Helping Others Helps Us.

In AA they say people who engage in service, i.e. helping out at meetings, sharing, making the tea and coffee, sponsoring others, helping on A A telephone helplines, inter group etc  have a much greater chance of staying sober and in recovery  long term than those who do not.

Although I was scared of my own shadow when I came into recovery and my brain was still incredibly scrambled and disorientated, I believe doing service in AA is one of the main reasons for me still being in recovery nearly 10 years later.

It helped me become part of AA not just someone who turned up and hung around on the periphery. 12 step recovery is a program of action not self absorbed introspection. The spiritual and therapeutic aspect of 12 step recovery is connectedness with others who have the same condition and share the same common purpose of wanting to remain sober and in recovery.

Doing service is an outward sign of one taking responsibility for their own recovery and declaring it too others in the meetings via service. When I see a newcomer to recovery start to do service it gladdens my heart as I know they have dramatically increased their chances of remaining sober and in recovery long term.

This has been my experience.

A reality, however, seems to be that most people are very anxious, lacking in confidence and fearful when they reach the rooms of AA.

When you have spent a long time drinking in increasing isolation, suddenly being at a meeting among strangers can have it’s problems.

When we go to meetings, to begin with, we are often unaware that we are actually in the company of people just like us, sensitive souls. Most have at some time at issues around social anxiety.

It is often said that this social anxiety is linked to the not belonging” feeling that many alcoholics experience throughout their lives prior to drinking.

Some have said it can be traced to insecure attachment to a primary care givers or to trauma or abuse in childhood.

Equally I have known many alcoholics who had idyllic childhoods who also have this feeling on not belonging socially, not fitting in, so I suggest that this social anxiety or not fitting in may be the result of some genetic inheritance which gets worse via the adverse effects of abuse or insecure attachment.

The vast majority of alcoholics I have met over the years have this sense of not belonging, having a “hole in the soul”.

I believe it is some neurochemical deficit, such as oxytocin deficit that has a knock-on effect on other brain chemicals, that decreases our feelings of belonging,  which  we all inherit and which can be made more severe via stressful adversive childhoods.

It often leads to isolation, being a loner, not only in adolescence but sometimes in recovery too. We seem to often like our own company but equally it is something to be wary of.

I have often heard of people relapsing after becoming isolated from 12 step fellowships. They stopped doing service, then reduced meetings and then disappeared off the scene, locked away in isolation.

So we seem to have a tendency to isolate and this may be due to many of us having social anxiety issues. Social events often seem like too much effort and this can be a dangerous thought.

So who do we cope with a room full of people?

I just came a cross a study recently which addressed how AA is almost perfect for dealing with this issue of social anxiety.

I will use some excerpts from it. It relates to youths in recovery but is applicable to all people in recovery or seeking recovery.

“In treatment, youths with social anxiety  disorder (SAD) may avoid participating in therapeutic activities with risk of negative peer appraisal.

Peer-helping is a low-intensity, social activity in the 12-step program associated with greater abstinence among treatment-seeking adults.

The benefits from helping others appear to be greatest for individuals who are socially isolated.

Helping others may benefit the helper because it distracts one from one’s own troubles, enhances a sense of value in one’s life, improves self-evaluations, increases positive moods, and causes social integration.

The myriad of existing service activities in AA are readily available inside and outside of meetings; are low intensity; and do not require special skills, prior experience, time sober, long-term commitment, transportation, insurance, or parental permission.

Peer-helping in AA, such as having the responsibility  of making coffee at a meeting, empathetic listening to others, reading inspirational meditations to others, or sharing personal experiences in learning to live sober, may have the effect of greater engagement in treatment and improved outcomes due to patients’ active contributions.

Learning to live sober with social anxiety is a challenge in society where people can be quick to judge others

Coping with a persistent fear of being scrutinized in social situations often requires learning to tolerate the opinions of others, feeling different, appropriate boundary setting, and enduring short term discomfort for long-term gain—skills that are in short supply among adolescents and those in early recovery.

The low-intensity service activities in AA offer youths—and those with  social anxiety in particular—a nonjudgmental, task-focused venue for social connectedness, reduce self-preoccupation and feeling like a misfit, and transform a troubled past to usefulness with others.

AA should be encouraged for socially anxious youths in particular.

As stated by a young adult, “I wanted to be at peace with myself and comfortable with other people. The belonging I always wanted I have found in AA. I got into service work right away and really enjoyed it”

References

1. Pagano, M. E., Wang, A. R., Rowles, B. M., Lee, M. T., & Johnson, B. R. (2015). Social Anxiety and Peer Helping in Adolescent Addiction Treatment. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 39(5), 887-895.

 

 

Trust

In order to  fully  recover from alcoholism, addiction and addictive behaviours, we find we have to trust at least one other human being.

This might be easy for some, to trust, but for me it was very difficult.

Considering my upbringing, this was a big step but as I had little choice…

I am not talking about trusting my wife, loved ones, family etc.

I am talking about trusting someone in recovery. A practical  stranger. Someone who is the same boat as you. Who has been where you have been, felt how you have felt.

Like a sponsor for exammple.

Someone you are going to open up to and discuss intimate stuff with, someone who will ultimately know the shameful secrets that can keep a person spiritually and emotionally sick and will continue to do so until we share this stuff and let it all go.

It chains us to the past and endangers recovery because we drank on shame and guilt.

I certainly know I did?

Sorry for being so direct in this blog, it is a message of hope, there is a way to completely turn your life around.

Shameful secrets can fester in the dark recesses of our minds and inflame our hearts with recrimination and resentment.

They  can have constant conscious and unconscious effect on our behaviors, how we think and feel about ourselves and how we interact, or not, with others.

Due to the nature of frequent episodes of  powerlessness over our behavior,  attached to addiction and alcoholism, we often  acted in a way we would never act in sobriety. We had limited control over behaviour at times due to intoxication  and acted on occasion in a way that shames us today.

Most of us were determined to take these secrets, these “sins” to the grave.

We often take them to grave sooner rather than later unless we  decide to  be open and share our secrets with another person.

This has been my experience.

Everyone in recovery has secrets they would rather not disclose,  but there are not many “original” sins as one suspects and that haven’t been shared in 12 step recovery.

Almost disappointingly I found some of my sins were quite tame when compared to other people I have spoken to in recovery.

That is not to say I did not frequently hurt others, especially loved ones,  but under examination they were not as monstrous as my head made them out to be.

These secrets are the emotional and psychic scars of our alcoholic past and they need to be exposed in order for us to fully heal.

In steps 4 and 5 we listed wrongdoings to others and although initially petrified to share them with another, found that it wasn’t as  difficult as we thought it would be, once you wrote down the worst top ten. There was an immediate release in fact. A sense of cleansing almost.

Sharing them was obviously awkward but a good sponsor shares his at the same time.

It is therapeutic exchange and shame reducing to know someone else has committed similar sins or has acted for similar reasons; they were powerless over their behaviours.  Just like me, just like you.

Alcoholism erodes our self will and choice.

There is nothing so bad that cannot be shared.

The 12 steps were influenced  by the Oxford Group who said sins cut a person off from God, and that there was such a thing as sin disease.

This sin disease had very real psychological, emotional and physical and physiological effect on the mind and body. Sins were a contagion that mixed with the sins of others and the sins of  families, groups, societies, cultures and countries.

The sin disease  idea became the “spiritual malady” of AA.

We can also see this as years of not being able to regulate our negative emotions properly, if you wish to see them as sins.

I see these “sins” also, and perhaps alternatively, as hundreds of unprocessed negative emotions from the past which were never consigned to our long term memories, so they just swirl around our minds for decades shaping how we think about ourselves and the world around us.

