Addiction Management Blog

Archive for the ‘Action 2: Evaluate’ Category

A couple more videos…

Monday, October 10th, 2011

A few months ago, I ventured into the world of video, posting some clips from a presentation I did about addiction and treatment. The initial clips were focused on understanding addiction, and since then, I have been meaning to get back to the lecture and do the same for treatment. Recently, I did go back and review the lecture and realized that I can speak much more clearly about the nature of addiction than I can about how to deal with it as a problem. I think this is because there is not one way to help someone with addiction. We have multiple treatments, methods, medicines, and programs that can all contribute to good outcomes. At the same time, I believe the number of choices also can become paralyzing and unhelpful when all that someone really wants is to be given clear direction on what to do. Sometimes 12 steps, 7 habits, and even 5 actions can be overwhelming. Enough said. I did find a couple of clips that pertain to treatment, but they don’t discuss the overarching 5 Actions framework that I am now evolving as a way to think about intervention. But soon. Check these out and let me know your thoughts.

Mark Girard, LCSW & Certified Jungian Analyst: Working with Altered States

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

For the past few years I have taught a foundations course on addiction treatment to graduate students. An important aspect of the course is helping students understand that longterm successful outcomes  necessitate resolving underlying drivers of addictive behavior, namely, adverse childhood experiences. In an effort to illustrate concretely how this may be done, I enlisted the help of a good friend and colleague, Mark Girard, who is a master at knowing how to help people heal from deep, traumatic wounds. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and certified Jungian Analyst with years of experience, he is incredibly skilled at working with a wide range of altered states, or emotional constrictions due to trauma. What impresses me most about Mark is how he uses himself as a tool in therapy. He walks his talk and maintains a presence with patients that is the essence of what a good therapeutic relationship is all about. During his recent visit to my class he agreed to have me videotape his lecture. The approximate 35 minute presentation is a gift to us all. I encourage you to take the time – quiet, focused time – to sit and hear what he has to say.

In the presentation, Mark mentions an article by Dr. Bruce Perry from the ChildTrauma Academy that was required reading in class. The article is titled Applying Principles of Neurodevelopment to Clinical Work with Maltreated and Traumatized children and is a nice adjunct to his lecture. He also makes reference to Babette Rothschild’s wonderful book on trauma, The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment, and the classic article on trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps Score – both among the very best reads on the topic of trauma.

“Calm Energy” as an antidote to addiction

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I have mentioned Dr. Robert Thayer before on this site, but have not dedicated a blog entry to his ideas until now. When I first read his book, Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise, I was immediately impressed by the implications of his  work for those struggling with addiction. In a nutshell, he provides a very strong case that many of our moods and unhealthy eating habits have in common two biopsychological dimensions that he calls energy and tension. In an earlier book (The Origin of Everyday Moods, 1996) he describes how the dimensions can be used to create the illustration below.

The above four states represent different expressions of our energy and level of stress. Calm Energy is the quadrant where we find our best moods. We have energy and no tension. It is similar to the states people call flow or being in the zone. It is a place we want to be, where our attention is focused, we are productive, and we feel good about life. It is not a place where addiction is found, and in fact, is really the antidote to cravings and addictive appetites. The opposite of Calm Energy is Tense Tiredness. This unfortunately is the place many of us find ourselves these days, in large part due to the speed of life, decreases in sleep, and increases in stress. It is a place of low energy, bad moods, anxiety and depression. It is also the state where addiction thrives. When we feel tense and tired there is a natural tendency to want move away from this state, and addictive behaviors are among the most powerful, reliable, quick, and easy ways to disconnect from Tense Tiredness. I say disconnect because engaging in addictions does not really provide an antidote to this state. Instead, it may in the short run give us more energy, and change our mood, but only temporarily. When the addictive behavior ceases, chances are good that what follows will be more tension and lack of energy, perpetuating the relapse cycle.

I like to think about Calm Tiredness as a lazy Sunday afternoon. In general, it is a pleasant state, but often not as productive or positive as Calm Energy. Nothing wrong with it, and in fact we need down time to recharge our batteries. The final state, Tense Energy, is a state where we are quite productive and busy, often due to deadlines and being rushed for time. Many Type A personalities fit this state, as well as those who like to live on the edge and seek out thrills.

In my own life I find the model incredibly useful in helping me understand my own eating, exercise, sleep, and mood patterns. One of the best things you can do for yourself is take a day (or two) and track your level of energy and tension by the hour. Rate each on a scale of 1 to 10 and then plot the results on a graph. It is revealing to see just how significantly these states change in the course of an average day. The graph also helps to identify intervention points for: (a) preventing relapse, (b) developing optimal times for exercise, and (c) determining whether we are getting enough sleep. In addition, the graph can help you understand how time of day subtly influences how we think about life problems.

