Addiction: My Story

I was surprised when I first learned that certain addictions were considered to be a mental illness by the medical community. I had thought of addictions as being about self-control and morals. Maybe genetics.

My definition of addiction is this: when a person cannot manage their emotions or deal with their problems and they turn to something, such as a substance or behavior, to numb or ease the pain. Certain substances and behaviors act on the brain by increasing a sense of pleasure by, for example, upping the amount of dopamine to your brain.

The DSM-5 defines addiction as this: a complex disease of the brain and body, often chronic in nature, involving continued, compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. It disrupts regions of the brain that are responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgment and memory. This is in a section called “Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders” which includes substance use disorders for problems with alcohol (which is technically a drug), nicotine (ditto), prescription drugs and illicit drugs.

Also in the book is a category for “Behavioral Addictions” which includes only gambling. What about addictions to food, exercise, pornography, the internet, and so on?

What is the DSM? It is a book, published by the American Psychiatric Association that contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. It is the “bible” which doctors, psychologists, counselors and therapists use to diagnose people.

Why is it so important? Doctors and therapists use a diagnosis to advise you on treatment options and future health risks. And a diagnosis matters because it tells health insurance companies that you have a condition requiring medical care.

In other words, doctors will probably not take your addiction to eBay seriously and won’t give you medication until the DSM recognizes it as a legit disorder. And your health insurance won’t cover it either. How do you get treatment for an addiction that technically doesn’t exist?

There is also the matter of stigma. Once the DSM labels something as a mental disorder, will you be more accepted or less accepted by your community, your family and your workplace?

My story of addiction: when my son was very young, I was overwhelmed with responsibilities. I began to abuse alcohol and prescription diet pills. I knew I had a psychological problem and that I was self-medicating. But it took a major breakdown before I saw a psychiatrist to get help.

She told me that I had bipolar and that I was an alcoholic. She scared me by saying that if I didn’t get treatment, I would surely die. She suggested I check myself into a private psychiatric hospital where I’d stay for at least two weeks. I refused.

So she gave me a couple of bipolar meds and instructed me to attend AA meetings. I got sober immediately. The meetings were even scarier that my doctor. At my first meeting, a man pointed at me and said “IF YOU DON’T STAY SOBER YOU WILL DIE!”

I attended meetings several times a week for seven months. But I never felt like I belonged there. There were homeless people, IV drug users, and parolees in my group. One young woman was missing most of her teeth due to meth. One man, who had a shaved head, had bright red flames tattooed all over his head.

They assigned a sponsor to me. She was nice but very strange. Shifty. She took me to lunch and we drove in her car, where she had taped copied pages out of the AA Big Book to every surface of the car interior.

As I read through said book, I saw similarities to the Bible. It was a guide on how to live your life. Followers memorized verses from the book. Carried it everywhere with them. In meetings, we chanted and we prayed. Not to God, but to a “higher power”. It wasn’t like a church. More like a cult.

I found meetings to be depressing. Others seemed uplifted. Some people attended more that one meeting per day. I have no problem with that. If it helps you, by all means do it.

After seven months it occurred to me:wasn’t the fact that I had lived without alcohol or drugs for all that time, proof that I wasn’t an alcoholic?

I decided that Scary Doctor was wrong. I stopped going to AA. I began to drink again but small quantities and not often. I found a new doctor. And I’ve been in treatment for bipolar now for 12 years.

Today, I no longer drink. It wasn’t a decision. I just lost my appetite for it. I never told anyone about my “addiction” except family. What if I had, and then was labeled “addict” by society? Would I have thought less of myself? Would I have stayed in AA forever?


Note: some substance addictions require medical supervision before detoxing. Just going “cold turkey” can cause serious medical problems, even death. See a doctor.

21 thoughts on “Addiction: My Story

  1. Your story sounds very similar to my Grandma’s partner (who’s no longer living). He was an alcoholic for many years. He tried AA and it didn’t work for him at all. Then his doctor was able to recognize that he might have been trying to self-medicate for ADHD, and once he got on meds for that he never had any desire to drink again.

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  2. This is very well written, thank you for sharing. As to your DSM criticisms, they are spot on. Thankfully the World Health Organization’s ICD-11 (their version of the DSM) recognized sexual impulsivity disorder for the first time last year. It’s the first step to getting porn and sex addiction officially classified. Of course, as my therapist explained it to me, it won’t really matter until the insurance companies get on board. Currently none cover the one “official” behavioral addiction, gambling addiction, so if you’re seeking help, it’s not like it matters what science finally thinks. He who has the money makes the rules.