Steps 4 -7 and the amends to those people wronged in steps of 8 and 9 allow us to be completely free and in a sense reborn.

It can be viewed as spiritual or an emotional rebirth.

Isn’t this rebirth, catharsis, renewal, a becoming free from the old self, which was kept us ill in our shame and guilt about the past?

We have the chance to be free from the sick version of our real self, the self that has been in bondage, in addiction.

It is almost miraculous, the sudden transformative effect it can have on us.  I have seen it many times with my own eyes.

By freeing ourselves from the past,  we become who we really are.

We have a sea change in how we think and feel about ourselves and the world around us.

In fact we never become who we really are until we have examined our past and consigned it to the past.

We do fully recover until we do this I believe.

Otherwise we have not really completely treated our alcoholism.

We have simply got sober, sometimes stark raving sober.   

We are not bad people getting good but ill people getting well.

All this because we plucked up enough courage to ask someone we barely knew to be our  sponsor.

Because we trusted one person enough.

In reality we asked a fellow sinner to hear our sins and through God’s help have them taken off us, or if one prefers, have had the past finally   processed and consigned to long term memory where it will take only a special and quite frankly bizarre decision and effort to go rooting around and digging it up again.

I look at the past fleetingly sometimes to help others but I never stare at it too long.

It is a former self.

I have been reborn, I have become who God had intended me to be.

I have become me.

 

A New Sense of Belonging!

Like many others in recovery from alcoholism and addictive behaviours I grew up with this really uneasy feeling of “not being part of”, “never belonging anywhere”.

I felt like I did not belong or did not fit in. In fact it was only when I got to AA that I had my first sense of belonging, of being amongst my own kind.

I had found my own recovery family and had this feeling of having gone home in some strange way.

I grew up in a house with three older sisters so thought I did not fit in completely with them because I was a different gender and had my own bedroom.

I also felt warily distinct or different from my parents too. I was always wary of my parents because I never completely trusted them.

Their violent arguments had lead to many traumatic incidents in my early childhood which still scar my psyche to this day. In fact I still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) today as do about 40 % of alcoholics.

So I felt I never completely trusted and hence never completely attached to my parents, especially my mother. I loved them deeply but there was always this invisible almost unconscious wedge between me and them.

I also grew up in the “troubles” of Northern Ireland. I grew up in the highly usual scenario of being a Catholic in a very predominantly Protestant neighourhood.

This was also traumatic at times so I never attached with the society and culture beyond my home. I also got trouble from Catholic kids at school for coming from this Protestant area. I was always having fights to defend myself. So it was a fairly traumatic upbringing inside and outside the home.

Looking back I had more than enough reasons to feel not part of.

It wasn’t until I came to AA that I found a whole bunch of people who had also felt the way I did – they also felt they never belonged.

I was suddenly struck with a choice – either I felt I never belonged because of various circumstantial factors (which quite frankly did not help) to do with my upbringing or because I was an alcoholic?

As I feel completely at home with other alcoholics this seemed to be the reason I felt that I had never belonged.

If you feel that you do not belong it may be because, like me, you haven’t found your society of like minded people.

People just like you. People who do not fit in naturally with the so-called “normal” world?

In fact when I look back on my early drinking at about 14 or 15 years old I remember alcohol giving me that warm euphoric glow which felt like someone had poured “love chemicals” into my blood.

I had a “spirit awakening” if you like, whereby I felt so much more comfortable in my own skin, relaxed, expansive, acting spontaneously without fear, connected more with other people, felt the warmth and camaraderie of my fellow human beings.

Alcohol allowed me to more fully join the human race.

I allowed myself via alcohol to belong temporarily, to attach to the warmth of others.

Then in cold sobriety these feelings would shrink and recede – until the next time.

But was the illusion.

For me the so-called euphoric recall contains that feeling of belonging, or not being desolately alone. But connected. In fact the spirituality of 12 step groups is about the connection with others in the same boat as yourself..

In later years when asked by my wife why I drank, I would answer “to get away from myself”;  to escape me!

I found a surrogate home in AA, a learnt attachment. Like my own family it can be far from perfect at times, but it is here I belong ultimately, with my own.

Accepted completely for who I am.

Where I am free to be me.

You are Not Alone!

In the final months of my active alcoholism I was living in the attic room of my house.

I drank about 6 bottles of cheap Spanish wine plus a dozen cans of strong German beer every day.

The alcohol had little effect on me by this stage. I only drank to dampen the delirium tremens, the violent shakes. I often could not control my hand enough to get alcohol into my mouth, holding my wrist steady with my other hand to raise the drink to my mouth.

Usually  cracking the bottle or tin can against my teeth.

I was no longer getting drunk anymore.

You know you are fully addicted to alcohol when it does nothing intoxicating any more.

I slept in 5-10 minute fits and busts. I did not eat for months. The television told me to kill myself and voices not belonging to me talked insistently in my head.

Alcohol-related Psychosis it is called.

No one told me this would happen when I bought my first alcoholic drink when I was fourteen years old. There was no health or warning label saying “Could lead to Psychosis and Premature Death!”

Maybe there should be.  Or at least alcohol can be addictive for some.

Anyway there is more to alcoholism than alcohol.

In the depths of this alcohol induced madness, I rarely saw my wife, who could not bring herself to look at me and what I had become.

If I could have got it together I might have killed myself.

But I couldn’t get it together. Psychosis is all involving, doesn’t leave much time for planning anything.

 

 

So I staggered on. When I say staggered, I could not actually walk more than a few yards or climb more than a few stairs.

By  the time I reached my first AA meeting

1. the alcohol had stopped “working”.

2. I had surrendered.

Regardless of these two factors, I could not admit I was alcoholic. My pride and it’s best friend shame were still talking away to me.

I was willing to admit I was addicted to alcohol and that I was about to die from it.

But alcoholic?

We often wonder why some people don’t accept their alcoholism?

How did I start my journey to acceptance?

My wife came to my first meeting of AA, she practically carried me in!

The Chair of the meeting was a person I had drank with before – I though how come he is here?

I spilled more drink than he ever drank?

Then it dawned on me that maybe I should have come here before?

Especially when he shared that he had been trying to get sober and recovered for ten years!?

I then listened to the other alcoholics sharing their stories.

The stories mentioned the progression of the alcoholism, which I obviously identified with.

They also mentioned how they, even now in recovery, struggled with their emotions and anxieties, how they found living life difficult.

They talked about issues which had bedevilled them and me since childhood, this  spiritual malady they talked of was like the emotional disease I had  suffered from all my life, whether it was depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, PTSD, etc.

They had used alcohol to self medicate these conditions, especially as alcohol for them had felt like an elixir for them as it had for me.  We all had all dealt with our negative emotions since adolescence in the same way.

Now a new way had to be found.

When we left the meeting my wife had a psychic change similar to the one I had.

She said these people are just like you. They can help you, I can’t.

A week before I had heard a voice in my heart, through the psychosis, saying  to go down stairs to my wife and ask her for help. I asked her for help in that round about alcoholic way of “do you think I look a bit jaundice (I actually looked like Homer Simpson with a heavy sun tan!)?

The help I asked for was not to come directly from my wife but she led me to where I could get it. In a room, full of people just like me, suffering the same illness as me.

I will be forever eternally grateful for it being there for me. For them being there.

We will be there for you too!

The Power of Identification!!

The main reason I am alive today, sober and have recovered from a seemingly hopeless condition of alcoholism is simple!

Or rather the first step can be simple.

The first step on my recovery journey was to identify with the life stories of other recovering alcoholics.

Not necessarily with where they grew up, or the damage alcoholism had inflicted on their lives. Although many alcoholics talk themselves, or their illness talks them, out of the possibility of recovery by saying I am not as bad as that guy, or that woman.