In sum, addiction most often shows up when we are tense and tired, but can also occur in the other states as well. Among the most significant points Dr. Thayer makes in his book is that the single best way to cultivate a life of calm energy is by developing a regular habit of exercise. Perhaps that is why the National Institute of Drug Abuse has already invested over 4 million in research into the connections between addiction and exercise.

The end of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood

Friday, October 8th, 2010

As a young boy, I remember venturing out on summer evenings to play hide-and-seek with the other neighborhood kids. We made up teams, sought out secret hiding places, and took full advantage of the local woods that surrounded our corner of the world. Our parents all knew each other, and while we were expending our energy running around in the dark playing games, they were talking around tables and sharing food and drink. There was no internet, cell phones, or other multimedia distractions competing for time. Life was simpler, slower.

Now, more than thirty-five years later, I find myself married with a young son and challenged to provide him the same care-free childhood that I experienced. Despite living in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood, it is rare to see large groups of kids playing together outside. There are no local woods within walking distance, and even if there were, most parents (myself included) would be hesitant to allow their children to play unsupervised. Although everyone I encounter on my daily dog walks is friendly, there is a lack of deep intimacy among neighbors. Some have never even met despite living within blocks of each other for decades.

The stark contrast between life today and just a few decades ago is surreal. The year I was born the handheld calculator was invented, and today, handheld devices are minicomputers capable of video-conferencing around the world. But for all the benefits technology affords, there is a cost that gets lost in the frenzy of Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon.

In 1985, researchers set out to understand the degree to which people have family and friends they can rely upon to discuss matters that are personal in nature. A national survey was done, and in 2004, the same group decided to repeat the study to determine how core discussion networks had changed over two decades. The results are frightening.

  • 25% of all Americans in 2004 reported they had no one in their life to discuss personal issues, compared to 10% in 1985
  • The modal (most frequent) number of discussion partners in 1985 was three, but in 2004 that number plummeted to zero
  • The average social network size has dropped from 3 confidants to 2
  • The number of people who reported that their spouse was the only person they trust with personal issues increased by almost 50 percent since 1985

These outcomes paint a sobering picture of the price we may be paying for our technology-enhanced life. The lead researcher has said, “we know these close ties are what people depend on in bad times. We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com and email 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”

Source: Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades, American Sociological Review, June 2006 71:353-375

Uncovering the pervasive roots of addiction: Part 1

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

“For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.”  – Thoreau

In my life there have been many times when I felt isolated, lonely, disconnected, and alone. These times have never  been pleasant, and in the absence of nurturing relationships, close friends to call on a dime, or a tribe of my own, I coped by engaging in substitute relationships with work, money, entertainment, food, hobbies, and exercise (just to name a few). For years I felt shame about many of my behaviors, and my inability to connect in deep ways with others. Now I understand that so much of my adaptive behaviors were a response to underlying root problems, problems that needed resolving and hampered in significant ways my ability to intiate, develop, and maintain intimate and nurturing relationships with people. I also believe that now, more than ever, those who struggle with addiction share similar root causes that need to be addressed if successful longterm outcomes are to materialize.

The roots of addiction go much deeper than the adaptive behaviors that so often are the focus of intervention efforts. This is because dealing with the symptoms (addictions) are easier than dealing with the root causes. I have long believed that addiction is a problem best managed over time like other chronic illnesses. But successful management necessitates addressing what drives the addictive behavior in the first place. It requires knowing how to turn down the flame, dig out the roots, and resolve problems that are solvable. These underlying roots come in many shapes and sizes, but there are two forms that I believe are the primary drivers of addiction today. This post will address the first form: adverse childhood experiences.

Adverse Childhood Experiences
In the mid 1980s, physicians from Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventative Medicine in San Diego made an interesting discovery. Those who were losing the most weight and succeeding in the weight loss program were the ones most likely to drop out and quit. Was it because they no longer needed the program? Nope. Further investigation revealed that the majority of dropouts did not maintain their weight loss and went back to struggling with problems of overeating and obesity. Why did they quit if they were succeeding in the program? A deeper look revealed that overeating and obesity were used as tools to cope with unresolved adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). In most cases, overeating was an unconscious behavior utilized as a protective solution to these unresolved childhood problems.

How was it unconsciously protective? In many cases, the ACEs involved sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Developing a relationship with food was safer than developing intimate or nurturing relationships with people who might abuse again. Being obese unconsciously deterred romantic interests and physically enhanced protection of the body. The finding that most of the participants in the weight loss program had prior ACEs led Kaiser to collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to explore the link between ACEs and general health outcomes.

