Can you summarize SupportNet in a single sentence?
SupportNet is straight talk on recovery from addiction
- presented in ways that make it easy to learn.
How do you understand addiction?
At its core - I see addiction as a compulsion - to do or
to take something that changes how I feel.
And what do you mean by compulsion?
A compulsion is felt as a pull - as if there's a rope binding
and tugging at me to take that drink or drug.
So compulsion is a mental problem?
It's a mental problem - that has links within the brain.
There is some circuit or switch in the brain - that is
the physical part of the compulsion to use.
So you see addiction as more of a biological
No. I don't see it as only one way or the other.
Nothing occurs in the mind that
does not also occur in the brain - and vice versa. They’re
like two sides to the same coin.
Can you explain that to me?
In the addicted person - an urge to use may occur any time
- and for any reason. The switch is always ready to be
activated - and the pull starts to tug.
But the things that we do can also activate the switch.
Talking or thinking about alcohol - being in the presence
of others with drugs - allowing my self to be consumed
with sick feelings - any of these can trigger a compulsion
It happens either way or both. It can start in the brain.
Or the brain is reacting to the things that we see, think,
do or say. The switch is certainly something biological
- but it cannot be separated - and is tangled in our mind
Mind and brain cannot be separated in the problem of addiction.
It is an issue of both at the same time.
Is compulsion like a habit?
Compulsion may begin as a recurrent behavior or a habit.
But at some point it has disconnected - and has taken
on a life and energy of its own.
What do you mean by disconnected?
A compulsion has become disconnected from any reasons why
the behavior began in the first place - if there ever
was a reason. It has lost connection to rational sense,
psychological meaning or mere habit.
Once compulsion sets in - it takes on a force of its own
- and become a problem of itself.
And that is similar to addiction?
Yes. People start to drink or to use drugs for all sorts
For some - it becomes a habit. The substance provides
them with a solution to their emotional pain - or it just
becomes a routine of their social group.
Some of those who use drugs will become addicted. There
seems to be some difference in risk to addiction - a variation
in genetic or physical makeup.
But regardless, it is the compulsive pull to use - that
most separates the addicted person - from others who use
or abuse drugs.
So if it becomes a problem - why don't they
Well - that would be the big question.
Does it require a big answer?
It's just that there are different parts - and different
answers to the question. And not all of the answers apply
to all addicted people.
Can you answer it one part at a time?
Well the first answer to your question is that many people
do stop using. The novelty wears off. They move on with
their lives - get involved with other people and things
Some will have a problem come up. They get help - or they
just stop using.
And what about the others - who continue to
use - despite the problems?
Well - you have to see a problem - before you can do anything
Denial is the core psychological
feature of addiction. It is like a blind spot for the
condition. Even if I look - I just don’t see it.
And if I don’t see my addiction - if I don’t
see it as the source of the problems that are happening
in my life - there is no reason for me to get help or to
I suppose you might use more . . . struggling
to cope with all of the problems . . .
Yes - exactly. It’s worked before - so just keep
at it. Or they might stop using for a while - after something
bad has happened. But they don’t know what to do
with the pain - the guilt - the shame and remorse. They
don’t know how to deal with these feelings in any
other way - but to use.
So they don’t
see the problem as it really exists - inside them?
No. Not at first - and maybe not for a very long time.
Remember that compulsion is felt as a pull. Even
if I consider that I may have a problem - it seems like
the problem is out there - pulling at me to use.
It’s the alcohol or the drug. It’s my partner
- the new friends - or the wrong crowd. It’s
not something inside me. It’s everybody or anything
it be better to not allow myself to be pulled in
That’s another part of the answer to your earlier
question - about why an addicted person continues to use
- despite the problems that eventually occur.
You have to remember that at first
- there is no reason to stop. The use alcohol or drugs
starts out as fun. It lets me fit in - and to enjoy the
party. It relieves anxiety and lifts my spirit. It can
calm all sorts of emotional pain - maybe only for a short
while - but it is quick and efficient. It’s like
a magic answer to all sorts of issues - sitting right
there for the taking.
It may be months or years before the problems of alcohol
or drug use begin to appear.
Those who are not disposed to addiction lose interest
or change their ways. Others experiment when they are young
- but grow out of the custom. Some continue to
use - but don’t seem to be pulled in as deeply as
But then there are those that seem to have something different
about them - that switch or thing inside them that is the
compulsion of addiction.
The fun wears thin - and the problems start to build.
But the addicted person is still pulled in the same direction
- of using a substance to control their feeling. They keep
trying to relive the early days - when it was fun - when
they were in control - and not the substance in control
But that’s not
the way that they see the problem . . .
No. The person in the early stages of addiction knows
that things are not going too well. But they don’t
see this as a result of something wrong with them.
They see themselves as pulled and pushed about by things
outside of them selves.
The addicted person does not see
their addiction at first. Their use of substances is
not the problem. It is the solution. The problem is that
the rest of us just can’t seem
to get the world right - and that there always seems to
be some reason to use.
That sounds like blame . . .
Look for addiction - and you’ll find blame.
The addicted person feels compelled to use. But they do
not see their use as the source of any problems that may
occur. Problems are seen as the cause of their use. Everything
and anybody else is to blame.
It hard to grasp - that they cannot see what
is happening . . .
Yes. This is a very hard thing to appreciate. And it is
sad to see. Many addicted persons try so hard to control
their use. They want to do better - but they keep trying
to fix things outside of them selves. They change this
or that - move - leave one relationship and start another.
But whatever they do or change does not work out - because
they have not addressed the problem for what and where
How do you understand it?
I see it like a child with a learning disability. They
try very hard - over and again - to get the answer to
a math problem. But they don’t see the number five on
the page. And so they keep getting the wrong answer -
no matter what they do or how hard they try. Unless someone
shows them another way to solve the problem - they eventually
just stop trying.
Are there still other reasons why the addicted
person continues to use?
Yes, there are many other reasons. Compulsion and denial
result in blame. But they also lead to other changes within
the mind. To continue to use a substance despite problems
- is not a rational decision. The mind’s reason must
therefore be bent in support of the compulsion to use.
Excuses are made. Reasons are found - to justify recurrent
Use may begin as a way to control feelings - to manufacture
some and to avoid others. But the pleasant feelings do
not last forever. And sick feelings do not disappear. They
are mostly postponed to another day.
What begins as an easy way to control unpleasant feelings
- becomes a habit. The more that we avoid - the more it
seems we have to fear from our feelings. They seem to grow
larger - and our ability to face them grows weaker.
We start out thinking that we are winning - at the game
of avoiding feelings. But the addicted person ends up being
controlled exactly by their own feeling - on the run from
feelings that they increasingly fear to face.
Some drugs also cause changes in brain chemistry - that
result in a physical dependence. People want to stop using
them - but find that they cannot - without medical assistance.
And then there are all the complications
of addicted use - the health and legal problems - the
loss - of family - financial resources and self respect.
The longer it goes on the worse things get. It’s
eventually just easier to use than to not.
Is there a way out?
Yes - of course there is. Recovery from addiction is always