You may not be as bad “YET!” – the “yets” are often talked about in AA – you may not have done the damage others have, yet? Keep drinking and you are bound to. You, like them, will have no choice.

Alcoholism increasingly takes away choice.

It takes over your self will.

Your self will, your self regulation, is a combination of your emotional, attentional, memory and reward/survival/motivation networks.

Alcoholism takes over these networks, progressively, over time.

Neuroscience has shown this, over the last twenty odd years.

A superb longitudinal study, “The Natural History of Alcoholism” by George Vaillant  clearly showed this progression in six hundred alcoholics over a 60 year period!

In my own research and in articles, with two highly respected Professors at a UK University, I have shown how the alcoholic brain progressively “collapses inwards” to subcortical responding.

In other words, we end up with a near constant “fight or flight” reaction to the world,  with alcoholism causing distress based compulsion at the endpoint of this addiction.

All the above neural circuits become governed by a region of the brain which deals with automatic,  compulsive behaviour. All the self regulation parts of the brain progress to an automatic compulsive behaviour called alcoholism and we are then often without mental defence against the next drink!

I identified with this one simple fact – the progression of this neurobiological, emotional, and spiritual disease state called alcoholism. I saw it in my own life, this progression over years of drinking.

The “invisible line” that is crossed, according to AA members, can be viewed on a brain image, I believe.

Can you see it in your life?

Like these recovering alcoholics I had not taken my first drink hoping to end up an alcoholic

It was something that had happened to me,  happened despite my very strong will not because my will is weak. I am as wilful a person as you would hope to me. How come I became an alcoholic then?

I did also relate to other things these people shared.

I identified with the damage caused by alcoholism  in their lives and the lives of their family.  How this illness affects everyone in the immediate and even extended family.

I had never considered the effect on others, apart from me?

I listened and identified with how they talked about a “hole in the soul”, how they never felt part of, felt different from others, detached. I related to this. That was me too.

Alcohol made me feel more me! I became attached to it and grew to love it like someone would love another person, more so perhaps? Alcohol came first, loved ones second.

Alcoholism takes away all the good things in life and then your life too.

All of this was the case with me too.

I identified with all this.

I identified too with their solution.

I identified with and wanted what these now happy people in recovery had.

I decided to take the same steps as they had towards this happiness.

There is a solution.

We do recover!

How Far Have We Come In Understanding this “Spiritual Malady” of Alcoholism?

In our previous blog we wondered if some commentators, who have co-occurring disorders may be puzzled at how having a “spiritual malady” could be related in any way to have a co-occurring condition?

This is a pretty valid question?

In fact this may be at the heart of the issue in many cases  of feeling the need to take medication  for so-called co-occurring conditions?

Seeing alcoholism as partly the product of a spiritual malady, instead of the affective disorder I believe it to be, may influence certain AAs to seek additional help for supposed additional conditions when the manifestation of these conditions may actually be part of the emotional disorder of alcoholism?

It is at least worth considering?

For me sometimes there is a confusion with what is perceived to be a spiritual malady?

I do not believe I have the same type of spiritual malady as my wife for example who is an normie, earthling, normal person (whatever that is?) I believe, if any thing I have a super enhanced, at times turbo-charged,  spiritual malady, often fuelled by stress/distress, as the result of my alcoholism.

I do not believe I have the same spiritual malady as other normal people such as those people who were in the Oxford Group.

That is not to say that normal people cannot be full of sin –  a cursory look around the work and it’s events will soon confirm this is the case. What I am saying is that they do not have the emotion dysregulation or fear based responding that I seem to have which often prompts “sin”.

By sin I mean negative emotions that cause distress to me and others.

For example, false pride, intolerance, impatience, arrogance, shame, lust, gluttony, greed. Yes these all create distress.

The spiritual principles of AA and the 12 steps in particular were drawn from the 4 absolutes of the Oxford group, via initially the 6 steps  and the idea of a spiritual malady is also borrowed from the Oxford group.

I have for several years wondered if the spiritual malady described in the Big Book adequate or accurate enough in describing what I suffer from.

I believe others have difficulties in reconciling the spiritual malady of the Big Book with their own alcoholism, addiction and  co-occurring conditions?

Part of the problem may lie in not being specific enough about what   alcoholism is.

It may be that research and the world have not progressed far enough to give a comprehensive account of what alcoholism is. Also the spiritual malady concept of AA has for 80 years helped millions of people recover from this most profound of conditions? So why change it if it’s not broke?

That is a good point? I am not advocating changing anything, I hope AA recovery remains as it is for 80 more years and much more years. I would not change one word in the first 164 pages of the BB.

However, many AAs ignore the spiritual malady thing completely, or do not do the steps, so, in my opinion, they often do not properly understand what they suffer from?

The magic of the the steps is that they seem to reveal  the patterns of behaviour that our actions have prompted over the course of our lives.  Maladaptive behaviours I should add. It helps us see ourselves and our condition of alcoholism and how it effects us and others.

It shows the areas of behaviour and attitudes that can be treated by working the steps. It shows us how our approach to life can possibly be transformed for the better.

For me personally it often showed a pattern of emotional responding to events that do not go my way!!?

As Bill Wilson once wrote we suffer when we cannot not get what we want or others seem to prevent us getting what we want.

My inventory of steps 4/5 showed me that my long lists of resentments were mainly the product of emotional immaturity and responding in an immature manner to not getting my way.

My inventory showed me also that I did not seem to have the facility previously to emotionally respond to the world in a mature way. As the world dominated me.

My recovery has thus since been about “growing up” a bit, however unsuccessful I am in this pursuit on occasion.

I have often written that this inherent emotional immaturity may even be linked to the possibility that the areas of my brain that regulate emotions have not matured properly  as alcoholic seem to have different connectivity, functionality and morphology (size/volume)  in this emotion regulation  circuit/network to healthy normal people.

Alcoholics seem not to be able to fully process emotional information externally, i.e reading emotion expression of faces accurately, or internally reading what emotions we are having, or even whether we are hungry or tired!

So we have issues with emotions and somatic/body feeling states. This is perhaps compounded by most of us having experienced abuse or maltreatment which can also lead to alexithymic characteristics such as not being able to label or describe, verbally, emotional states we are experiencing – although we can be good at intellectualising these emotions – which is not the same as processing them.

Alcoholics and children of alcoholics have a tendency to avoid emotions (use avoidant coping strategies) in fact and to use emotional reasoning when arguing a point.

These emotion processing deficits also appear to make us more impulsive, and to choose lesser short term gain over greater long term gain in decision making. It can lead to a distress feeling state that can make us fear based, perfectionist, have catastrophic thoughts, intolerance of uncertainty, low frustration and distress tolerance, be reactionary, moody, and immature in our emotional responding.

But how has any of this got anything to do with the so-called spiritual malady we are suppose to suffer from?

I believe the spiritual malady mixed with the ancedotal evidence throughout the BiG Book hints at these emotional difficulties as being an intrinsic part of our alcoholism, “We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy…”

It was 80 years ago, so our knowledge base has moved on greatly from when the Big Book was written. Hence I believe we should appreciate that this definition of our condition has been updated by research into emotions especially in the last 20 years.

I am happy to say a spiritual malady is what we suffer from, as the steps provide a solution to my emotion disorder by treating it as a spiritual malady but  I do not think it is the straightforward spiritual malady adopted by AA from the Oxford Group, mainly because in the majority of situations I do not choose to sin, the sinning seems to happen to me. In other words it is the consequence of my fear based condition, this affective disorder.

The Oxford Group explain a general spiritual malady that all people can have. I do not think alcoholics are like all people. We are human beings, but extreme versions of human beings. I believe, even when I try my best to be virtuous and holy, I could sin at the sinning Olympics for my country. I am that naturally good at it!

