The Heart of Recovery

How is low HRV related to longer term recovering alcoholics?

We cited and use excerpts from a study (2) into short term and longer term (3) of up to six months which shows that alcoholics with years of recovery still have low HRV although it improves although this is dependent of severity of the alcoholism.

“It is known that chronic and heavy alcohol use has a toxic effect on the nervous system,[2] including effects on autonomic nervous system.[3] Specifically, heavy alcohol use can cause cardiac autonomic neuropathy,[4] which in turn, is associated with greater mortality.

Resting cardiac autonomic function reportedly favors energy conservation by way of parasympathetic dominance over sympathetic influence. Heart rate is characterized by beat-to-beat variability over a wide range, which has been reported to indicate vagal dominance and thereby parasympathetic dominance.[5]

In those with alcohol dependence, HRV is lower than in healthy individuals even after several days of abstinence.[13,14] This decrement may improve with abstinence for long periods of time.[15,16]

A study of 24-h ambulatory HRV found significantly reduced HRV in alcohol-dependent men with established vagal neuropathy and in some without.[17] Alcohol dependence has been shown to compromise vagal output measured before sleep onset, which correlates with loss of delta sleep and morning sleep impairments.[18]

Reduced HRV was found in alcohol-dependent patients with negative mood states and compulsive drinking.[19] Rechlin et al.,[20] reported reductions in HRV in patients with alcohol dependence, and this has been consistently reported in subsequent studies.[21,22]”

 

“Heart rate variability (HRV) was studied in 11 chronic alcoholic subjects, 1–30 days after the beginning of abstinence and again 5, 12 and 24 weeks later. Two patients could be re-examined after 19 and 22 months, respectively. In the follow-up study, the total patient group showed a statistically significant increase in HRV with prolonged abstinence of at least 6 months.

No recovery of efferent vagal function was found in 4 patients. It is suggested that the vagal neuropathy may improve in chronic alcoholics, but perhaps only in patients with a short to moderately long duration of drinking history (3)”.

Thus it seems thee is a partial recovery in HRV as recovery proceeds although there may be work required depending on severity of one’s alcoholism.

In our next blog on HRV we will cite and use excerpts from one of the best articles authored by Thayer which is the best explanation of how low HRV keeps an alcoholics attention “locked in” to stuff he/she would rather it didn’t get locked into such as alcohol-related cues.

References

1. THAYER, J. F., AHS, F., FREDRIKSON, M., SOLLERS, J. J., & WAGER, T. D. (2012). A meta-analysis of heart rate variability and neuroimaging studies: Implications for heart rate variability as a marker of stress and health.Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 36(2), 747-756.

2. Ganesha, S., Thirthalli, J., Muralidharan, K., Benegal, V., & Gangadhar, B. N. (2013). Heart rate variability during sleep in detoxified alcohol-dependent males: A comparison with healthy controls. Indian journal of psychiatry, 55(2), 173.

3. Weise, F., Müller, D., Krell, D., Kielstein, V., & Koch, R. D. (1986). Heart rate variability in chronic alcoholics: a follow-up study. Drug and alcohol dependence, 17(4), 365-368.

Journey from the Head to the Heart (and back)!

Part 1

Over this week leading up to my interview/podcast with sincerightnow http://www.sincerightnow.com/upcoming/ http://www.sincerightnow.com/pdcst/

I want to look at the “neuroscience of alcoholism and addiction from another angle. I want to look at the evident difficulties seen in alcoholics in terms of impaired self and emotion regulation by looking at the relationship of the heart to the brain.

Some may find this a more clear, easier way to understand what is impaired in terms of brain functioning in alcoholics. I know I do and looking at the role of the heart in alcoholism has helped me understand the issues more clearly. I hope it does for you too.

I will seek to explain how the emotional, stress and thus self dysregulation seen in alcoholics and addicts is indexed or can be seen clearly in terms of a reduced heart rate variability  compared to normal healthy individuals.

I will explain as we go, how low HRV is linked to this dysregulation gives rise to a stress and emotion reactivity and an impulsivity seen commonly in alcoholics in particular.

