A new language for the treatment of addiction

addictionThe language we choose to use has incredible influence over our perception of reality. Every word is linked into an ever evolving neural network of associations, concepts, and emotions. Meaning is culled from these maps, which are culturally driven yet far more flexible than one might think.

Addiction, habit, compulsion, rock bottom – these are dangerous, helpless words. There’s no way out of ‘compulsion’, and ‘rock bottom’ is a bleak, cold, lonely place. The idea that we have to reach it, the bottom of the well, before we regain our right to the word ‘choice’ means that we are forced to do real social and physical damage before admitting defeat and winning control. Brain chemistry is the author of these words. They feel so right, so real. That’s why we use them. Withhold satisfaction from an addict and their brain spirals into an unbearable chemical panic. This panic dictates its intentions to our prefrontal cortex, as to a willing, eminently obedient 1950s secretary. Our impatient limbic boss says, “You know what I want to say, Honey. Just put it into your own words and send it off.”

Our words. Our choice.

Glamours
These are the things that make make life worth living. We ‘get off’ on them. Take them away and life dims to survival. We are genetically and culturally predisposed to our glamours: in how we are coded to metabolize nicotine, or the density of our D2 dopamine receptors, or what Disney taught us about love. These glamours, some innocent, even healthy, and some decidedly not, are then triggered by personal experience, be it the red lipstick of our favourite movie star or first hit of cocaine. Humanity needs its glamours. Biologically, desire drives our movement through time. Without it we, quite literally, will cease to breathe. Even the most hard-core guru will agree. Beyond our base appetites, our glamours are our sparkle and armor against the inevitability of suffering and death. But sometimes a glamour will slip past our conscious control to become…

Insatiables
Birth is not moderate. Death is not moderate. Life, therefore, is not a moderate act. By their very natures some of our glamours can biologically begin to stretch our appetites out of proportion, especially when we use them to cope with an immoderate world. Our dopamine baseline and receptor density can change. With food, the hormone leptin can throw things out of wack. Anything can become a pathological obsession: Diet Coke, cats, clutter, gin, sex, reality TV… anything. An insatiable is something we can’t get enough of and its pleasures begin to overshadow all others. We make choices that always somehow circle back to satisfy our cravings. Romantic love is an insatiable, but while it chemically evolves, some insatiables risk becoming…

Be-all-end-alls
This is the end-game. When an insatiable becomes a be-all-end-all, we live our life in service to its mastery. Nothing else matters. Take it away and life looses its last hint of luster. It is our all, and by its exclusion of all else, without intervention, will end all. Our brain wants only this, all the time, whatever the cost. It is the only appetite worth satisfying. Chemically, it owns our motivations and our reasoning. But it is not rock bottom. It is an honest moment with our soul, an acknowledgment of circumstances. It is the moment of choice – our destruction or the originating glamour’s destruction? One must end.

Changing our language opens up a new neural network of more empowering associations, concepts, and emotions. And by doing so, it also opens up new paths of treatment. Choosing the right variables/symbols is always the first step towards balancing an equation. I promised my Blank Canvas Living Creative counselling client, who was brave enough to strip off her muumuu and reveal her insatiables, that I would show her a different path and guide her through change. Come join us on the journey.

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14 thoughts on “A new language for the treatment of addiction

  1. How thought-provoking! It’s always a challenge for me to find a common language so that I can engage with a group of people, without becoming bound to that language. I shall enjoy your site.

    • Thank you Tertia ~ I completely agree with you. It can be hard to find that delicate balance between exercising our freedom to play with language and doing so without compromising our ability to communicate seemlessly within our social groups.

      Linguists have traced languages back through time and found that certain words have stayed remarkably static in form and meaning (eg: water, man, one, two). These words are generally critical to everyday life and misunderstandings could be dangerous, even deadly in certain situations. A long-term study in Philadelphia found that when language does evolve, change propagates outward from key central social nodes (figures/groups) into the wider network system. Kind of like when the cool kids in high school started saying “diss” and pretty soon we were all dissing or being dissed. Blogging about glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls gives an access point to a wider social network, but starting a chain reaction is a whole other challenge.

  2. an intelligent thoughtful engaging commentary – think of the term we use in education – classroom management – and we have already lost sight of individual children, youth, adults, and the possible offerings, ways of engagement ….

    • Classroom management? Seriously? We manage businesses. We manage farms. We manage outbreaks of disease. Management is always more about control than engagement. Seems rather Orwellian to apply the concept to spaces of learning and (ideally) shared growth. I’m curious – what do you think would be a more appropriate/inspiring term to use?

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