Understand + Overcome Addiction
to Alcohol, Drugs + Pornography
Are you struggling to control your use of drugs or alcohol? Are you drinking every day, or simply wondering how much alcohol is too much? Looking for an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous? Have you been diagnosed with a substance use disorder and want to know how to work with it?
Are you beginning to notice your substance use is a reaction to a particular type of stress, but don't know how to stop it? Or are you watching pornography more than you mean to? Did your partner catch you and it is now threatening the relationship? Have you tried to stop but simply cannot?
Addiction is suffering. I know, all too well, the feeling that comes from an out of control behavior. We feel caught by the pull, like we have no option but to follow the compulsion. The Sanskrit word for this feeling is shenpa.
In this fixated state of mind, we have lost our autonomy and freedom. And it hurts.
Even if our addiction is not yet that severe, we may begin to notice that most of our time is being dedicated to this habit. Or that we are waking up hungover more and more regularly. Or that we do not really feel good after watching porn. Perhaps our drug of choice is feeling less and less satisfying, yet we continue to use it. Something about our behavior is amiss, and we want to figure out why.
Addiction, no matter the type or severity, often comes with some amount of shame and self-disappointment. It is not easy to watch ourselves fall back on something again and again when we ultimately know it is no longer the answer. I say "no longer the answer" because there was likely a time that this behavior was one of our best options—at one point, it was the answer to relieving some pain or meeting some need. Many of us have turned to drugs or pornography for this purpose.
Addiction Affects Many of Us, Not Just You
In America, roughly 20 million people meet the requirements of a substance use disorder. The amount of people using drugs and alcohol is even higher. And as for porn, we know that some 35% of men under the age of 50 will struggle with it at some point, while 72% of women and 98% of men reports viewing it in the last six months.
Let these facts sink in. You are not alone in this. Thankfully, a sober lifestyle has been developed by many of us as well. But it takes time, and hard work.
Dopamine over Dope
One important thing we know about addiction is related to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is intimately involved with reward-motivating behavior and, therefore, pleasure. Most drugs and addictive behaviors do a powerful job of releasing and/or isolating dopamine in the reward circuits of the brain. The drug fools the brain into thinking we have an overabundance of dopamine in those particular circuits, when we in fact only have them as long as the drug is in our system.
When we partake regularly, over time, our brain prunes the receptors responsible for reward-seeking behaviors and pleasurable feelings because it thinks we have more dopamine than we need.This is the neurological equivalent to throwing out all the food in your fridge because you have a lot on your plate.
When this happens, we develop tolerance—needing more intense types of porn or larger amounts of drugs. We essentially raise the bar on pleasurable experiences. This raising of our pleasure threshold makes it harder for us to retain dopamine and experience pleasure, joy, and satisfaction.
Some drugs facilitate similar processes with neurotransmitters responsible for other important states, such as opiates manipulating oxytocin, the transmitter of feelings of closeness and connection, and MDMA (ecstasy) working on serotonin, responsible for mood and memory.
To put it simply, the longer we use, the harder it becomes for us to feel the subtle gifts of life.
Because of this, addressing our addictive behavior is the fastest route back to enjoying our everyday life and recovering from a substance use disorder. For some, detox services or inpatient treatment can be an important way to begin this process.
Addiction counseling can stand on its own or act as a support to Alcoholics Anonymous or follow-up to inpatient treatment.
Working with Trauma in Service of a Sober Life
Overcoming addiction requires patience and a lifestyle dedicated to not only ceasing the behavior, but also healing the wounds that drive it.
While causation continues to be challenging to prove, correlation statistics between addiction and early trauma/attachment issues are staggering.
Working to regulate our nervous system, heal our attachment wounds, and understand addiction as a form of protection is a way to cultivate a sober life. In addiction counseling, we will work towards this by honoring your addiction, working to discover why it is there, and getting your needs met in a new way, to keep you from going back.
In doing this, we will employ mindfulness-based techniques to increase your understanding of triggers, and cultivate a greater capacity for riding the waves of craving. We will use Somatic Experiencing—a bodily awareness psychotherapy—to rework traumatic memories related to your addiction, and the trauma that drives it.
While the specific methods may vary slightly for each individual, the basic methods I employ work to patiently establish sobriety, regulate the nervous system, heal the attachment system, and establish a life of depth and self-awareness.
Such a life is possible. And I honestly wish it to all those gripped by painful addiction. The path to a better life is a raw, emotional one. So much is possible beyond addiction, and we are worth getting there.
Chris Cannon, MA, CAS
Chris holds a master's degree in Mindfulness-Based Clinical Counseling and is a Certified Addiction Specialist in Colorado. He is also formally trained in Somatic Experiencing and attachment theory. He enjoys digging for records, hiking, and watching Little Women, over and over.