Psychology: Are addictions the 'quick fix' for problems

Addictions come in numerous forms. They all take a toll on our physical, psychological and spiritual well-being.

Drugs and alcohol are the most prevalent type of addictions. People in this country spend millions on the purchase and use. of mood-altering drugs, from the street drug to the prescription drugs routinely offered by family physicians.

Our society operates under the "quick fix" mentality. We NEED immediate gratification. Our frustration tolerance level is very low. Therefore, we tend to grab on to the fastest method we can find of escaping, avoiding or assuaging our problems and fears. And, as a result, we may not learn the healthy coping skills which will enable us to face the vicissitudes of life.

Addiction defined

What is an addiction? Basically it is a physical or psychological dependence which becomes obsessional.

When people are addicted, their lives become out of balance or control due to the preoccupation with this addiction. Their lives become ruled by the addiction. Often, their very existence can be threatened by this aberrant behavior pattern.

There are several types of addictive patterns in addition to using mood-altering drugs, including: eating disorders, sexual addictions, obsessive exercising, "workaholism," relationship addiction, and compulsive gambling, just to name a few.

These addictions can change as we substitute one addiction for another. For instance, a man may stop drinking alcohol altogether and feel he has resolved his problem. Yet, because he then substitutes work and exercise for alcohol, his life continues to be out of control.

An addiction usually involves a self-indulgence which greatly interferes with an individual's capacity to give of him or herself in a healthy way to another person. Often, we are forced to keep our addiction(s) to ourselves and go through our lives holding this secret from others.

Some causes

It is generally considered that there are underlying reasons for or contributors to the development of addictions.

Genetically, there is a very strong hereditary link in the formation of addictions. If a person is chemically dependent, for example, very likely a parent, grandparent or close relative has suffered from a similar problem.

Next, of course, environmental influences greatly affect our likelihood of developing an addiction. If your teenager is associating with a group involved in addictive patterns, it increases the chances that your child will develop this problem.

Most experts believe that the only true physiological addiction is through the dependence on drugs and alcohol. Other types are viewed as addictive patterns of behaviors.

The treatment of addictions will vary depending upon the type and severity.

In extreme cases, the individual may benefit from hospitalization, particularly for purposes of alcohol or drug detoxification and medical stabilization from eating disorders. Subsequently, a program which involves a twelve-step component -- such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous -- are implemented. Often, a sponsor (an individual who functions as a support for the individual as he or she recovers) is chosen by the person in treatment. There are other groups such as Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, etc. depending upon the specific addictive type of behavior being treated. These programs can be utilized either through inpatient or outpatient treatment. Group and individual therapy along with family involvement are included in any viable program. People in recovery are strongly encouraged to read books which will further educate them about their addiction.

Chiropractors are often the "front line of defense" when it comes to identifying those, suffering from addictions. It is imperative that you become educated regarding the-signs and symptoms of addictions. I will list some of the typical symptoms of those experiencing addictions in the most common disorders. Be aware that because a person has some of these characteristics does not necessarily indicate s/he suffers from the addiction. Make sure you do a good history, especially in these type of cases.

Some symptoms

Drugs and alcohol. Characteristics -- positive- family history, morning usage, blackouts, shakes, hallucinations upon withdrawal, loss of control of use, and work, family and/or legal problems (i.e., DWI).

Eating disorders. Characteristics -- positive family history, binge eating, purging, distorted body image, severe diet restriction, excessive exercising, irregular menses, dizziness and tingling in extremities, and controlling and perfectionist tendencies.

In treating addictive patterns of behavior it is important for the individual to attend to his or her spirituality in order to help internalize the desire to change. It is the desire for and obsession with the fast cure from some external source which is often at the root of the addiction. Learning to love ourselves and to face the painful truth that life is not easy, and then accepting our powerlessness over the addiction is the first step on the road to recovery.

(Dr. Thomas Lipsitz is a clinical psychologist with extensive experience in "peak performance" training. His clients include professionals from all walks of life. Director of Human Resources for the World Chiropractic Alliance, Dr. Lipsitz is also co-founder of Powersource Consulting, a WCA-sponsored personal development program. Contact him with comments or to receive information on the Powersource program by calling 1-800-877-1282.)

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By Thomas Lipsitz

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