I sin so naturally, effortlessly  and usually without even trying. I believe my so-called defects of character are linked to my underlying emotional disorder of alcoholism.

Sins I believe are the poisoned fruit of fear, often  helped along in alcoholics by false pride, shame and guilt. These defects are related to me being an alcoholic, they are intrinsic to my condition.

In order to illustrate how I believe my spiritual malady is the consequence of my emotional disorder, called alcoholism/addiction first let’s  go back to where this idea of spiritual malady came from.

According to a wonderful pamphlet “What is the Oxford Group”   written by The Layman With a Notebook ” Sin can kill not only the soul but mind, talents, and happiness as surely as a malignant physical disease can kill the body…

Sin is a disease with consequences we cannot foretell or judge; it is as contagious as any contagious disease our bodies may suffer from. The sin we commit within this hour may have unforeseen dire consequences even after we have long ceased to draw living breath…

…Like physical disease Sin needs antiseptics to prevent it from spreading; the soul needs cleaning as much as the body needs it…

Unhappiness to us and others, discontent, and, frequently, mental and bodily ill health are the direct results of Sin.

…Morbidity of mind must affect the physical health. If we can be absolutely truthful to ourselves we can analyse our sins for ourselves and trace their mental and physical effects. Sins can dominate us mentally and physically until we are their abject slaves. We cannot get rid of them by deciding to think no more about them; they never leave us of their own accord, and unless they are cut out by a decided surgical spiritual operation which will destroy them, roots and all, and set us free from their killing obsession, they grow in time like a deadly moss within us until we become warped in outlook not only towards others but towards ourselves….”

One can see how this concept of sin disease or in other words spiritual malady could be and was applied to early AA and incorporated into the Big Book of AA.

However, it is equally stating, I believe, that alcoholics suffer from the same spiritual malady as other people but our spiritual malady has led to chronic alcoholism, this is the manner in which sin has dominated  “mentally and physically until we are their abject slaves”.

In fact the Big book’s first chapters look more at the manifestation of this malady, problem drinking,    than the malady.  It suggests that there is more than this malady, there is also a physical reason for alcoholism- an allergy (or abnormal reaction) to alcohol. So this is a departure from the Oxford Group as it clearly states that alcoholism is more than a spiritual malady.   It is not simply the consequence of this spiritual malady although this malady may contribute.  So is this saying some of us are spiritually ill while also having an abnormal reaction to alcohol?

In the foreword The Doctor’s Opinion suggests  that “the body of the alcoholic is quite as abnormal as his mind.” and  a first mention of a disorder more than “spiritual” is suggested, “It did not satisfy us to be told that we could not control our drinking just because we were maladjusted to life, that we were in full flight from reality, or were outright mental defectives. These things were true to some extent, in fact, to a considerable extent with some of us. (my emphasis)

“The doctor’s theory that we have an allergy to alcohol interests us…as ex-problem drinkers, we can say that his explanation makes good sense. It explains many things for which we cannot otherwise account.”

“the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker.”

Here we have an abnormal reaction to alcohol and for some alcoholics a maladjustment to life.

For me this maladjustment to life is not exactly the same as the spiritual disease mentioned in the Oxford Group pamphlet.

All of my academic research in the last 6 years has explored the possibility that this “maladjustment to life” is more than a spiritual malady, i.e. it is not simply the consequence of Sin but the result of abnormal responding, emotionally (which has obvious consequences for sinning) to life.

This emotion dysregulation, as I name it, has consequences for how we feel about ourselves, how we interact with people, how much we feel we belong, how rewarding alcohol and drugs are, how much these substances make us feel better about ourselves (fix our feelings ) and how they turn off the internal critic of maladaptive and negative self schemas.

 

In fact our first “spiritual” wakening was probably the result of drinking as it transformed how we felt about ourselves and the world in which we lived. I know it did for me. In fact, I felt “more me” when I drank, it was like I escaped a restrictive sense of self to be a more expansive, people loving self.  I had a connection with the world I could not generate myself, when sober.

I was a “spirit awakening” if nothing else? It is interesting that a common definition of “spiritual” as it relates to AA, is a sense of connection with others.

As the BB states “Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks—”

For me this section is saying our emotion dysregulation leads to feelings of being “restless, irritable and discontented” which prompt a return to drinking.

The Doctor’s Opinion even offers some classifications of alcoholics “The classification of alcoholics seems most difficult, and in much detail is outside the scope of this book. There are, of course, the psychopaths who are emotionally unstable… the manic-depressive type, who is, perhaps, the least understood by his friends, and about whom a whole chapter could be written.”

This section would appear to be stating clearly that there alcoholics who have other (co-occurring) conditions or conditions appearing as co-occurring?

I contend that alcoholism is an emotional disorder which results in chemical dependency on the substance of alcohol. However in order to treat it we have to first contend with the symptomatic manifestation of this disorder, chronic alcohol use, as it is the most life threatening aspect of this disorder when we present our selves at AA.

What we used once to regulate negative emotions and a sense of self has eventually come to regulate our emotions to such an extent that any distress leads to the compulsive response of drinking. Alcoholics had become a compulsive disorder to relief distress not to induce pleasure.

The “spiritual malady” of the Oxford group seems enhanced in me, I believe I sin more than normal people because of my emotional immaturity and reactivity. My “loss of control” over drinking is also linked to emotion processing difficulties as it prompted  impulsive, uninhibited drinking.

This emotional immaturity is referenced throughout the Big Book I believe.

“… He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. ”

“Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity? Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. ”

“So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves…”

“…Our liquor was but a symptom…”

“Resentment is the ”number one“ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.”

For me this is saying that out of my emotion dysregulation  “stem all forms of spiritual disease”.

It then talks of the fear that “was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. ”

The list of emotional difficulties continues throughout the Big book’s first 164 pages.

One of the earliest studies on AA members concluded that  they were linked in commonality by two variables, emotional immaturity and grandiosity! I would contend that grandiosity is a part of emotional immaturity. I also contend that our “maladjustment to life” is based on emotional immaturity which is in itself a function of emotion regulation and processing deficits.

A book titled Matt Talbot by Morgan Costelloe has cites this reference –  “American authorities on alcoholism hold that the following psychological traits are commonly found in alcoholics:

> 1. A high level of anxiety in interpersonal relations
> 2. Emotional immaturity
> 3. Ambivalence towards authority
> 4. Low frustration tolerance
> 5. Low self-esteem
> 6. Perfectionism
> 7. Guilt
> 8. Feelings of isolation”

The list is  almost word-for-word identical with one in Howard Clinebell’s
“Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic” p 53 of the revised edition of 1968 (the original edition appeared in 1956), the only difference being that Clinebell included grandiosity and compulsiveness.

Years after the Big Book Bill Wilson wrote about this emotion immaturity in the guise of discussing emotional sobriety, for me what he is saying that our emotional difficulties are present in long term recovery and need to be addressed – in other words there is more to alcoholism than sinning and drinking. What we are left with after the steps is ongoing and underlying difficulties with living life on life’s terms because we are emotionally immature. This I believe also preceded our drinking, for many of us anyway?

For many recovering alcoholics this may be another unpalatable truth, that they have issues with emotional responding, with being emotionally mature. If further validation is required I suggest a frank conversation with  a loved one, wife, husband, child, parent, etc.

Here is what Bill Wilson wrote ” Those adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval, perfect security, and perfect romance—urges quite appropriate to age seventeen—prove to be an impossible way of life when we are at age forty-seven or fifty-seven.      Since AA began, I’ve taken immense wallops in all these areas because of my failure to grow up, emotionally and spiritually”. (my emphasis) 

Bill continues “Suddenly I realized what the matter was. My basic flaw had always been dependence – almost absolute dependence – on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them. And when defeat came, so did my depression.”

