Julie Miller's Mental Health Blog

Archive for the ‘"C" is for Chemical Dependence’ Category

Addiction, chemical dependence, substance abuse, by any name, it is a confusing issue to most people in this country.  Folks who have never experienced an addiction think “just put it down; just say no.”  (Thank you, Nancy Reagan.)

Why would someone continue to do something that is so hurtful to them?  Something that hurts their family, their children, their wife/husband?  Gets them fired from a job?  Gets them put in jail for DUI or possession?  Just stop, right?

If you’ve suffered from an addiction, you know you’d like to be able to
“just stop.”  Why wouldn’t you have just stopped when you wanted to?  Most addicts, of whatever form, have tried to stop at some point.  Nicotine addicts try an average of 11 times before actually being able to quit.

If it were easy, it wouldn’t really be a problem, now would it?  The power of choice over the addiction is lost fairly early on.  There is a psychological and physiological dependence that develops over time.  Do you think an individual with an addiction actually likes hurting others?  Losing a job?  Going to jail?

Believe me, I’ve been confounded by addiction too.  I’ve worked with addicts who tearfully ask for help, and then reject it at every turn.  I’ve been lied to, I’ve been frustrated, and I have been hopeless for one or more addicts I’ve worked with at some point. But I have seen many, many individuals overcome addiction, use their motivation to move forward, clean up the wreckage from the past, and live meaningful, productive lives.

I know I have no control over an addict’s addiction.  Sometimes those who are affected by another’s addiction (including the professionals who work with them) get angry and frustrated by that lack of control.  Haven’t you ever been frustrated when you’re talking to someone who says one thing but does another?  Sure you have.  And not just addicts.  But doesn’t it make you want to take some action?  Try to scold or convince that individual that they just aren’t seeing things right?  Or they’re making the wrong choices?

Out of frustration, we try to control.  The funny thing is…  another person’s addictions cannot be controlled by anyone, sometimes even by the addict.  Feeling powerless is uncomfortable, and most of us humans don’t like it.  We’ll do a great many things to avoid feeling powerless.  If I’m powerless, I’m vulnerable.  I’m afraid.  That’s just no good.

So I try to get back some sense of power by scolding, controlling, nagging, directing, confronting, preaching, you name it.  Anything that might help me feel more powerful again will do.

The problem, of course, is that it’s only an illusion of control or power.  The addict’s addiction is still stronger than my illusion, and ultimately I’ll feel vulnerable and afraid again.

If you notice you feel angry with the addict(s) in your life, get thee to an Al Anon meeting.  You will learn how to keep the focus on yourself, how to accept powerlessness over another person, and learn how to make positive choices for yourself.

“C” also stands for “codependence.”


I sat with a small group of women today who are working very hard to get and stay sober, having had a long history of drinking, with significant underlying trauma.  They were so open, so motivated, so willing.  It was a joy to watch them as they learned about how trauma has impacted on their lives and fueled their chemical dependence.  There were tears, questions, and “aha!” moments.

I jokingly say, “I love addicts; they’re just the most interesting people.”  Usually that gets a laugh.  There’s also a lot of truth for me in this statement.  At heart, I believe that the vast majority of chemical dependents are wounded, tender people.

I have heard others say (including some in 12-step meetings) that addicts are very spiritual people.  “I’m a spiritual being having a human experience.”  Part of me gets it, and part of me doesn’t.

Dr. Jung told one of the founders of AA that there was no hope for him to recover from alcoholism, except for one possibility:  a spiritual experience.  AA, of course, focuses on a program of spiritual recovery, using the word “God” in several of the 12 steps.  Many individuals get hung up on the word “God.”  Many individuals have childhood trauma from families forcing God down their throats, disallowing individual spiritual expression, etc.  These individuals will of course say “no thanks” to God or anything that is a reminder, subtle or overt, of any form of religion.

Fortunately, spirituality is an individual matter.  Some folks don’t agree, believing that there is “one way” or “one truth.”  One way, however, doesn’t work for everyone.

I’ve worked with individuals who use anything from their 12-step group as a higher power to “The Force” of Star Wars lore.

In recovery from chemical dependence, anything that will increase one’s ability to cope with life, on life’s terms, is beneficial.  Anything that allows one to find peace or acceptance when life happens  is beneficial.

Is it a “crutch”?  Maybe, but so what? If you’re leg is broken, why would you not use a crutch for support?

Anything that can help someone cope with life, without using alcohol or drugs, is beneficial for that individual.

So you drink a little too much sometimes.  “Who doesn’t?” you might say.  So you drink when you don’t really intend to.  “Who doesn’t?”  jSo you can’t always predict your behavior after you drink.  “Who can?”  So you’re wife/husband/kids nag you about your drinking.  “They need to mind their own business; I’m not hurting anyone.”

