Friday, June 5, 2009

Addiction: Gwyneth Puts the Question

Is "chemical dependency" too narrow a concept?

Ordinarily, a post on this blog would not begin: "Addiction: What does Gwyneth have to say about it?"

But today, it does.

Addiction: What does Gwyneth have to say about it?

Well, I'll tell you. That came up recently on Ms. Paltrow's new health web site, Specifically, Paltrow set before a group of "sages" the following questions:

"Have you ever loved somebody who drinks until their usually charming personality is usurped by a monster? Or discovered that someone you adore is throwing up after every meal? Or wondered if you are stuck in a feedback loop of tension and unrest because you need the adrenaline of stress to function? How do we become enslaved by addiction? What is addiction?"

Here are some excerpts from the responses, which were many and varied, but overall quite fascinating:

Episcopal Priest Cynthia Bourgeault:

“As recent neuroscience has demonstrated, every habit lays down its own neural pathway i.e., it carves its own rut track in the brain--and the inertia around these pathways is considerable. The disruption of ANY happy pathway brings with it considerable discomfort and resistance. So you’re quite right in lumping together habits and addictions; the difference between them is more one of degree than of kind. One can be addicted to coffee, alcohol, porridge for breakfast, endorphins, heroin, meditation, exercise, sex or God! The difference is only that the classic ‘chemical dependency addictions’ add to our already full plate of cognitive and emotional distress and at the interruption of a habit, physiological distress as well.”

Deepak Chopra:

“Human beings become addicted because we are complex. Addictions are like a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces are on the table but no one quite knows what the whole picture should be. Here are the main pieces:

1. The addictive substance or behavior
2. Brain chemistry
3. Social pressure for and against addiction
4. A vulnerable psyche
5. The X factor

Drugs change the brain by affecting receptors in your brain cells that exist for pleasure and the cessation of pain. If you take any substance long enough, the brain adapts by altering its receptors, and then the trouble begins. The burned-out addict is actually a burned-out brain.... Addicts can be brought to healing and self-knowledge. They can be weaned off substances and their brains (slowly) returned to a more balanced chemical state. Yet there remains the X factor. Call it a predisposition, karma, the unconscious or a perverse urge to self-destruction. For some addicts, the journey of addiction is existential."

Kabbalist Michael Berg:

"There is a saying, 'if today I have one then tomorrow I want two, and if today I have 100, then tomorrow I will want 200.' The addiction battles many of us fight are here to push us toward finding a deeper fulfillment, which comes from connecting to the real things in life: love, compassion, sharing and revealing our true essence.”

Psychologist Karen Binder-Brynes:

“I tend to gravitate toward a multi-leveled, biopsychosocial model as a theorem for explaining addiction. Although historically addictions were usually regarded in terms of psychoactive substances, such as drugs, that when ingested caused chemical alterations in the brain, the current thinking has broadened to include other compulsive behaviors such as pathological gambling, shopping, eating, etc....Why some people become more prone to addictions than others is a matter of great debate. The arguments range from a strict “disease” model suggesting a biochemistry of addiction, perhaps with genetic basis, to a “choice” model (Szasz, 1973) suggesting that the addict is a person who chooses a taboo substance or behavior to a low-risk lifestyle.... Denial and shame are often deterrents to seeking assistance. Never lose hope that you or a loved one can get help and beat an addiction. People can make miraculous recoveries from the powerful grip of addiction. I have seen it!”

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