The study involved over 17,000 middle-class Americans and has produced over 50 scholarly research journal articles. Among the most signficant findings in the study was that two-thirds of the participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. In addition, the higher a person’s ACE score, the more addictive behavior was utilized as a coping response. For example:

Here you can see that as the number of ACE scores increase, so too does the percent who meet criteria for alcoholism. This finding is detailed in an insightful paper titled The Origins of Addiction by the lead researcher of the study, Vincent Felitti. What the ACE study helps us to understand is that the roots of addiction are real, diverse, and if left unaddressed, will continue to fuel the behavior we are so badly trying to manage (or end).

Confessions of a (Tiger) sex addict?…helping out CNN and the rest of the media

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

The media love stories like Tiger Woods and his lady friends. Sex sells, it always has. Unfortunately, the media rarely care whether they are portraying an issue accurately, it is more about soundbites and sales. I know, because I used to get interviewed quite often for addiction-related stories when I worked for a large university teaching hospital. My 20 minute interviews would get slashed to 10 second clips on the nightly news. I have come to realize that it is not their fault, it is the way of news in our soundbite culture. But topics like addiction and what has happened with Tiger deserve more than soundbites. Addiction is an incredibly complex problem with no simple answers. It seems that despite this fact, the media have attempted to reduce Tiger’s problems to a diagnosis of sex addiction. In the clip below they interview a sex addict who provides evidence that sex clearly is an addiction, and that his experiences are similar to Tigers, check it out (and then keep reading):

Here is my own commentary about sex addiction and Tiger’s problems:

  • Far too much time is spent debating whether specific behaviors should be called addiction. The reporters above point out that many do not consider sex addiction a real psychiatric disorder because it does not exist in the current verision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). But the DSM is a socially-constructed diagnostic guide that is in the process of completely revamping the section dedicated to the diagnosis of addiction. Turns out we got it wrong for the past couple of decades! In my opinion, debates about whether people can be “addicted” to be specific objects (porn, food, internet, cell phone use) get us nowhere. For years therapists have treated patients with significant problems related to all these things, which usually come in packages of behavior. Our focus should be on understanding addiction as a relationship problem, not an object-specific problem.
  • How should we understand Tiger’s behavior? If addiction is about relationships, then we see that his pursuit of women  has been about something other than just sex. Any therapist in the country who has spent time dedicated to the topic of sex addiction (Patrick Carnes, Jennifer Schneider, Robert Weiss) will say that sex addiction is not about sex. It is about intimacy and emotional connection, or the lack thereof. As humans we are wired for relationships, but adverse childhood events (and trauma throughout life) lead to the avoidance of emotional experiences necessary for healthy emotional development. The result is a person like Tiger becomes an adult doing his best to negotiate the complexities of adult relationships with the emotional/relationship/intimacy skills of a child. No wonder he looks like a deer caught in headlights at news conferences.
  • As a person neglects their internal emotional world, very often the emotional energy (which has to go somewhere) gets displaced into academic mental activities or sports. It is not coincidental that many who suffer from addiction and untreated trauma are professional athletes or have professional careers requiring brain power and academic credentials.  A number of news commentators have pointed out that when Tiger came on the pro scene at age 19 his life never was the same. I would add that prior to the age of 19 his life was very different from other kids, how else was he able to go pro at 19? I am not an expert on Tiger Woods and have no knowledge of the events in Tiger’s early life that influenced his present behavior. And in truth, I don’t care, they are not my business. Each person’s past is their own.
  • We need to realize that we (even those who work in the media and are taking shots at him) are not so different from Tiger. On some level, we all struggle with past traumas, maintaining intimate relationships, sex, and developmental constrictions. And at times we all have engaged in excessive behaviors that help us disconnect from the world and our emotional pain (like even watching a bit too much professional sports). Sure, we may not have millions in the bank, be the world’s greatest golfer, or have the ability to act out in the ways he has, but just like Tiger, we all have our own life challenges. The real question is whether we are deepening our awareness of our shadow side, and doing the work necessary to own it, integrate it, and evolve our own mental/emotional health.

One final thing. Understanding why Tiger did what he did is very different then letting him off the hook. Let me be clear, I am not attempting to justify his behavior or say his acting out was not his fault. He needs to take responsibility for what he has done, and realize how his actions have hurt a lot of people. But we in society are so quick to judge others, and in a sick way relish watching those on top take big plunges. Instead of buying into the soundbite entertainment value of Tiger’s pain, we could benefit a lot more by exploring how his fall is a mirror for aspects of our own life.