A New Take On Addiction

I am on a roll with continuing education. I had the Mindfulness Integrated Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MiCBT) workshop a couple of weeks ago, next week I have a workshop on child and youth anxiety, and this past week I attended a one day workshop on addiction. Talk about getting it done! If I’m honest, this latest workshop wasn’t my favourite, but there was still some really interesting tidbits to take away.

Last year I wrote a three part series on addiction, which you can check out here, here, and here. I am not an addictions worker or formally trained in working with addictions so I was really interested to hear about the work of Dr. Lance Dodes who was presenting last week. For many in the crowd, his take on addictions was very different than what they have previously learned. I breathed a sigh of relief that my schooling and other training courses have prepped me for the new direction addictions work is taking.

According to Dr. Dodes, addiction is all psychological. While it is true there are certain substances we can develop a physical addiction to (alcohol, opiates) once we physically withdraw from the substance we will not be addicted unless we have the psychological addiction.  Dr. Dodes shared some research involving veterans from Vietnam who were physically addicted to opiates. After receiving treatment to detox from the drugs, over 90% of the vets did not return to using opiates. Studies looking at the success of treatment for addicts who never went to Vietnam had nowhere near the same success rate (around 5-10%). He also further backed his point by discussing the many activities that people become addicted to that have nothing to do with a physical dependence (gambling, gaming).

Dr. Dodes convincingly argued against many widely held beliefs around addiction such as it is a brain disease or that it can be inherited. He argued that there were no studies to indicate addiction is a brain disease and it has become a popular myth because people would rather be sick than considered bad. He shared twin studies indicate if one twin is addicted then there is about a 50% chance that the other twin would also be addicted. If it were purely up to genetics that percentage should be 100%. He did concede that if we have someone who is addicted within our family we have an increased chance of also being addicted, but there is no specific addiction gene.

According to Dr. Dodes, people become addicted because they are looking to satisfy a psychological need. He went as far to say that addiction is a result of trying to overcome a feeling of overwhelming helplessness that is often fueled by rage. This feeling of helplessness is extreme and there must a strong emotional attachment to whatever we are feeling helpless about. Working through addiction is about discovering the unmet psychological need, identifying triggers, and learning about key moments that lead up to using.

I get that this perspective on addiction is quite different from many of the ideas out there, but I see a lot of value in Dr. Dodes work and am interested to look further into it.  I was going to purchase one of his books, but decided I need to start on the stack of books on my bedside table first. More on that next week…



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