We are in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in the history of this country. Everyday more and more addicts and alcoholics are dying of drug overdoes. It appears that nothing that is being done to help has had any positive effect on stopping or even reducing the devastation that is now taking place. I believe that we need a new paradigm from which to both better understand drug and alcohol addiction and as a result from which to provide effective, efficient treatment. The intention of this post is to start that needed and overdue conversation.
Based on my research and clinical experience, I believe that the fundamental cause of drug and alcohol addiction is ideational in nature. The primary cause of substance abuse is to be found in the addict or alcoholic’s thinking or thought process. The addict and alcoholic have a core belief that they are not good enough, a belief that defines their self-image and negatively impacts every area of their life. This negative self-image produces negative feelings and poor self-esteem resulting in a lack of self-love.
This core belief, what I refer to as the self-limiting belief, has been in existence for years, getting its birth between the ages of three and six. The self-limiting belief tells us that we are not good enough and is created by us from the reactions of the adults around us early in life. We are the authors of this limiting belief. The self-limiting beliefs was not imposed on us or caused by others. The self-limiting belief is solely of our creation, created from our interactions with others. This beliefs sets limits on what we can experience and even creates the possibility of our demise.
While we do our best to change this core belief that we are not good enough it continues to exist inside us like a deadly virus. We try our best to eradicate this belief, sometimes consciously but mostly unconsciously, by doing and having things to be good enough in the eyes of others. While we may get some temporary relief from doing and having, at night when we are alone we continue to feel the existence of this self limiting belief, we continue to think and feel that we are not good enough regardless of what we have accomplished or accumulated in our life.
Living in our society we eventually discover the existence of drugs and alcohol. When we first experience drugs and alcohol we tend to feel good as a result of using them. While we are not necessarily conscious of the fact, the using of drugs and alcohol also gives us relief from the emotional experience and impact of a negative self-image. It is at this point that we begin to form an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Simply stated, addiction is the repetitious use of drugs and alcohol to help us to feel good and give us relief from the emotional impact and even pain created by our self-limiting belief.
As stated above, we created our self-limiting belief from our perceptions of other people’s actions and behavior towards us. Having created the self-limiting belief we are also completely responsible for its existence and everything that it eventually sources into our life. The self-limiting belief is like a magnet, a magnet that attracts experiences that must be a match to the self-limiting belief. As we created and are responsible for our self-limiting belief you could also state that we choose it. Creating and choosing thoughts are synonymous in this respect.
Drugs and alcohol are sourced into our lives to serve us. Initially we bring them into our lives to help us feel better and to reduce our cognitive and emotional pain produced by our thinking and thought process. While the self-limiting belief determines the context from which we make our decisions and choose our experiences, we are responsible for the existence of and our relationship with drugs and alcohol, for the bringing of them into our life. While a dependency on them may get created, our addictive relationship to drugs and alcohol only exists because of the existence of our self-limiting belief.
Now there are implications for treatment. If the cause of drug and alcohol addiction is in our thought process and specifically with our self image, what we think of our value and worth as a human being, then the individual addict or alcohol needs to transform their primary beliefs about themselves if they are to stop using drugs and alcohol. To be in recovery the addict or alcoholic has to reinvent themselves, from one that believes that he is not good enough to an individual that believes that he is perfect, whole and complete. While this sounds simple, it is not easy for the addict and alcoholic to do.
Dr. Harry Henshaw
Self Esteem and addiction go hand in hand. Low self esteem is considered the number one factor for causing a drug and alcohol addiction!
There is a concept in my profession referred to as co-occurring disorders indicating a connection between substance abuse problems and mental health conditions. It is my opinion that both of these disorders exist with the addict and alcoholic. I believe that all individuals who suffer from a substance abuse or dependency problems have a mental health condition. I believe further that the mental health condition is the primary or fundamental problem for the addict or alcoholic.
It is also my belief that both of these conditions have to be treated, the substance abuse issue and the mental health problem. Many people in the drug treatment industry minimize or deny the existence of a mental health condition. What happens when this is done is that the client will become abstinent from drugs and alcohol only to relapse quickly after treatment because the underlying mental health condition was not adequately dealt with and treated. The treatment of the mental health problem is something that is absolutely necessary for the well being and recovery of the addict and alcoholic.
While many addicts and alcoholics experience a great deal of anxiety and the underlying emotion of fear, I believe that depression and dysthymia are the primary mental health conditions and diagnoses that form the cornerstone of their drug and alcohol problem. One of the symptoms of major depression and dysthymia is poor self esteem. It is my opinion that poor self esteem is the root of the substance abuse and dependency disorder. It is also one of the symptoms that is not given a great deal of importance or even acknowledged in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction.
It is also my opinion that until we recognize, acknowledge and begin to treat the problem of poor self esteem that addicts and alcoholics will continue to relapse and in many cases even die. At the basis of the addict and alcoholic's poor self esteem is a negative self image, negative thoughts and beliefs about their worth and value as a human being. It has been my experience that every addict or alcoholic that I have worked with have serious issues with their self image even if in the beginning of their treatment they deny its existence.
It is my recommendation that if you are looking for a treatment program for someone who has a substance abuse and dependency problem that you insist that there are master's level, licensed and trained therapists on staff to adequately counsel and treat mental health problems. This particular requirement is crucial to the addict and alcoholic receiving appropriate care and treatment. When researching a potential residential or outpatient treatment center simply ask the administration of the center for the qualifications of the therapists and counselors that provide all of the counseling services to addicts and alcoholics.
Dr. Harry Henshaw
I believe that a negative self image and the poor self esteem that is caused by our negative perception of our value and worth as a human being is the primary cause of drug and alcohol addiction. It is not the drugs or alcohol that is the problem, it never has been. The real cause of drug and alcohol addiction will not be found in any other person, place or thing but only inside the addict or alcoholic.
When we consciously decide to focus on helping addicts and alcoholics to transform their self image, then and only then will be we start to find authentic solutions to the drug and alcohol problems and epidemic that we are experiencing today in this country. Until we help the addict and alcohol look inside and learn to heal their relationship with the man or woman in the mirror things will continue to be the same.
Individuals who authentically respect, accept and love themselves will not use drugs and alcohol. The real solution to drug and alcohol addiction is to help addicts and alcoholic learn how to respect, accept and love themselves as they are now, to let go of their belief that they are not good enough and as a result of this work to stop using drugs and alcohol.
Drug and alcohol addiction is not a physical disorder so much as it is primarily a thought disorder. The real addiction is to a way of thinking, a way of thinking that tells you that you are not good enough, that you are inferior. The solution to drug and alcohol addiction is to be found only in a transformation of the addict and alcoholic's thinking and specifically in their thinking about who they believe they are as a human being.
Dr. Harry Henshaw
In order for an addict or alcoholic to be successful in their recovery I believe there are 5 things that need to be worked on. Self-Esteem, Building a Recovery Program, Anxiety/Stress Management, Independence vs. Co-dependence and Daily Planning. Addressing these 5 areas forces an addict or alcoholic to confront the things about themselves that weren’t working, while giving them the opportunity to re-create themselves into the person they want to be, for the life they want to live. These 5 things are a huge undertaking that require the help of qualified and understanding individual, such as a counselor and a sponsor.
The death toll from drug overdoses continues to rise all across our country as a result of the epidemic we are currently facing. Authorities project that the problem will continue to escalate with no end in sight. The shocking statistics and heartbreaking stories that are coming out leave one asking, “What is being done to begin to stop this epidemic?”