Expert Series: A Personal Perspective On Addiction
By Dr. Barbara Sinor
My motivation for writing Tales of Addiction and Inspiration for Recovery came as I was completing Addiction: What’s Really Going On? Inside a Heroin Treatment Program which is coauthored with my friend and colleague Deborah McCloskey. It also comes from my personal experience of living with an alcoholic father and again in my adulthood while coping with an alcoholic son. While researching the field of drug and alcohol addiction, it has become clear that more effort is needed to fully understand the plight of our addiction population, as well as, how this population can help guide younger generations toward the freedom of sobriety through the sharing of their own personal stories.
There are approximately twenty million people in our nation in recovery from a drug and/or alcohol addiction. There are also approximately 22.3 million people living with a substance dependence or abuse–that’s about ten percent of our national population. This is a reality, not a viewpoint or someone’s illusionary judgment. These figures are real. These lives are real: Over forty-two million individuals are struggling with a drug and/or alcohol addiction.
In the case of alcohol, most alcoholics are men but the incidence of alcoholism in women has been increasing over the past thirty years as has adolescent drug and alcohol abuse. Women tend to become addicted to alcohol later in life than men and it is estimated that 1.8 million older women suffer from alcohol addiction. Scientific advances over the last quarter century have established that drug addiction is a chronic brain disease. Alcohol has widespread effects on the brain and can affect neurons (nerve cells), brain chemistry, and blood flow within the frontal lobes of the brain. Researchers are particularly interested in systems of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain that are affected by alcohol. Some research is focusing on the way these neurotransmitters are employed in the brain after long-term alcohol use in order to adapt to the cravings and pain of withdrawal.
Key evidence for the view that drug addiction is a chronic brain disease consists in images of people’s brains taken during or following drug exposures. Brain imaging studies have provided information on individual drugs’ neurobiological effects; helped explain the causes and mechanisms of vulnerability to drug abuse; and yielded important insights into abusers’ subjective experiences and behaviors, including their struggles in recovery.
A passionate advocate for addicts of all kinds is the director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow. Volkow states that brain science is proving that we all have the potential to become addicted to something: drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, gambling, even food. She says, “Researchers are learning that all addictions are more alike than was previously thought. Becoming an addict is more a matter of chance than we ever realized; mix the right combination of genetics and life experience, and anyone could find him or herself addicted to something.”
Dr. Volkow adds, “I have never met anyone who thought they would become addicted. They always say that this is the last thing they thought would happen to them… But this disease robs you of freewill. The challenge is to find a cure.”
Until a cure is discovered, let us proudly share our pain, struggles, failures and successes with one another in hopes that our children will not follow the addiction path. Whether sober, using, straight or in the process of recovery, everyone’s personal story can be a valuable insight for our younger generations, as well as, an awakening call to ourselves as adults.
The question we need to be addressing is why are the figures above a reality? It is my opinion that in our society, busy with moving into the future, we have put aside or forgotten to process our past negative emotions and experiences. As children, we are taught not to cry too much, laugh too loud, scream when in pain, and to forget bad experiences almost as soon as they happen! We are not taught to cry until we feel better, laugh out loud with abandon, yell when it hurts, or try to learn from bad experiences. Where does all this type of conditioning lead us as we enter adulthood? To look outside ourselves for ways to relieve our pain, to help us cope with bad experiences, and to dull our senses. Drugs and alcohol become this outside choice for many, as the figures above denote.
We enter adulthood already locked in a prison. Our prison surrounds us with “do’s and don’t” handed down from our parents, teachers, church leaders and other people of authority. We learn how to pass-off our responsibilities, shut down our emotions, and hide in our prisons waiting to be rescued by someone offering the right message, miracle, or potion. We keep focusing on the view outside our prison cells for that illusive patch of greener grass, not thinking to focus within.
Widely known and respected spiritual author, Deepak Chopra offers these words, “Once a person has even a little courage to confront his old conditioning, he will find that turning inward starts to dissolve that conditioning. Presently, the prospect of turning inward is extremely intimidating to most people, but it is the only way the mind can conquer its built-in resistances. There is no cure from the outside. The lack of meaning we presently endure will only become worse, and in time humanity might get too sick of itself to recover.”
When we learn to accept our children as the perfect beings they are and allow them the freedom to express their emotions, fears, and genius, we will begin to fight the grip which drug and alcohol addiction has on our nation. As each child enters adolescence with a clear mind of who they are and allowed expression to pursue their dreams, they will enter young adulthood free from the prisons their parents may still be seeking release from. These young adults will not turn outside themselves for comfort or distraction, but instead, look within for direction and guidance. When these young adults mature and have their own children, perhaps then our nation’s addiction and recovery figures will dwindle.
Addiction in America can change. We all have the ability to re-direct our lives and our futures. It takes only one thought to change our direction from victim to victory. It takes only one thought to manifest a new reality filled with joy and compassion. As Chopra relates, “…it is possible to achieve the freedom to have any viewpoint you choose and therefore any reality. Once you return to this basic viewpoint, however, you will no longer see yourself as a passive victim of life–you stand at the very center of life and have the power to renew it at every moment.” In an instant, with a new positive thought, in the blink of an eye, you can become a new person and help our nation’s addicted population dissolve.
Are you ready to help change America’s addiction to drugs and alcohol? Take a stand to make sure all the children in your care are taught how to express their feelings, negative and positive. Share with them your experiences in learning how to grow in compassion for others and support their budding beliefs about their world. Learn about their desires, fears, and dreams by continually talking with them one-on-one. As they grow, answer their questions openly and thoughtfully. Teach them to become independent; teach them to explore their outer world and their inner emotions. Allow them to laugh out loud, cry when they need, and seek information from others. Also, instruct them how to seek inner guidance and to listen to the small voice within them. If you can do all these things with all the children in your care, and if you can successfully complete all these things yourself, perhaps then, addiction in America will not flourish.
**Excerpt from Gifts From the Child Within, 2008
Dr. Barbara Sinor Bio:
Dr. Sinor is a retired psychospiritual therapist of over thirty years. Sinor is also the author of five books and is working on a sixth. Gifts From The Child Within is the culmination of clinical research in the areas of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and adult survivors of childhood abuse/incest.
Sinor’s book released in 2004 is An Inspirational Guide for the Recovering Soul. This book is a companion guidebook for further growth and understanding of the personal healing and recovery process which can be used by anyone dealing with past or present trauma.
In 2006, Barbara coauthored What’s Really Going On? Inside a Heroin Treatment Program and in 2010 her fifth book Tales of Addiction and Inspiration for Recovery was released.
Sinor may be reached through her web site: www.drsinor.com
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