This low HRV has a interactive effect in the emotion regulation  parts of the brain also with one effecting the other. So in terms of say reducing distress, stress and thus craving, for example, we could suggest instead use measures to improve low HRV such as mediation and so on. If we get the heart under more control, the neurotransmission of the brain and stress chemicals too seem also to be affected.

It certainly ties in with treatment regimes which advocate strategies of letting go of distress and maintaining balance and serenity.

Personally I find it fascinating how the heart can affect the workings of the brain.

Before we look at the concept of heart rate variability in relation to alcoholism we need to first to look at the interaction between the head and the heart.

We cite and use excerpts from a review (1) by Julian Thayer, one of the leading experts on the subject of heart rate variability (HRV) and it’s relationship to impaired self and emotion regulation.

“The intimate connection between the brain and the heart was enunciated by Claude Bernard over 150 years ago.

Heart rate variability may provide an index of how strongly ‘top–down’ appraisals, mediated by cortical-subcortical pathways, shape brainstem activity and autonomic responses in the body.

Thus, HRV may serve as a proxy for ‘vertical integration’ of the brain mechanisms that guide flexible control over behavior.

We have proposed that a core set of neural structures provides an organism with the ability to integrate signals from inside and outside the body and adaptively regulate cognition,perception, action, and physiology.

This system essentially operates as a “super-system” that integrates the activity in perceptual, motor, interoceptive, and memory systems into gestalt representations of situations and likely adaptive responses. Thus, it is undoubtedly extremely complex. However, it is still possible that physiological measures exist that can serve as indices ofthe degree to which this system provides flexible, adaptive regulation of its component systems. In a number of papers (Thayer and Brosschot, 2005; Thayer and Lane, 2000, 2009), we have proposed that heart rate variability (HRV) may provide just such an index.

However if component systems are become unbalanced, and a particular process can come to dominate the system’s behavior, rendering it unresponsive to the normal range of inputs. In the context of physiological regulation, and regulation of the heart specifically, a balanced system is healthy, because the system can respond to physical and environmental demands (Thayer and Sternberg, 2006). A system that is “locked in” to a particular pattern is dysregulated. This is why the heart rate of a healthy heart oscillates spontaneously (i.e., shows high HRV), whereas a diseased heart shows almost no variability under certain conditions. A critical idea is that HRV may be more than just an index of healthy heart function, and may in fact provide an index of the degree to which the brain’s “integrative” system for adaptive regulation provides flexible control over the periphery. Thus, HRV may serve as an easily measured output of this neural network that may provide valuable information about the capacity of the organism to effectively function in a complex environment.

 

Hear Rate Variability

Like many organs in the body, the heart is dually innervated. Although a wide range of physiologic factors determine cardiac functions such as heart rate (HR), the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the most prominent with Although a wide range of physiologic factors determine cardiac functions such as heart rate (HR), the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the most prominentwith  both cardiac vagal (the primary parasympathetic nerve) and sympathetic inputs.

 

 

The heart is under tonic inhibitory control by parasympathetic influences. Thus, resting cardiac autonomic balance favors energy conservation by way of parasympathetic dominance over sympathetic influences. In addition, the HR time series is characterized by beat-to-beat variability over a wide range, which also implicates vagal dominance as the sympathetic influence on the heart is too slow to produce beat to beat changes.

Low heart rate variability (HRV) is associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality, and low HRV has been proposed as a marker for disease (Thayer and Lane, 2007; Thayer et al., 2010b). The basic data for the calculation of all the measures of HRV is the sequence of time intervals between heart beats. This interbeat interval time series is used to calculate the variability in the timing of the heart beat. As mentioned earlier the heart is dually innervated by the autonomic nervous system such that relative increases in sympathetic activity are associated with heart rate increases and relative increases in parasympathetic activity are associated with heart rate decreases.

Thus relative sympathetic increases cause the time between heart beats (the interbeat interval) to become shorter and relative parasympathetic increases cause the interbeat interval to become longer.

The differential effects of the ANS on…s the timing of the heart beats, are due to the differential effects of the neurotransmitters for the sympathetic (norepinephrine) and parasympathetic (acetylcholine) nervous systems. The sympathetic effects are slow, on the time scale of seconds, whereas the parasympathetic effects are fast, on the time scale of milliseconds. Therefore the parasympathetic influences are the only ones capable of producing rapid changes in the beat to beat timing of the heart.