” Emotional and instinctual satisfactions, I saw, were really the extra dividends of having love, offering love, and expressing a love appropriate to each relation of life… I was victimized by false dependencies…       For my dependency meant demand—a demand for the possession and control of the people and the conditions surrounding me.”

For me this is emotional immaturity, regulating ones emotions and distress via external dependencies on others, demanding in an immature manner that others do one’s bidding?

I would suggest in relation to the issue of co-morbidities that one try to deal with these alcoholism related issues and then see if there are any other to deal with afterwards. For me, as someone who has been treated for anxiety and depression prior to recovery the 12 steps appear to have treated these as emotional consequences of my underlying condition of emotion dysregulation which I call alcoholism.

I think part of the issue is whether doctors, who know in my experience often know next to nothing generally about alcoholism,  can always properly diagnose depression and anxiety in someone suffering from alcoholism?

I also think the issues are complicate because alcoholism have some many similarities to GAD, MDD, OCD, and so on. They all may be similar but different.

This is why we need a satisfactory definition of what alcoholism and addition is? Rather than describing these conditions in terms of the manifest symptoms, i.e chronic substance abuse or, at times, vague “spiritual maladies”.

For example, one variable I believe is slightly different in alcoholism  to other affective disorders is distress based impulsivity which leads to maladaptive decision making, it leads to always wanting more of that…that anything.

These may be specific to addictive behaviours.

It may also be that we feel we have a co-occurring disorder because the underlying distress states prompt similar reactions in various differing disorders.

My distress feeds perfectionism, and catastrophic thinking as with other anxiety disorders like OCD, does that mean I have OCD too?

Maybe or maybe not? My tendency to not  regulate emotions has caused a distress state since childhood, it feeds into perfectionism and many other manifestations like always wanting just one more…?

It is the always wanting one more that makes my affective disorder that of addiction and not another disorder.

My affective disorder via various neural and cognitive – affective mechanisms leads to chronic substance use and dependency of these substances.

GAD, MDD, OCD have different manifestations and different mechanisms.

If we start by trying to recover from alcoholism and addiction and find we still have other issues then obviously address these with outside professional and specialist help.

I believe we can unwittingly complicate our treatment of alcoholism by believing we have (and treating) other conditions we see as distinct from alcoholism but which are in fact part of this condition called alcoholism.

I never fully knew what alcoholsim was until I did the 12 steps. Only then did it become clear what I suffered from?

I have suggested clearly in previous blogs how I think AA’s 12 recovery programme helps specifically with problems of emotion dysregulation.

How the Alcoholics Anonymous-12-step-program of recovery helps with emotional dysregulation

Maintaining Emotional Sobriety (and sanity) via the steps 10-12.

These illustrate how the 12 step programme can help with an emotion dysregulation disorder.

I end, however, with some words from a doctor who seems to be suggesting that AA works because it makes us more emotionally healthy.  For me she is saying how AA treats emotional illness.

An article by Dr. Jacqueline Chang’s paper given to the National Workshop for Health Liaison in York in 1998 and published in the Winter 1999 edition of the AA News suggests that

“The principles of the programme of Alcoholics Anonymous are scientific and closely follow all the helping therapies which lead people to emotional well-being.

AA proposes living “ One Day at a Time”. It is emotionally healthy to live in the day … in the here and now. Professional therapists teach people to live in the present.  AA encourages members to share their experience, strength and hope with other members. It is emotionally healthy to accept our past experiences, however painful, as past events and move on to a richer, more fulfilling future.

Step 1 in the AA programme is “ We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable”. It is emotionally healthy to surrender and accept things over which we have no control.
“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference” is the Serenity Prayer used at every AA meeting. It is emotionally healthy to prioritise problems. The Serenity Prayer is the greatest exercise in prioritisation.

It is emotionally healthy to accept that we cannot change a particular situation but we can change the way we react to it.

It is emotionally healthy to accept yourself as you are.
It is emotionally healthy to recognise your environment and interact with it as it is, not as you wish it would be.  It is emotionally healthy to associate or be in contact with other human beings.

It is emotionally healthy to be altruistic – to help others without question or expectation.
It is emotionally healthy to anticipate – to plan for future discomfort or crises. This is the function of the AA Step programme. ”

 

AA provides many ways of becoming more emotionally well, which ultimately means more emotionally mature.

 

 

 

How do you know when Medicating becomes Self Medicating?

A recent blog in the After the Party Magazine  has raised some very pertinent questions about the issue of co-morbidity in alcoholics and addicts seeking recovery via 12 step groups and suggests the extent of this co-morbidity is much higher than may have been anticipated.

This blog raises important issues but ultimately may leave more questions than it answers?

The blog starts “You hear it in 12-step meetings all the time—people who were once on psych meds discovered they didn’t need them after getting sober and doing the steps. Now they’re evangelizing at every meeting in town about how their problem was really just spiritual. Maybe they were never mentally ill to begin with or maybe the steps really did banish their mental illness right out of their brains. But for me, and plenty of others I know, this isn’t the case.”

The author then continues ” If anyone has any questions about psychiatric meds AA has an official stance that’s in a pamphlet called The AA Member—Medications and Other Drugs. ”

I referred to this pamphlet on Monday’s blog Can you be Sober and in Recovery while on Medication?

As I mentioned then the pamphlet appears to be alerting AA members to the reality that certain members “must take prescribed medication for serious medical problems. However, it is generally accepted that the misuse of prescription medication and other drugs can threaten the achievement and maintenance of sobriety”.

As the author notes this pamphlet states ” “No A.A. member should ‘play doctor’; all medical advice and treatment should come from a qualified physician.”

It also states that “Some of us have had to cope with depressions that can be suicidal; schizophrenia that sometimes requires hospitalization; bipolar disorder, and other mental and biological illnesses.

“A.A. members and many of their physicians have described situations in which depressed patients have been told by A.A.s to throw away the pills, only to have depression return with all its difficulties, sometimes resulting in suicide.

“We have heard, too, from members with other conditions, including schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, epilepsy and others requiring medication, that well-meaning A.A. friends discourage them from taking any prescribed medication. Unfortunately, by following a layperson’s advice, the sufferers find that their conditions can return with all their previous intensity. On top of that, they feel guilty because they are convinced that ‘A.A. is against pills.’ It becomes clear that just as it is wrong to enable or support any alcoholic to become readdicted to any drug, it’s equally wrong to deprive any alcoholic of medication, which can alleviate or control other disabling physical and/or emotional problems.”

The author then suggest that ” roughly 70% people I meet in AA are on meds. A lot people are quiet about it because they don’t want the backlash…”

Is the prevalence of people taking medication in 12 step groups this high? Or is this a sample bias?

Perhaps many of the people I know in AA have simply been keeping quiet about it? I am not convinced that this figure is accurate, based on my own observations?

If this figure is representative then what co-occurring conditions are these recovering people medicating?

There are obviously a host of co-occurring conditions  that recovering people suffer from – from physical, such as back pain, to epilepsy, to anxiety disorders to depression, bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia …in fact the list goes on.

Is it  thus reasonable of us in AA and other 12 step groups to expect that all members are medication free or that the 12 steps can treat all co-occurring conditions?

It has been suggested in a AA survey  that over 60% of recovering individuals in 12 step groups seek outside professional help for co-occurring difficulties which suggest that the trajectory of alcoholism and addiction is not straightforward and includes other co-occurring problems which may add to the severity of psychological symptoms experienced.

A very pertinent question is whether these co-occurring conditions are parallel problems or are additional problems that affect one’s addiction recovery.

By this I mean if one suffers, as I do, from PTSD, do PTSD symptoms also add to relapse vulnerability, for example. I can say for myself that the two times I have had issues with relapse have been prompted by manifestation of PTSD symptoms, such as flashbacks.

