ADDICTION IS A DISEASE NOT A DISGRACE:
by Robert Frank Mittiga (IMAC)
Addiction is primarily a brain disease, meaning permanent brain chemistry alteration as result of either repetitive ongoing substance abuse, or the repetitive abuse of some behavioural process such as gambling or even sex. In other words addiction is a “Primary Disease” and not a symptom of some other pathology. However it always has some component of emotional disfunctionality that parallels this disease, or if you like “fuels the addictive disorder”. This is extremely important to understand, because simply putting the “cork on the bottle” so as to speak, is only a small part of the solution, however an important first step. I view addiction as a biological, emotional, and spiritual disease.
The World Health Organisation’s definition of addiction is “a pathological relationship to ANY mood altering substance, behaviour, event or thing that has life damaging consequences. What is important to note here is that it is the individual’s “pathological relationship” with the substance or behaviour that is really the problem.
Nearly all human beings have a deep desire to feel happy and to find peace of mind and soul. At times in our lives, most of us find this wholeness of peace and beauty, but then it slips away, only to return at another time. When it leaves us, we feel sadness and even a slight sense of mourning. This is one of the natural cycles of life, and it’s not a cycle we can control.
Addiction, on its most basic level, is an attempt to control and fulfil this desire for happiness. Addiction must be viewed as a process that is progressive. Addiction must be seen as an illness that undergoes continuous development from a definite, though often unclear, beginning toward an end point.
We can draw a strong comparison between addiction and cancer. For us to understand all the different forms of cancer, we must first understand what they all have in common. All cancers share a similar process: the uncontrolled multiplying of cells. Similarly, we must first understand what all addictions and addictive processes have in common: the out-of-control and aimless searching for wholeness, happiness, and peace through a relationship with an object or event. No matter what the addiction is, every addict engages in a relationship with an object or event in order to produce a desired mood change, state of intoxication, or trance state.
Although all of the objects or events described are vastly different, they all produce desired mood changes in the addicts who engage in them.
Types of Highs
Addicts are attracted to certain types of mood changes or highs. Individuals in the grips of addiction chase different but specific addictive highs, in which they are attracted: arousal, satiation, and fantasy. Arousal and satiation are the most common, followed by fantasy, which is part of all addictions.
Both arousal and satiation are attractive, cunning, baffling, and powerful highs. Arousal comes from amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, and the first few drinks of alcohol, and from the behaviours of gambling, sexual acting out, spending, and stealing, and so on. Arousal causes sensations of intense, raw, unchecked power and gives feelings of being untouchable and all-powerful. It speaks directly to the drive for power. Arousal makes addicts believe they can achieve happiness, safety, and fulfilment. Arousal gives the addict the feeling of omnipotence while it subtly drains away all power. To get more power, addicts return to the object or event that provides the arousal and eventually become dependent on it. Arousal addicts become swamped by fear: they fear their loss of power and they fear others will discover how powerless they truly are.
Unlike the power trip of an arousal high, a satiation high gives the addict a feeling of being full, complete, and beyond pain. (Arousal gives the addict the feeling that the pain can be defeated.) Heroin, alcohol, marijuana, valium, and various behaviours such as overeating, watching TV, or playing slot machines all produce satiation highs.
The satiation high is attractive to certain types of addicts because it numbs the sensations of pain or distress. This pain-free state lasts as long as the individual remains in the mood change created by the addictive ritual. But this type of high attaches the unknowing addict to the grief process. The trance always fades away and sensations always disappear, leaving the addict with the original pain plus the loss of the pleasurable sensations. Over time, satiation addicts are forced to act out more often (if they’re behavioural addicts) or increase their dosages (if they’re substance abusers). The satiation high gains control over the person, always promising relief from pain. Ultimately, however, the pain returns, deeper and more persistent, until it turns into grief and despair.
It is helpful to view intoxication – the mood change of the addictive ritual – as a trance state, especially when examining behavioural addictions such as gambling, spending, and sexual acting out.
The trance state is a state of detachment, a state of separation from one’s physical surroundings. In the trance, one can live in two worlds simultaneously, floating back and forth between the addictive world and the real world, often without others suspecting it.
The trance allows addicts to detach from the pain, guilt, and shame they feel, making it extremely attractive. The addict becomes increasingly skilful at living in the trance and using it to cover painful feelings. In the process, he or she gets a sense of power and control, but also becomes dependent on the trance, which is part of the progression of the addictive process.
The addict views the trance state as a solution to a problem. Gamblers often state that the gambling allowed them to be with people without really being with them. The trance salves grief and sorrow. It fills up emptiness, no feelings of pain, as long as the individual is in the casino or pokie venue. Addiction and trance offer the illusion of a solution.
Our attraction to trance-like sensations grows out of our natural desire for transcendence to contact and live within spiritual principles. It is our desire to reconnect with the divine. The sensations of the trance produce a feeling in the individual that connection has taken place. It creates a virtual reality in which the spiritual experiences give us increased meaning and the skills to connect with meaning again, with healing and compassion. They give us a stronger belief in relationships and humanity. After experiencing the quasi-spiritual experience of the addictive trance, people are left with the pain and anxiety they were trying to escape, in addition to the emptiness created when the soul realises that no true connection has taken place.
Thus, the trance state is a part of the definition of addiction as a spiritual illness. Addiction is an illness in which people believe in and seek spiritual connection through objects and behaviours that can only produce temporary sensations. These repeated, vain attempts to connect with the Divine produce hopelessness, fear, and grieving that further alienate the addict from spirituality and humanity, and eventually end in either, death, prison or insanity.
The good news is that addiction can be treated, as well as the underlying pathology. Treatment does not provide a “quick-fix”. Proper treatment and recovery is a slow process and requires a real willingness and commitment. It requires a strong support mechanism and professionals that really understand this complex pathology. It also requires change in one’s life, not just the addictive behaviour, but also how one is living their life, which in itself can be a major trigger to the addictive illness. There is hope, if you can reach out and ask for help. This is a major first step.