In summary, the heart and the brain are connected bidirectionally. Efferent outflow from the brain affects the heart and afferent outflow from the heart affects the brain. Importantly, the vagus is an integral part of this heart–brain system and vagally mediated HRV appears to be capable of providing valuable information about the functioning of this system.

 

HRV and emotional regulation In addition to being linked to vmPFC and amygdala modulation, emotion regulation is linked to HRV (Appelhans and Luecken, 2006; Thayer and Brosschot, 2005). Individuals with greater emotion regulation ability have been shown to have greater levels of restingHRV(Appelhans andLuecken,2006; Thayer andLane,2009). In addition, during successful performance on emotion regulation tasks HRV appears to be increased (Butler et al., 2006; Ingjaldsson et al., 2003; Smith et al., 2011).

We have investigated the role of HRV in emotional regulation attwo differentlevels of analysis. One level is at the trait or tonic level where individual differences in resting HRV have been associated with differences in emotional regulation. We have shown that individuals with higher levels of resting HRV, compared to those with lower resting levels, produce context appropriate emotional responses as indexed by emotion-modulated startle responses, fear-potentiated startle responses, and phasic heart rate responses in addition to behavioral and self-reported emotional responses (Melzig et al., 2009; Ruiz-Padial et al., 2003; Thayer and Brosschot, 2005). In addition, we have recently shown that individuals with low resting HRV show delayed recovery from psychological stressors of cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune responses compared to those with higher levels of resting HRV (Weber et al., 2010). Thus, individuals with higher resting levels of HRV appear more able to produce context appropriate responses including appropriate recovery after the stressor has ended.

Another level of analysis is at the state or phasic level where HRV values increase during the successful regulation of emotion during emotion regulation tasks. Thus, it has been shown that phasic increases in HRV in response to situations that require emotional regulation facilitate effective emotional regulation. In an early study, we showed that HRV increased in recovering alcoholics in response to alcohol cues but only if they later reported an increased ability to resist a drink. Those recovering alcoholics that later reported an urge to drink did not exhibit increased HRV during the alcohol cues (Ingjaldsson et al., 2003). A recent replication and extension of this work reported increased HRV during the successful regulation of emotion by either reappraisal or suppression (Butler et al., 2006). We have recently shown that the increase in HRV associated with emotional regulation is accompanied by concomitant cerebral blood flow changes in areas identified as being important in emotional regulation and inhibitory processes (Lane et al., 2009).

, the amygdala, which has outputs to autonomic, endocrine, and other physiological regulation systems, and becomes active during threat and uncertainty, is under tonic inhibitory control via GABAergic mediated projections from the prefrontal cortex (Davidson, 2000; Thayer, 2006).

. Thayer and Lane (2000) suggested that a common reciprocal inhibitory cortico-subcortical neural circuit serves as the structural link between psychological processes like emotion and cognition, and health-related physiological processes, and that this circuit can be indexed with HRV. Thus, because of these reciprocally interconnected neural structures that allow prefrontal cortex to exert an inhibitory influence on sub-cortical structures, the organism is able to respond to demands from the environment, and organize their behavior effectively. In the next section we briefly review the evidence for the relationship of HRV to this network of neural structures and further specify the prefrontal regions involved in the inhibitory control of the heart.

 

TBC

References

1. Thayer, J. F., Åhs, F., Fredrikson, M., Sollers, J. J., & Wager, T. D. (2012). A meta-analysis of heart rate variability and neuroimaging studies: implications for heart rate variability as a marker of stress and health. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(2), 747-756.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intolerance of Uncertainty and Distorted thinking About the Future

Another common area I feel addiction has with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is intolerance of uncertainty (IU).

In fact it is also associated with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)- there is actually a high co-morbidity  (at least around 40% comorbidity) with addiction and PTSD and it is one so-called co-morbidity that does not naturally dissipate like some others months into recovery such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Depression (the 14% rates of depression and GAD in recovery people are the same as for a normal population) but remains and often makes the symptomatic manifestations of addiction more severe, especially the tendency to engage in “fight or flight” reactions” to uncertainty and ambiguity.

I will blog more on this co-morbidity in later blogs.

The study we cite today in fact looks at IU in addicts who have suffered trauma (1).