For me, at least, my co-occurring condition of PTSD affects my recovery from alcoholism and substance addiction. It is inseparable – in fact my PTSD and childhood maltreatment has contributed to my addiction.  Although it doesn’t necessarily follow that my choice of  treatment, e.g. 12 step recovery will straighten out all the factors that contributed to this addiction.

Equally the 12 step and associated fellowship and program for living may help manage this condition too?

I have not relapsed in a decade so the 12 steps etc must be helping with co-occurring conditions as these conditions have to potential to prompt relapse?

I will explain this further, below, in relation to the various sponsors I have had in recovery.

I do not medicate for this condition nor have I sought outside help although I  have considered outside help many times. Perhaps I am edging closer to that.

Equally I believe the process of recovery has helped me recover from PTSD, has made me aware of triggers, etc.

How prevalent is PTSD in addiction? Do others suffer in recovery from this co-occurring condition too?

Approximately 35% to 50% of people in addiction treatment programs have a lifetime diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 25% to 42% have a current diagnosis (Back et al., 2000; Brady, Back, & Coffey, 2004; P. J. Brown, Recupero, & Stout, 1995; Cacciola, Alterman, McKay, & Rutherford, 2001; Dansky et al., 1996;Jacobsen, Southwick, & Kosten, 2001; Mills, Lynskey, Teesson, Ross, & Darke, 2005;Ouimette, Ahrens, Moos, & Finney, 1997).

Is this the case in 12 step groups?

In order to examine the extent of co-morbidity in recovery I will briefly run through some of the sponsors I have had in recovery, and their co-occurring conditions – self acknowledged or not.

First sponsor – bi polar, not medicated, but also treated via outside professional help – accepts that he will occasionally have very dark days as part of his recovery. His choice is not to medicate as he feels it is a chemical straightjacket although he accepts the right of others to take medication for this condition.

Second sponsor – borderline personality disorder – not medicated – has sought professional outside help.

Third sponsor – no co-occurring conditions  – but would suggest his religiomania contributes to his absolute conviction that recovering people do not need medication of any sort that God can heal everything.

Fourth and fifth  sponsors both PTSD but not fully acknowledged nor treated outside of 12 steps.

All in long term recovery of 12 plus years.

From this very small survey it is clear that there is a common co-occurrence with other conditions, acknowledged or otherwise. There is also extensive childhood abuse of various types.

All of them have not or do not take medication. They may be in some way also be treated by the 12 steps.

I have also sponsored a person with  schizophrenia who needs to take medication because of returning psychosis if he fails to take medication.

What I am saying is that some individuals with obvious co-occurring conditions also choose not to medicate as well and feel their general “recovery” is treated by the steps and fellowship, often together with outside help. Having a co-occurring condition does not mean one automatically takes medication for this condition? Many do not?

This is why I queried the “70%” are on meds above. I do not necessarily disagree that those suffering co-morbid conditions is the majority but would query why so many take medication?

Are some of these on medication assisted treatment to curb urges and cravings too?

In terms of so-called co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and mood disorders such as generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) and major depression (MDD), research has shown that these symptoms often dissipate in the early weeks of recovery.

This had led researchers like Mark Shuckit to call these substance induced disorders and to suggest that co-occurring disorders such as GAD and MDD are distributed in recovery populations as they are in normal population at around 15% prevalence.

This is why I think some 12 steppers are “anti med” as they often see the symptoms of GAD and MDD dissipate in early recovery and thus believe the steps are treating these disorders successfully.

Although these disorders are but temporary substance induced disorders for many, however, for 15%, at least, these conditions of  GAD and MDD are possibly what they suffer from too in recovery.

Regardless of that caveat if we add this 15% to up to 50% who suffer PTSD and the possibility of the occurrence of other conditions such as borderline, bi polar, etc we get closer to the 62% figure of AA respondents that an AA survey in 2012 states  received some type of treatment or counseling, such as medical, psychological, spiritual, etc., (and 82% of those said it played an important part in their recovery from alcoholism).

Whether these conditions require medication is a matter for the person and their sponsor in discussion with medical professionals and not some layperson “medical expert” as often abounds in AA and other 12 step groups.

The issue here is not simply co-morbidity  but whether this co-morbidity is an intrinsic part of the aetiology of addiction from a vulnerability to a relapse  factor. In other words, have other conditions meshed into the overall condition of addiction? Can they be treated by the same treatment?

Regardless,  they often have to be treated  separately.

To conclude it seems that 12 step groups need to appreciate that co-occurring conditions, self acknowledged or not, play an important part in recovery and relapse as well as in the aetiology of addiction.

How effectively the medication used can be dissected from the condition of addiction is still debatable for many?

In short, many feel being on medication impedes full recovery.

How we define full recovery is open to question? Recovery can be measured using many variables related to quality of life. If medication using members feel their lives are steadily improving then who are we to judge?

Equally just because one suffers a condition does not inevitably mean it must be medicated, some of the examples above have “treated”  their co-occurring conditions via the 12 step program of recovery.

I think ardent fans of the right to medication should appreciate that there is a valid counter argument – they may have the same rights to their point of view as the author of this  blog?

All of us has the right to think as they wish and to express their views also.

Live and Let Live may be apropos, we all have the right to be wrong, Love of others is our code.

Alcoholics are such absolutist thinkers, all or nothing, black and white thinkers at times. Recovery is also considering others and their points of view?

Personally speaking if I sponsor, I take it on a case by case basis.

I have had only one sponsee out of 7 who has been on medication.

It is for sponsor, sponsee and family as well as medical professionals to contribute to the debate on continued medication.

My lasting concern, however is the 70% figure cited in this blog. It does not tally with my experience of recovery.

Another part of the AA pamphlet cited also warns,

“Experience suggests that while some prescribed medications may be safe for most nonalcoholics when taken according to a doctor’s instructions, it is possible that they may affect the alcoholic in a different way…”

Again this seems to be alerting us to the question when is medicating actually self medicating?

 

 

This has been my main experience with medication, that those taking them do not always look completely sober.

In order to recovery fully perhaps we have to be fully sober first?

I will continue this discussion in Part 2 of this blog when I discuss also whether considering alcoholism purely as a “spiritual malady” complicates this argument.

In the DSM manual 75% of the disorders contained therein have emotion dysregulation at the centre of their condition. I believe alcoholism and addiction also have although not acknowledged.

Insted DSM states the emotional dysfunction seen in addiction is the result of some of co-morbidites mentioned above. I disagree.

Is it not about time we got our heads together and agreed on what the hell we suffer from?

Isn’t addition an emotional disorder in it’s own right compounded by other co-occurring conditions?

Then we will be in a position to discuss how the 12 steps can treat this condition and related conditions of emotion dysregulation?

The main issue for the blog addressed, is that the author, and many others, cannot understand how a spiritual malady has anything to do with their other conditions, when, in reality, alcoholism is another type of disorder, similar to that with which it often co-occurs .

More on this later…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impulsivity is an Independent Predictor of 15-Year Mortality Risk among Individuals Seeking Help for Alcohol-Related Problems

In yesterday’s blog we looked at how AA membership and the 12 step program of recovery helped reduce impulsivity in recovering alcoholics.

We mentioned also that impulsivity was present as a pathomechanism of alcoholism from vulnerability in “at risk” children from families, were there was a history of alcoholism, right the way through to recovering alcoholics in long term recovery (i.e. many years of recovery).

We cited and used excerpts from a study written by the same authors as the study we cite now (1).

This study shows and highlights how, if untreated, by recovery programs such as AA’s 12 steps, that “trait” impulsivity can lead to increased mortality in alcoholics.

