases one of them between the lips of the seemingly prim Bette Davis. Similarly, Lauren Bacall’s status as a vamp was established in the 1944 film "To Have and Have Not"; when as she approaches two men, she asks in her throaty purr, “Anybody got a match?”

Plays, films and ads reflect social contexts. During the 1920s, part of a suitor’s wooing was often the buying of perfumed cigarettes for his ladylove, as a gesture of respect for that chastity which he was, in all likelihood, doing his utmost to overcome, despite her pretended reluctance.

“Do You mind if I Smoke?”

Until the late 1970s, this was all but a meaningless question, often accompanied by the reaching into a pocket or purse for the sought-after nicotine rush. Anyone who detested its smell, resented its invasion of throats and lungs, the yellowing or staining of woodwork and metal surfaces, and the lingering stench permeating carpets and curtains, found it all but impossible to deny.

This proved true even when the smoker was in a non-smoker’s house for the purpose of well-paid home repairs, cosmetic improvement, or in an unwelcome attempt to sell a service or item. If such a home-owner, passenger in a cab or limousine, or any setting failed to consent to immediate lighting up, it would need to be couched in grovelling terms, followed by the excuse of a real or fictitious allergy.

Etiquette also decreed that, if refusing an offered cigarette, a non-smoker replied, “No thank you”, rather than adding, “I don’t smoke.” This comment might be interpreted as an implied criticism of the smoker.

So entrenched were cigarettes that one young woman was given three cigarette cases for her twenty-first birthday. Later, when nicotine was said to be carcinogenic, this by then middle-aged mother of five growing children said, with an edge of rage, “Smoking is a way of life.”

This video Spinning tobacco through the years depicts some tactics deployed by the industry

A Battle Fought Hard by The Tobacco Industry

During the 1980s, growing media press coverage of not only tobacco use by those who drew it into their systems, but the dangers to others of second hand smoke, led to a growing campaign by non-smokers to secure smoke-free sections in restaurants and public vehicles.

Alarmed by this development, the tobacco industry sought to infiltrate and destroy such organizations as GASP, an acronym for “Group Against Smoking Pollution”.

As a student intern at GASP, I encountered this type of impostor. Our office was approached by a young man who claimed to be a lawyer. Having scheduled an appointment, he entered our office with all the accoutrements, including a business card which would, in time, prove his undoing.

One of his wealthiest clients, he said, wished to make a large donation to GASP. His sole condition was that this “lawyer” read the GASP charter in order to establish its validity and future lobbying agenda. The president of GASP using the given business card, phoned the bar association and learned that this man lacked any legal credentials.

Food Addiction: How Fun Can Turn Fatal

One evening, as our family enjoyed a Chinese dinner, my eight-year-old nephew, reaching for a second egg roll, said, “Eating’s fun.” Although countless studies have been conducted regarding causes of obesity, this straightforward statement sums up the seeds of food addiction, and doubtless the core of others as well.

The recognition of food as a substance requiring treatment as is similar to that of drugs and alcohol is a fairly recent concept. Indeed, Over-eaters Anonymous follows the 12-step program developed by organizations dealing with alcohol and drug dependencies.

Singer Ray Charles, nearly as well-known for his addictions as his musical abilities, states in his memoir that he did not take drugs because he was African-American or sight impaired. He took them because he liked the way they made him feel inside-in short, drugs were fun.

Chocolates Can Be Irresistible

Other Similarities to Chemical Dependence

It is a saddening fact that substance abusers of various kinds frequently find ways of circumventing the rules of treatment centres. Some men and women, while paying thousands of dollars to weight loss spas and clinics, manoeuvre means of leaving the premises to buy chocolates along with other foods with high fat and little or no nutritional content.

Chocolate is often the fiercest foe to defeat in the weight loss duel. Beyond the joy of its taste, chocolate contains oxytocin, dubbed “the cuddle hormone” due to its ability to induce feelings of euphoria, tenderness and affection. This hormone flows at its utmost after a mother has given birth, increasing as her new-born absorbs her nurturing milk.

An example of the allure of chocolate was shown when one woman agreed to buy a vastly over-priced box of chocolates, ostensibly in support of a charity. When told their delivery would be delayed by a day or two, she told the salesperson, “Please, if you can bring them to me today, I will buy 6 extra boxes.”

Substitution of Food For Fame?

It is difficult to comprehend how some celebrities allow themselves to become overweight to the point of grotesqueness. This proves especially true when acclaim has been largely or partly based upon physical appeal.

The overwhelming weight gain of the actor Marlon Brando exemplifies this conundrum. In his youth, Brando’s physique, combined with his acting prowess, earned him leading roles in such films as "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront". To countless women, Brando became Herculean. How then, in his later years, could he have grown so corpulent that, at his death, his bulk was enormous?

In her memoir, actress Rita Moreno writes that, after a sumptuous meal at her home, Brando would grasp a container of ice cream and demolish its contents, spoonful followed by spoonful, until the carton was emptied. One can only speculate as to the source of this unabashed gluttony.

Was he striving to fill the void left by his faded fame? Alternatively, during his years as a deified actor, combined with the resilience of youth, might he have kept his appetite in abeyance? While the slowing of metabolism due to ageing cannot be ignored, such an extreme is bewildering.

Triggers For Regaining Control

Renowned opera singer Beverly Sills concedes in her autobiography to allowing herself to become obese to the point of danger. Then, after one party, her brother warned her of what she already knew but had yet to confront: she was eating herself into an early grave. As she writes, social eating, like social drinking, can slowly forge inroads into one’s life, until one can lose all perspective as to its impact and ultimate outcome. Her brother’s bluntness gave her the impetus to enter into a successful weight loss regimen.

Awareness of Drug And Alcohol Issues

The above-mentioned Ray Charles, long addicted to illegal drugs, reached his moment of clarity when he was arrested during one of his son’s Little League competitions. The shame Charles knew his son must have felt upon watching his world-renowned father taken into police custody left him no choice but to accept and conquer his use of illegal drugs.

A similar epiphany came about when English Journalist Toby Young, awakening after a rollicking night, realized he was no longer wearing a ring his deceased mother had given him. When he asked his drinking cohorts if they had seen this ring, they reminded him of his having given it to a pretty, Scandinavian exchange student. In the depths of inebriation, Young had begged her to marry him. When she laughed off his wooing, he had placed the ring on a finger of her left hand.

This incident alerted Young regarding two major hazards. First, he had tossed away a keepsake he had no means of retrieving. In addition, he lacked any recollection of his flippant shenanigans. The combination of loss and blackout impelled him to re-evaluate his lifestyle, and implement needed changes.