I have the privilege of talking to people about addiction and recovery most days as part of my job here at the SUN Network. I’ve been listening to how it’s described as it’s difficult to understand if you haven’t been there.
One description of addiction is like that it’s like an itch. You know how when you have a strong itch it’s hard to concentrate on anything else, it’s difficult to ignore it and you feel compelled to scratch it?
Even knowing that scratching will make it worse doesn’t stop the powerful compulsion to scratch! That’s a good way to describe addiction. We know full well that it’s not helpful to pursue our addictive behaviours. We have no doubt that it’ll make things worse, but the compulsion is stronger than our ability to abstain. Addiction is a bit like that. Maybe recovery is finding the cause of the itch and treating it while finding practical ways to avoid scratching the itch until it gets better.
Another way to think about addictive actions is like drinking salt water when thirsty. Water looks refreshing and our senses tell us that a cool drink of water will satisfy the thirst. But if the water is salty, then our senses would be deceiving us. That’s how addiction tricks our brains. We truly feel a drink will help, a line or whatever. Our brain may know that our addiction won’t satisfy our needs, but we have to have something else going on that sends a very loud message otherwise.
It’s a bit like water running downhill, eroding a deeper and deeper path, that eventually becomes the default path with enough water to be a stream, river or waterfall.
Every time we feel a strong feeling and respond with our addictive behaviour, a neuroconnection between the feeling and the action is strengthened.
This path gets stronger and stronger so whenever we feel challenging feelings it’s more and more likely we’ll take the addictive behaviour as a way to respond to the feeling.
Neuroscientists have said: ‘cells that fire together, wire together’. That’s why my addictive behaviours feel like a ‘default’, very strong and automatic.
There are places to find others working on addiction recovery. Here’s a good list if you live in Cambridgeshire to consider:
SMART Recovery isn’t a 12 step group, but they are a mutual aid group with many similarities to 12 step. They welcome anyone wanting to recover from any addiction (substance and/or behaviour). They create a space where people don’t need to be labelled as an ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic’, their program is based on psychology and boasts no spiritual aspect.
Cocaine Anonymous groups support other addictions beyond just crack and other forms of cocaine and their website says, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using cocaine and all other mind-altering substances.”
Narcotics Anonymous groups also support recovery from more than just narcotics. Their website says, “..it’s not a specific drug which defines addicts, it’s whether we have an addictive personality. If you want to stop, but cannot on your own, you qualify.”
Alcoholics Anonymous groups were the first free mutual aid group. Requirements for attendance is a desire to stop using alcohol and they usually limit sharing to the topic of alcohol (unlike the others I’ve listed above). You can call their national helpline for free on 0800 9177 650 to talk to a member of AA who has been through addiction, understands it first hand, and is keen to help others find their own recovery.
Finally, CGL (Change Grow Live) is free for anyone in Cambridgeshire or Peterborough seeking help with drugs and/or alcohol (including prescription drugs). You can check out their Cambridgeshire website here: Change Grow Live, Cambridgeshire, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone: 0300 555 0101. For the Peterborough website click here: Aspire, CGL Peterborough, or phone 01733 895 624 or 0800 111 4354 or email email@example.com.