Ever tried to cut down?  Ever felt annoyed that someone complained about your drinking?  Ever felt guilty about your drinking?  Ever had an “eye-opener” just to get going after a night of heavy drinking?

Maybe there’s something to look at here.  Most people who drink on occasion without having a problem with alcohol do not try repeatedly to cut down without success.  They just cut down.

People who drink on occasion without having a problem do not feel annoyed that someone is complaining about their drinking.  Pretty much, no one complains because they don’t have a problem.

People who drink on occasion without having a problem with alcohol don’t feel guilty about their drinking, or what they did as a result of drinking, because they have nothing to feel guilty about.  They don’t do things to feel guilty about when drinking.

If you hear yourself saying, “well, everybody feels that way,” or “that happens to everyone,” you may want to pause and reflect.  Do “normal” people really do that, or say that, or feel that way?  Maybe you could to ask one of those “normal” people if they think you have a problem.

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs available to us and it is legal.  People die from alcohol use/abuse daily.  Responsible use of such a dangerous drug is imperative, and yet most Americans don’t know how to do it.  DUIs and automobile accident fatalities.  Alcohol poisoning and deaths.  Domestic violence.  Child abuse.  The list goes on and on.

Responsible drinking means knowing how many drinks in what amount of time you can have before you reach the legal blood alcohol content, and then sticking to it.  Responsible drinking means stopping or cutting down if you begin to experience negative consequences, like family or friends complaining about your drinking, or if you need an eye-opener the morning after.  It means noticing if you can’t predict your behavior after drinking, and then just stopping.

These signs are important red flags – if you see them, pay attention. If you can’t control your own drinking, get help – it’s out there.  E-mail me and I’ll help you find help.  If you see someone else demonstrating these signs, let them know what you see.  You can’t control their drinking, but you can be a mirror to reflect back to them what you see.

Chemical dependence is one of this country’s most expensive and destructive public health issues.  Billions of dollars are spent each year on prisons, the justice system, law enforcement, and treatment.  Treatment, of course, really being the area with the smallest amount of funding.  The loss to society of productive adults and teens and the costs to future generations because of the impact of chemical dependence on families is also enormous.  But this is all just from a public health perspective.  The true cost paid by individuals and families is immeasurable.

From a family perspective, chemical dependence can destroys the present and future.  Children raised in families with chemical dependence suffer PTSD at the same rates as combat veterans.  Children raised in these families are at extremely high risk for development of chemical dependence themselves, along with higher rates of just about any mental health issue, including depression, anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders, pain disorders… you name it.

The “war on drugs” is really a war on Americans.  How’s that war working out, you might ask?  Chemical dependence rates continue to increase.  Illegal drug trafficking appears to increase every year across the Arizona-Mexico border, as evidenced by increased drug seizures.  Do we really think we’re actually seizing more because we’re winning the war on drugs?  Nah.  We’re seizing more because they’re sending more.  Drug seizure is considered a business cost by drug lords and drug cartels.

Why do you think Mexico losing the war against drug cartels?  So there are lots of opinions, I’m sure, but it seems fairly clear to me that export of illegal drugs to the US is so lucrative that the risk of prosecution for killing public officials, civilians, journalists, law enforcement, and the risk of being killed oneself, is far outweighed by the dough earned through the drug trade.  The fact that the market for illegal drugs in the US is enormous makes dealing drugs a lucrative career choice in Mexico. I won’t even get into the issue of guns flowing from the US to Mexico, which arms the drug cartels.

Given this complicated issue with the politics surrounding chemical dependence, it seems increased funding for chemical dependence treatment would be a big part of the solution.  Treatment is designed, inherently, to reduce the demand for drugs (illegal and legal).

Treatment for chemical dependence is available in most communities to some degree.  Often rural areas do not have treatment readily available, and these areas often have higher rates of chemical dependence than urban areas.  Chemical dependence treatment usually falls under mental health treatment and therefore is subject to lack of funding by states. (Arizona is among the rock bottom states when it comes to funding for mental health services.)

What would it be like if even some of the billions of dollars spent on the “War on Drugs” went for treatment of addicts, thereby reducing the demand for drugs in the US?  Potentially, it could be revolutionary to this country, especially for future generations.  Treatment for chemical dependence would not only reduce demand, it would also increase productivity, improve families, reduce rates of mental illness, and give future generations a real opportunity to succeed and benefit directly from the billions of dollars spent.

Treatment reduces suffering.  Treatment improves lives.  Treatment gives families a chance to raise healthy, educated, productive children.

Who’s not for treatment? Unfortunately, many man people in the US are not for treatment, as evidenced by the lack of public and political will to provide the dough to pay for it.