Article written by Remedy HealthCare
He’s an extreme case, but he’s not alone. Everyone’s an addict these days, says Helen Kirwan-Taylor and if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you.
The psychology of addiction is a boom industry.
Theories to explain our growing dependence, on everything from drugs to diamonds, include one claiming that two specific genes determine our likelihood to become addicted. Then there’s the thought that being too successful leads you to take more risks, which then leads to addiction. Or perhaps you prefer the idea that it’s all down to blood type and if you’re type O (the most common in the UK), you’re angry when stressed, hyperactive and, significantly, prone to gambling and substance abuse. There’s even a school of thought that addictions (at least some of them) are actually good for you.
Along with new notions of how addiction happens, myriad cures are offered by hopeful psychiatrists, drug companies and ex-addicts themselves. An addict in search of a cure can now attach electrodes to their forehead to alter the ‘bioresonances’ correcting the body’s electric frequencies back to what they were before the addiction kicked in. Or they can, under the auspices of the Priory Group, ask a horse for help in ‘equine-assisted therapy’. Or perhaps they’d prefer one of the new vaccines on trial in the US that cancel out the effects of cocaine and other drugs.
The problem with these cures is that there’s a growing secret social desire to be addicted to something. Addiction envy is not a phrase that exists in the psychological lexicon, but it should. It seems you’re unusual these days if you don’t suffer some sort of addiction, be it to hoovering (last week’s news headline), sex or the internet. Pete Doherty this week was held (yet again) in an East London police station after being arrested on suspicion of possessing Class A drugs. Wasn’t he in rehab only last week and the week before? His antics keep us, and him, amused month after month.
There are so many addicts coming in and out of rehab that those of us with a simple coffee habit (a poor man’s addiction) feel boringly uncomplicated.
Last night at a dinner party, I was the only one drinking (the others were on their third Diet Coke this means ex-alcoholic; chain smoking means ex-junkie). You can’t help but romanticise addiction from the outside. ‘Drugs and other addictive behaviours tap into our desire for newness and vitality,’ says Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Maryland.
‘We all seek that intensity.’ When in the throes of addiction, nothing comes close to making us feel more alive. ‘There is this idea that drugs alter consciousness and open up new possibilities,’ says Frederick Toates, professor of biological psychology at the Open University. ‘It’s a romantic notion. The Lakeside poets took opium. There is close correlation between creativity and addiction.’ So Kate Moss goes from being a dumb model to a tortured soul with some underlying depression. We’ve come to see addicts as moody seekers after answers. As Dr Daniel Winters, ‘the James Bond of psychotherapy’ in New York, says: ‘Underlying every substance problem I’ve ever seen is a deep depression that feels unbearable.’ Unbearable, perhaps, but not unromantic.
Not being an addict is almost like admitting failure, but luckily you can pick and choose between almost limitless addictions. As well as the dependence on diamonds identified in American women by JP Morgan which cites research that the more sparklers a woman buys, the more she needs, you can be addicted to choice, sugar, adrenaline, blogging, online gambling and even life itself (though how you break that particular addiction is tricky).
We can either view Pete Doherty as a man with no self-control or a victim of his own biochemistry.
It all depends on who you ask. ‘There are many schools of thought,’ says Brian Ballantyne, cofounderof Prinsted, a second-stage residential treatment centre in Surrey. ‘People ask whether it’s a disease. Is it nurture or nature? This makes it almost impossible to treat.’ So addictive is addiction that it usually wins in the end, which is why Ballantyne’s view is that the victim is powerless in the face of it. ‘Addiction is a progressive illness, and the consequences are incurable. You can’t judge an addict, they are powerless.’ Addictions are now classified as positive and negative. One of the latest computer addiction has split the experts down the middle.
Computer and email addicts will rise from bed and turn on the machine before saying good morning. They will continue talking in chatrooms even though it is now three in the morning. Eighty-nine per cent of internet users polled at a University of Buffalo survey reported that internet use interfered with their lives. ‘I’m addicted to email,’ says Dogbert, the megalomaniac dog in Dilbert. ‘My endorphins spike when I get a message. And when there are no messages, despair overcomes me.’ You leave the computer only to be drawn back for one last look.
It’s the same with BlackBerrys. It may lead to RSI, but at least you never get behind with your work.
No one trivialises addictions to drugs and alcohol, but the question instead is: what are we not capable of being addicted to? Science is coming up with answers fast. Research published in the Journal of Science explains that the part of the brain that makes us desire chocolate cake may also be responsible for a cocaine habit. The nucleus accumbens, as it is called part of the brain’s emotion and motivation systems responds to natural rewards such as food and sex, but also drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine through their effects on the messenger chemical called dopamine. This is the reward region of the brain. Researchers now believe that the dopamine levels in addicts are screwed up. They have fewer dopamine receptors. In other words, addiction may be a malfunction of the normal human craving for stimulation. So something pleasurable like a good meal cannot compete with heroin or even alcohol in the addict’s brain. Unless, of course, the addict’s drug of choice is a hamburger, not heroin.
Experts are still sceptical. Surely a frappuccino cannot trigger the kind of chemistry responsible for sending Doherty back to prison. ‘I think we’re all so addicted because it’s become more and more respectable. Ten years ago, to admit you were a sex addict was pretty terrible,’ says Toates. ‘Now it’s a disorder that provokes sympathy. I think we’ve lost our way. We have so many things to become addicted to and we have so much time to be addicted. People often start with addictions to solve a problem and then the addiction becomes the problem.’ And then curing the addiction becomes an absorbing pastime and one that introduces you to a whole new circle of friends.
Maybe if AA meetings in Notting Hill weren’t the best way to meet an interesting man and the Meadows Clinic in Arizona wasn’t the starriest hotel in the world, we would stop fantasising about the benefits of addiction and cure.
August 2005 February 2005 September 2004 A quick pint after questioning at Seven Sisters police station over allegations of assault Lighting up on the way to a gig after an appearance on blackmail charges at Snaresbrook Crown Court Looking strangely dapper after receiving a suspended sentence for possession of a flick knife London anonymous . Adrenaline Addicts Anonymous . Al-Anon for families and friends of problem drinkers . Alateen for people aged 12 to 20 affected by someone else’s drinking . Alcoholics Anonymous . Blogaholics Anonymous .
Cocaine Anonymous . Co-Dependents Anonymous for people who can’t have healthy relationships . Debtors Anonymous . Depressives Anonymous . Emotions Anonymous for people who are hooked on extreme emotions . Families Anonymous for relatives and friends of drug users . Food Addicts Anonymous . Gamblers Anonymous . Marijuana Anonymous . Nar-Anon for the friends and families of drug addicts . Narcotics Anonymous . Nicotine Anonymous.
Overeaters Anonymous . S-Anon for families and friends of sex addicts . Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous . Sex Addicts Anonymous . Sexaholics Anonymou.