Intolerance of uncertainty is a term that refers to a certain way in which some people perceive and respond to situations that are uncertain, and it has been found to be associated with the experience of PTSD symptoms.

Individuals who respond to uncertain or unpredictable situations in this way are considered to have an intolerance of uncertainty. People who are intolerant of uncertainty may begin to experience constant worry about what could happen in the future.

One study (1) demonstrated that negative emotion regulation strategy and intolerance of uncertainty can significantly explain the craving beliefs in addicts (especially those who have suffered a traumatic experience).

This result is consistent with that of Asadi Majareh, Abedini, Porsharifi and Nilkokar (2013) and Nasiri Shushi (2011).

Nasiri Shushi (2011) revealed that there is a significant difference among substance abuse and intolerance of ambiguity and tolerance of uncertainty in two groups of drug abusers.

The other results of this study showed that addicts have less tolerance of ambiguity and tolerance of uncertainty. In the implications of these results it should be expressed that tolerance of uncertainty is associated with cognitive features and addicts when they are faced with difficult situations act in very low levels of performance in terms of decision-making.

Studies carried out to investigate the characteristics of drug abusers suggest that they use substances to regulate a wide range of cognitive events. Undoubtedly unpleasant emotional states, particularly anxiety, depression and stress in addicts are associated with the cognitive consequences.”

The authors suggest that “Drug abusers are not able to tolerate the unpleasant situations and uncertainty in the stressful conditions and their sensitivity leads to mental and emotional problems, therefore, they more turn to substances to regulate their own cognitive experiences (Spada, Nikčević, Moneta, Wells, 2007).

The results of a study showed that individuals with lower tolerance to ambiguity find the ambiguous situations threatening… Many of them may find the substance use in the face of difficulties the only solution and therefore are not able to think or consider other solutions.”

“….While, those with high tolerance to ambiguity in face of unpleasant situation and uncertainty try to find a good solution to get rid of this condition as soon as possible…those with a low tolerance to ambiguity and uncertainty cannot find an appropriate solution…and consequently turn to undetected compromise strategies such as the use of the substance (Ahmadi-Tahoorsoltani and Najafy, 2012).”

I can relate to this study. As I still suffer from intolerance of uncertainty (IU) in recovery, and some years into recovery, it is safe to assume that I suffered form IU in addictive addiction also, if not more so?

For me dealing with an uncertain future can still provoke anxiety. In recovery groups, like AA, we often hear sensible suggestions such as do not “project into the future”, which basically means do not attempt to control future events by thinking about them because this is not only impossible but also anxiety inducing.

The main reason why I think me and other alcoholics cannot project into the future and reasonably reflect and deliberate possible outcomes is because we may have an intrinsic impairment in this regard.

We, or some of us, especially those who have suffered trauma in earlier years, may have IU, like OCD sufferers.

The number of times I rang my sponsor in early recovery to help me with projecting into the future was legion.

Having some one else to talk and share with helps us recruit the pre frontal part of the brain so that we can either see the sense in not not projecting into an unknown future or get help in reasoning through what is likely to occur then.

The difficulty I had and can still have is that my projection into the future is still negatively biased, it is still prompted by distress based cognitive distortions.

As we will see in later blogs these types of cognitive distortions proliferate across a wide range of addictive disorders such as eating disorders which we consider in our next blog.

Among this cognitive distortions is catastrophic thinking which is also distressed based. I will also blog on this at a later date. My head can still run away with itself and convince itself about something which is patently not the case. It can persuade me that this is person or that is doing this or that for these reasons. All of which on reflection are usually nonsense. For me this is like a type of delusion. It is a part of my condition that my head can trick me into believing a whole range of ideas that are delusional. Sometimes I realise this only weeks and months later.

And some people wonder why we turn our lives over to a power greater than ourselves!!?

All this distorted thinking is distressed based.

Which means there is chronically excessive stress chemicals like glucocorticoids being synthesized and whirling around one’s brain. If you give some one enough glucocorticoid there is a good chance they will end up in psychosis. In the 1950s glucocorticoids were used as an anti depressant until people started ending up in psychosis.

Ultimately when we engage in this negatively biased and distorted thinking we have potentially taken the first steps in a walk to relapse because that will eventually seem a whole lot better idea than psychosis?