This study interestingly shows there is a difference from “state-like” impulsivity in early recovery when recovering people are still distressed and “trait-like” which is after Year 1 of recovery when some of the severity of withdrawal from alcohol has long since abated and some recovery tools have been learnt.

The fact that this impulsivity continues to contribute to relapse and mortality may suggest it is a trait state in alcoholics and possibly a vulnerability to later alcoholism also.

In effect, it illustrates the role impulsivity plays as a pathomechanism in alcoholism, i.e. it is a psychological mechanism that drives addiction and alcoholism forward to it’s chronic endpoint.

Again research shows us how we can learn about a pathology from the recovery from it!

 

impulse control.preview

“Abstract

Background

Although past research has found impulsivity to be a significant predictor of mortality, no studies have tested this association in samples of individuals with alcohol-related problems or examined moderation of this effect via socio-contextual processes. The current study addressed these issues in a mixed-gender sample of individuals seeking help for alcohol-related problems.

Results

…higher impulsivity at baseline was associated with an increased risk of mortality from Years 1 to 16; higher impulsivity at Year 1 was associated with an increased risk of mortality from Years 1 to 16, and remained significant when accounting for the severity of alcohol use, as well as physical health problems, emotional discharge coping, and interpersonal stress and support at Year 1. In addition, the association between Year 1 impulsivity and 15-year mortality risk was moderated by interpersonal support at Year 1, such that individuals high on impulsivity had a lower mortality risk when peer/friend support was high than when it was low.

Conclusions

The findings highlight impulsivity as a robust and independent predictor of mortality.

Introduction

…personality traits related to impulsivity (e.g., low conscientiousness) have been identified as significant predictors of poor health-related outcomes including mortality (Bogg and Roberts, 2004; Roberts et al., 2007). Although there is a well-established association between disinhibitory traits and alcohol use disorders (AUDs) (Labouvie and McGee, 1986; McGue et al., 1999;Sher et al., 2000), to our knowledge, no studies have tested these traits as predictors of mortality among individuals with alcohol-related problems or examined moderation of this effect via socio-contextual processes.

Predictors of Mortality Risk among Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorders

Relative to the general population, individuals with AUDs are more likely to die prematurely (Finney et al., 1999; Johnson et al., 2005; Valliant, 1996). Accordingly, several longitudinal studies have aimed to identify the most salient risk factors for mortality in this population (for a review, see Liskow et al., 2000)

…more reliance on avoidance coping, less social support, and more stress from interpersonal relationships increase the risk of mortality among individuals with AUDs (Finney and Moos, 1992; Holahan et al., 2010; Mertens et al., 1996; Moos et al., 1990).

Impulsivity and Risk for Mortality: Relevance for Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorders

Despite the litany of variables that have been examined as predictors of mortality among individuals with AUDs, tests of the significance of individual differences in personality are noticeably absent from this literature. In the clinical and health psychology literatures, however, personality traits have long been identified as possible risk factors for mortality (Friedman and Rosenman, 1959), with low conscientiousness emerging as one of the most consistent, trait-based predictors of poor health and reduced longevity (Kern and Friedman, 2008; Roberts et al., 2007). Conscientiousness is a broad domain of personality reflecting individual differences in the propensity to control one’s impulses, be planful, and adhere to socially-prescribed norms (John et al., 2008).

(previously) no studies in this literature have tested impulsivity as an independent predictor of mortality in a sample of individuals with alcohol-related problems. This is a surprising omission, given that impulsivity is a well-established risk factor for alcohol misuse (Elkins et al., 2006; McGue et al., 1999; Sher et al., 2000) and therefore may be an especially potent predictor of mortality among individuals with AUDs. Furthermore, the role of impulsivity as an independent predictor of mortality risk among individuals with AUDs is relevant from the standpoint of the stage of the alcohol recovery process.

Thus, we sought to examine the impulsivity-mortality link at baseline and one year after participants had initiated help-seeking for their alcohol use problems. At baseline, participants were in a state of distress due to their problematic alcohol use, whereas at Year 1 most participants had obtained help for their alcohol-related problems and reduced their drinking (Finney and Moos, 1995).

Given prior research on acute clinical states and self-report assessments of personality (e.g., Brown et al., 1991; Peselow et al., 1994;Reich et al., 1987), we hypothesized that individuals’ self-reports of impulsivity at Year 1 would be less a reflection of their alcohol problems – and therefore more likely to be independently linked to mortality risk – than their reports at baseline, which may be more closely associated with concurrent alcohol use and problems (i.e., state effects).

Discussion

…impulsivity at baseline was a significant predictor of mortality risk from Years 1 to 16; however, this effect was accounted for by the severity of alcohol use at baseline. In contrast, impulsivity at Year 1 was associated with an increased risk of mortality over the subsequent 15 years…

In addition, a significant interaction was observed between impulsivity and peer/friend support at Year 1, which suggested that, among individuals high on impulsivity, the mortality risk may be reduced for those high on support from peers/friends. Collectively, these findings highlight impulsivity as an independent risk factor for mortality in AUD samples…

…It is also conceivable that, given participants were in a state of crisis at baseline, their reports of their impulsive tendencies at that time partly captured “state” effects (e.g., psychiatric distress from concurrent substance use; withdrawal symptoms) and therefore were less an indication of their typical or “characterological” pattern of impulsivity, independent of alcohol use. However, at Year 1, most participants had reduced their drinking and were not in a state of crisis; thus, their reports at that time may have been a better reflection of their “trait-like” pattern of impulsivity, which in turn may be a more robust independent predictor of long-term outcomes such as mortality. Accordingly, future studies that seek to test impulsivity as an independent predictor of mortality among individuals with AUDs should consider the stage of the alcohol recovery process.

Moderation of the Impulsivity-Mortality Link via the Social Context

The results of the moderator analyses suggest that the effects of impulsivity on mortality may become manifest through interactions between traits and socio-contextual process (Friedman, 2000). That is, the dire effects of impulsivity on risk for mortality may not reach fruition for individuals who are able to maintain a strong peer support network. Conceivably, by virtue of their strong bond with a high-risk individual, such peers may have sufficient leverage to discourage expression of the individual’s impulsive tendencies and encourage consideration of the long-term consequences of his/her actions.

Such a perspective is consistent with evidence from the AUD treatment-outcome literature that social support networks are a key mechanism by which Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other psychosocial treatments can improve long-term drinking-related outcomes (Humphreys and Noke, 1997; Kaskutas et al., 2002).

Furthermore, from the standpoint of treatment, the present findings suggest that interventions for AUDs may benefit from an ecological perspective that considers the contexts in which dispositional tendencies, such as impulsivity, become expressed in individuals’ everyday lives. Notably, based on prior work with this sample, longer duration in AA and alcohol treatment was associated with a decline in impulsivity (Blonigen et al., 2009). In combination with the present findings, it appears that formal and informal help for AUDs may include “active ingredients” that can help curtail expression of impulsive tendencies (e.g., social integration, peer bonding; Moos, 2007,2008) and buffer the otherwise deleterious impact of such tendencies on health and longevity.

References

1. Blonigen, D. M., Timko, C., Moos, B. S., & Moos, R. H. (2011). Impulsivity is an Independent Predictor of 15-Year Mortality Risk among Individuals Seeking Help for Alcohol-Related Problems. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 35(11), 2082–2092. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01560.x

Alcoholics Anonymous and Reduced Impulsivity: A Novel Mechanism of Change

Impulsivity or lack of behaviour inhibition, especially when distressed, is one psychological mechanisms which is implicated in all addictive behaviour from substance addiction to behaviour addiction.

It is, in my view, linked to the impaired emotion processing as I have elucidated upon in various blogs on this site.