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    1. Thank u for the compliment! Insurance doesn’t cover gambling addiction? Surprising. I think it was 2018 a law was passed saying health insurance had to cover mental health just the same as physical health but maybe gambling isn’t quite legit yet as an illness. I noticed it was in a separate section of the DSM

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      1. Nope, those of us with “behavioral” addictions when I was in rehab were all technically there for “impulse control disorder”. It’s the closest thing they could bill for us. Based on what I can gather, it sounds like the next behavioral addiction they will acknowledge is going to be video game addiction.

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        1. Yeah I read about that. Once they start naming behavioral addictions, the floodgates are going to open. What if I’m addicted to the internet (which is kinda true in my case)? How about shopping? I’ve been there too. Food? Other people? Pornography? Now, I’ve never had that one but had a boyfriend with that problem and I can tell you, it’s a legit addiction. We hardly ever had sex! He’d sneak off at night with his laptop and fulfill his addiction. It made me feel unattractive, unloved. He tried to quit but couldn’t. The images were seared into his visual memory. I’d say “how can you expect me to measure up to a skinny 18 year old Barbie doll with huge boobs?” I couldn’t. We eventually broke up. But it’s not an “addiction”. What if he’d wanted treatment? Who would he turn to? Talk about stigma! It’s just as bad as saying you’re addicted to crack. You’re a low-life. A freak. A pervert. But porn addiction is so common! It’s ruining relationships every day. I loved that guy so much and tried so hard to please him. It broke my heart when he chose porn over me. Took me months to get my self esteem back.

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          1. (Shameless plug) Well then you’re just gonna love my new book coming out on December 1! (Plug mode off) Here’s a little more about it: https://recoveringpornaddict.com/2019/10/03/recovery-today-did-a-story-about-my-new-book/
            Despite the fact they can’t bill for it, I’ve met almost no therapists or counselors who don’t recognize porn addiction as legit.
            And please believe me, he didn’t choose porn over you. You had nothing to do with the addiction. He entered the relationship with it and he left with it.
            One of my hopes is that we can move porn addiction away from sex addiction. They are two very different things. He didn’t ignore you because he chose the porn. He ignored you because he needed the porn to function, just like an alcoholic needs their booze or they get ill. You could be the woman in those pictures or the computer screen and the result would have been the same. You could have brought those women to bed with both of you and the result would have been the same. Porn addiction isn’t about sex. Yes, both are usually finished with an orgasm, but that’s all they have in common for the most part.
            Thankfully, when I finally got treatment, my wife stayed. I don’t think I could have done it without her.

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          2. It’s addiction. 90% of addicts overall (the percentages vary based on the addiction…alcohol is 67%, porn is 94%) are dealing with unresolved childhood trauma, not always sexual, but quite often. Addiction is a symptom of not having adequately developed coping mechanisms to deal with that trauma. Why porn and not gambling? Why food and not heroin? Why video games and not alcohol? That’s not exactly known just yet, but what is known is that addiction is a brain disease. His porn addiction was about self soothing and trying to stimulate the pleasure sensors in his brain. You wouldn’t blame yourself if he got a different disease, you can’t blame yourself for this one.

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          3. I don’t blame myself. Not anymore. Thank you for explaining this. It helps a lot. PS I applaud you for being courageous with your blog. I thought 3 Months ago I would surely be getting the Pulitzer Prize for my earth shattering blog about women and mental health. Come to find out, I’m one of thousands of mental health bloggers! Lol. But you are charting new territory and I’m glad 😀

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  3. That was a great post. very informative! I’ve just started my own blog about toxic relationships. I just got out of my 5th toxic relationship so I am doing a lot of self work and my blog is part of my healing and I hope that I can teach and encourage someone else going through the same thing.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I’m new here too. And I just got out of a toxic relationship! So let’s be besties!!! Haha. Seriously, I appreciate your support and I’m always here if you’d like to chat. I will check out your blog too. Hugs, 🦋❤️🙏💥

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  4. Different approach let’s seek to understand why we decide to use and why we choose the drugs that we do. After we can discuss a plan of action to help change our social and mental constructs. And seek to grow spiritually to overcome our addictions. Genuine and intellectual conversation only please.

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    myfridaynightlife.wordpress.com

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