Am I A Bad Person Because I’m an Addict or Alcoholic?

Ever feel like you’re a fat slob, a lazy bum, or just a bad person because you abuse opioids, get lost in meth, binge on food or have spent 2 days gaming?  I’ve heard many a person say these things about themselves in my counseling office as they struggle to make better choices.

The judgment and disapproval about “addicts and alcoholics has been held by society (and by themselves) for thousands of years although these beliefs are outdated and wrong for a number of reasons. One major reason they’re outdated is that the judge and punish attitudes and treatment (jail) just don’t work to help addicts to a better place.

I’ve been in the addiction profession since 1985. That decade was a time of major positive shift in treating addiction. HOPE in the form of 28 day in-patient treatment programs, long-term care that was in alignment with 12 Step programs created a shift away from the moralistic simplicities of “all addicts are bad.” However, the progressive attitudes didn’t last into the 90s and beyond.

While there are a number of factors that “cause” addiction, what we know now vs. what we knew in the 1980s is that poverty, stress, trauma, the brain and it’s reward system is VERY involved in leading to addictive coping choices. If mom and dad were addicts and/or you grew up watching how they coped with stress with escape and denial, then you probably learned the same coping “skills”.

For society, it’s past time to shift out of the old, ineffective morality/punishment model with addiction to the reality that this is a serious medical and public health policy crisis.

 “No one will be shocked to learn that stress makes people more likely to search for solace in drugs or food.”  Dr. Richard A. Friedman, professor of … reiterates in his article “What Cookies and Meth Have in Common” is that “…food and recreational drugs have a common target in the ‘reward circuit’ of the brain…” The more stressed humans or animals are the more susceptible to addiction.

When I wrote Intentional JOY: How To Turn Stress, Fear and Addiciton Into Freedom I based the direction of the book on my observations of the hundreds of addicts and alcoholics I’d worked with the over 15 years. To break the stress, anxiety cycle that feeds addiction, mind-body practices such as conscious breathing, Imagery or Visualization and Emotional Freedom Technique help to build safe coping skills, provide a safe interior space and relationship with self and over time retrains the brains reward system to calm down and yes, even reclaim JOY.

Poverty and stress have increased exponentially since 2000. Our middle class and the opportunities and benefits it has provided are diminishing along with lack of economic opportunity and the hope it used to generate.

The NY Times estimates that more than “59,000 Americans have died of drug overdoses in 2016 alone – the largest year-over-year increase ever recorded.” In 2017 we expect 60,000 deaths. The reasons? Lack of access and payment for treatment centers, and  lack of hope and opportunity for a better life.

Johann Hari’s YouTube “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong” is a brilliant look at how environment – where we live and how the stress, fear and lack of caring almost force someone to become an addict to cope. I love the Rat Story – when isolated rats are given cocaine water they choose it and become addicted. But, when moved to a “rat park” where they have friends, plenty to eat, fun things to do they rarely choose the cocaine laced water.  

So, still think your addictive choices are because you’re a bum? It’s not so simple is it? It’s isn’t that you’re a bum or a bad person – but your life coping choices aren’t creating more JOY, peace or loving relationships in your life.

I offer a complimentary 15 minute consult to point you to new solutions. (209) 505-2675 or email me at lynntelfordsahl@gmail.com

Feel free to use all or part of this blog as long as you list my name, website and contact information.

Lynn is the author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom.

Check out www.addictionmodesto.com for resources and blogs