This impulsivity is present for example in those vulnerable to later alcoholism, i.e. sons and daughters of alcoholic parents or children  from a family that has a relatively high or concentrated density of alcoholics in the family history, right through to old timers, people who have decades of recovery from alcoholism.

It is an ever present and as a result part of a pathomechanism of alcoholism, that is it is fundamental to driving alcoholism to it’s chronic endpoint.

It partly drives addiction via it’s impact on decision making – research shows people of varying addictive behaviours choose now over later, even if it is a smaller short term gain over a greater long term gain. We seem to react to relieve a distress signal in the brain rather than in response to considering and evaluating the long term consequences of a decision or act.

No doubt this improves in recovery as it has with me. Nonetheless, this tendency for rash action with limited consideration of long term consequence is clearly a part of the addictive profile. Not only do we choose now over then, we appear to have an intolerance of uncertainty, which means we have difficulties coping with uncertain outcomes. In other words we struggle with things in the future particularly if they are worrying or concerning things, like a day in court etc. The future can continually intrude into the present. A thought becomes a near certain action, again similar to the though-action fusion of obsessive compulsive disorder. It is as if the thought and possible future action are almost fused, as if they are happening in unison.

Although simple, less worrying events can also make me struggle with leaving the future to the future instead of endless and fruitlessly ruminating about it in the now. In early recovery  especially I found that I had real difficulty dealing with the uncertainty of future events and always thought they would turn out bad. It is akin to catastrophic thinking.

If a thought of a drink entered into my head it was so distressing, almost as if I was being dragged by some invisible magnet to the nearest bar. It was horrendous. Fortunately I created my own thought action fusion to oppose this.

Any time I felt this distressing lure of the bar like some unavoidable siren call of alcohol I would turn that thought into the action of ringing my sponsor. This is why sponsees should ring sponsors about whatever, whenever in order to habitualize these responses to counteract the automatic responses of the addicted brain.

I think it is again based on an inherent emotion dysregulation. Obsessive thoughts are linked to emotion dysregulation.

My emotions can still sometimes control me and not the other way around.

Apparently we need to recruit the frontal part of the brain to regulate these emotions and this is the area most damaged by chronic alcohol consumption.

As a result we find it difficult to recruit this brain area which not only helps regulate emotion but is instrumental in making reflective, evaluative decisions about future, more long term consequence. As a result addicts of all types appear to use a “bottom up” sub-cortical part of the brain centred on the amgydala region to make responses to decisions instead of a “top down” more cortical part of the brain to make evaluative decisions.

We thus react, and rashly act to relieve the distress of undifferentiated emotions, the result of unprocessed emotion rather than using processed emotions to recruit the more cortical parts of the brain.

Who would have though emotions were so instrumental in us making decisions? Two parts of the brain that hold emotions in check so that they can be used to serve goal directed behaviour are the orbitofrontal cortex and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

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These areas also keep amgydaloid responding in check. Unfortunately these two areas are impaired in alcoholics and other addictive behaviours so their influence on and regulation of the amgydala is also impaired.

This means the sub cortical areas of the amgydala and related regions are over active and prompt not a goal directed response to decision making but a “fight or flight” response to alleviate distress and not facilitate goal directed behaviour.

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Sorry for so much detail. I have read so much about medication recently which does this or that to reduce craving or to control  drinking but what about the underlying conditions of alcoholism and addictive behaviour? These are rarely mentioned or considered at all.

 

We always in recovery have to deal with alcoholism not just it’s symptomatic manifestation of that which is chronic alcohol consumption. This is a relatively simple point and observation that somehow alludes academics, researchers and so-called commentators on this fascinating subject.

Anyway that is some background to this study which demonstrates that long term AA membership can reduce this impulsivity and perhaps adds validity to the above arguments that improved behaviour inhibition and reducing impulsivity is a very possible mechanism of change brought about by AA membership and the 12 step recovery program.

It shows how we can learn about a pathology from the recovery from it!

Indeed when one looks back at one’s step 4 and 5 how many times was this distress based impulsivity the real reason for “stepping on the toes of others” and for their retaliation?

Were we not partly dominated by the world because we could not keep ourselves in check? Didn’t all our decisions get us to AA because they were inherently based on a decision making weakness? Isn’t this why it is always useful to have a sponsor, someone to discuss possible decisions with?

Weren’t we out of control, regardless of alcohol or substance or behaviour addiction? Isn’t this at the heart of our unmanageability?

I think we can all see how we still are effected by a tendency not to think things through and to act rashly.

The trouble it has caused is quite staggeringly really?

Again we cite a study (1) which has Rudolf H. Moos as a co-author. Moos has authored and co-authored a numbered of fine papers on the effectiveness of AA and is a rationale beacon in a sea of sometimes quite controversial and ignorant studies on AA, and alcoholism in general.

“Abstract

Reduced impulsivity is a novel, yet plausible, mechanism of change associated with the salutary effects of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Here, we review our work on links between AA attendance and reduced impulsivity using a 16-year prospective study of men and women with alcohol use disorders (AUD) who were initially untreated for their drinking problems. Across the study period, there were significant mean-level decreases in impulsivity, and longer AA duration was associated with reductions in impulsivity…

Among individuals with alcohol use disorders (AUD), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is linked to improved functioning across a number of domains [1, 2]. As the evidence for the effectiveness of AA has accumulated, so too have efforts to identify the mechanisms of change associated with participation in this mutual-help group [3]. To our knowledge, however, there have been no efforts to examine links between AA and reductions in impulsivity-a dimension of personality marked by deficits in self-control and self-regulation, and tendencies to take risks and respond to stimuli with minimal forethought.

In this article, we discuss the conceptual rationale for reduced impulsivity as a mechanism of change associated with AA, review our research on links between AA and reduced impulsivity, and discuss potential implications of the findings for future research on AA and, more broadly, interventions for individuals with AUD.

Impulsivity and related traits of disinhibition are core risk factors for AUD [5, 6]. In cross-sectional research, impulsivity is typically higher among individuals in AUD treatment than among those in the general population [7] and, in prospective studies, impulse control deficits tend to predate the onset of drinking problems [811]

Although traditionally viewed as static variables, contemporary research has revealed that traits such as impulsivity can change over time [17]. For example, traits related to impulsivity exhibit significant mean- and individual-level decreases over the lifespan [18], as do symptoms of personality disorders that include impulsivity as an essential feature [21, 22]. Moreover, entry into social roles that press for increased responsibility and self-control predict decreases in impulsivity [16, 23, 24]. Hence, individual levels of impulsivity can be modified by systematic changes in one’s life circumstances [25].

Substance use-focused mutual-help groups may promote such changes, given that they seek to bolster self-efficacy and coping skills aimed at controlling substance use, encourage members to be more structured in their daily lives, and target deficits in self-regulation [26]. Such “active ingredients” may curb the immediate self-gratification characteristic of disinhibition and provide the conceptual grounds to expect that AA participation can press for a reduction in impulsive inclinations.

…the idea of reduced impulsivity as a mechanism of change…it is consistent with contemporary definitions of recovery from substance use disorders that emphasize improved citizenship and global health [31], AA’s vision of recovery as a broad transformation of character [32], and efforts to explore individual differences in emotional and behavioral functioning as potential mechanisms of change (e.g., negative affect [33,34]).

Several findings are notable from our research on associations between AA attendance and reduced impulsivity. First, consistent with the idea of impulsivity as a dynamic construct [18, 19], mean-levels of impulsivity decreased significantly in our AUD sample. Second, consistent with the notion that impulsivity can be modified by contextual factors [25], individuals who participated in AA longer tended to show larger decreases in impulsivity across all assessment intervals.

References

Blonigen, D. M., Timko, C., & Moos, R. H. (2013). Alcoholics anonymous and reduced impulsivity: a novel mechanism of change. Substance abuse, 34(1), 4-12.