We believed the ‘problem’ was just alcohol and if we stop drinking, then everything else will be fine.
Unfortunately, if you are an alcoholic that’s unlikely to be the case.
Because alcohol isn’t the problem, it’s just a symptom of the problem.
The actual problem is the ‘hole in the soul,’ the emptiness inside of the alcoholic that is so uncomfortable, they seek out booze to ease the discomfort of being in their own skins.
This is the real problem and unless treated, that core emotional pain inside of us, will always demand something to numb it.
To achieve successful sobriety, we have to address the core emotional and spiritual issues, otherwise our brains will seek out other substances or behaviors to numb the pain.
The reason for this is the part of the brain that’s called the ‘pleasure center.’ It is stimulated by pleasurable activities such as eating, sex or gambling as well as by drugs and alcohol. The chemical responsible for this is dopamine. When we use substances we increase the release of dopamine into this area.
Very simply, we know what makes us feels good and when we know what that is; we just want to do more of it.
This chemical reward reinforces these behaviors.
If we just stop using our drug of choice, our brains will look for another substance (or behavior) that make us feel the same way.
Permanent abstinence from mood and mind altering substances is the only way to change this brain chemistry. To maintain this permanent abstinence, we have to come up with a new way of living and dealing with the world; otherwise we will eventually seek the same solution for our problems.
If we are not doing the work necessary to maintain our abstinence, then we are at risk of relapse. Because addiction is sneaky, sometimes we won’t pick up our drug of choice but will pick up another substance instead. Because we had a problem with alcohol, we try and fool ourselves into thinking we didn’t have a problem with marijuana or Xanax, so can safely use these instead.
The concept of cross-addiction is simply this;
If we deprive our addictive nature of its chosen drug, then it will, for a time, settle for a substitute. This substitute doesn’t have to be another substance. It can be a behavior or set of behaviors (e.g., gambling, exercise, shopping, sex etc.).
This is because bizarrely addiction and alcoholism are not about wanting to use drugs or alcohol. It is about numbing pain of the burning hole within us.
If the engine that drives addiction isn’t stopped, then the addict has no choice, than to find something to take the pain of their existence away.
Sometimes people recognize they have a real problem with alcohol and manage to stop drinking. Figuring they’ve cracked the problem, they decided that a little pot smoking would be a good way to relax at the weekends. A little pot turns into a couple of lines of cocaine, which turns into a binge, which brings them back to where they started.
The most important thing to remember, is that addiction and alcoholism don’t stop when the substances are taken away.
The monster still needs feeding and anything will do.
Recovery takes work, focus and dedication. Just like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, full recovery from these diseases takes a lifetime of daily measures, to ensure the disease stays manageable or in remission.
A diabetic can’t just stop managing their diet or injecting insulin, and an addict can’t just stop maintaining their emotional wellbeing.
This sounds like hard work, but really isn’t.
We have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid and learn what it’s like to brush our teeth, wash our face and have a bath. It’s hard work when we are little, but we learn and then these things become second nature. We do these things because it prevents tooth decay and other illnesses, we also feel better physically, in fact we would feel awful if we went about our day without doing any of these things! Daily emotional and spiritual work is exactly the same, just little daily habits that ensure our inner world is ok.
A small price to pay to ensure that we live in the light, rather than the darkness of addiction.