These cognitive distortions (and there are many)  may even be at the heart of this condition of addictive behaviour.

They are also the consequence of an impaired ability to process emotions (and to avoid) them and thus regulate them. This leads to a tendency to fight or flight which only leads to an heightening of this anxiety, and an increased proliferation of distressing thoughts about future possiblilities, all of which can seem to become more and more catastrophic. How much these thoughts are specifically linked to trauma has to be further explored by research.

For me IU and thought action fusion, especially in early recovery caused as many problems as so-called defects of character. The only difficulty is that they are not mentioned in AA literature, or the Big Book. That does not mean that they do not exist simply because they were not discussed as psychological manifestations commonly known to alcoholics in the 1930s.

They are however known now, which is why I write this blog. To add to our sum of knowledge about this strange illness…

That is not to say having a reassuring sponsor and taking inventory cannot deal with these issues. It is useful however to be aware of them and to realise that not every one in recovery has suffered traumatic incidents. Those who have can have additional requirements in terms of recovery.

I always found it comforting to have a sponsor in the early days who was there and who could also relate to the trauma side of my alcoholism and addiction. It helped soothe me when I could not self soothe. Helped me realise I was not alone in this, that I could recover like this other trauma sufferer could. We can do stuff we can’t do alone.

Ultimately with such an impaired ability to see things reasonably and to make decisions rationally it is imperative to evoke a cardinal recovery rule for me, Accept, Let Go and Let God.

The most profound way to regulated emotions. To Let it Be.

I also used a thing I borrowed and rephrased from Jeffey Schwartz, a leading expert on OCD, how suggested OCD sufferers when in the grip of some obsession to say to themselves “It’s not me it’s my OCD”.

So if your head gets into a downward spiral over some event your head distorts into being and likely to happen in the dark, threatening, Gothic never never world of the future, say to your self “It’s not me it’s my illness.”

In the UK it is called the fanatic in the attic.

It does the thinking for you, if you allow it. Guaranteed.

 

References

Fizollahi, S., Abolghasemi, A., & Babazadeh, A. THE ROLE OF EMOTION REGULATION, DISSOCIATIVE EXPERIENCES AND INTOLERANCE OF UNCERTAINTY IN THE PREDICTION OF CRAVING BELIEFS IN DRUG ABUSERS WITH TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE.

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.

120px-Orbital_gyrus_animation_small2

 

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.

128px-Amyg

 

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.

Eating Disorders based on a Body “Feeling State” Confusion?

Here we look at emotion processing deficits in eating disorders and whether the extent of these difficulties can predict treatment outcome three years later.  This would demonstrate the ongoing role of emotion processing, as conceptualised as alexithymia, plays an ongoing role in the pathomechanism driving eating disorders.

This article also had a very good description of the somatic/emotional confusion which creates that unpleasant feeling state we have referred to before which appears to end in compulsive reactive behaviour rather than goal-directed, adaptive, evaluative, action-outcome thinking.

As we have shared before this is due to emotions not be labelled and used as guides to recruit goal directed parts of the brain but rather in their emotionally undifferentiated state they appear to compel us to react rather than consider our long term actions and their consequences.

“Several cross-sectional studies have reported high levels of alexithymia in populations with eating disorders.

However, only few studies, fraught with multiple methodological biases, have assessed the prognostic value of alexithymic features in these disorders. The aim of this study (1) was to investigate the long-term prognostic value of alexithymic features in a sample of patients with eating disorders.

The Difficulty  Identifying Feelings factor of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20), often used to assess levels of alexithymia, emerged as a significant
predictor of treatment outcome. In other words, the results  of this study indicated that difficulty in identifying feelings can act as a negative prognostic ( meaning predictive of something in the future)   factor of the long-term outcome of patients with eating disorders.

eating_disorder_by_ttonny-d2yezty (1)

 

The authors of this study also suggested that professionals should carefully monitor emotional identification and expression in patients with eating disorders and develop specific strategies to encourage labeling and sharing of emotions.

The identification of variables that predict treatment outcome in patients with eating disorders is critical if we are to increase the degree of sophistication with which we treat eating disorders…Among the several psychological features that have been proposed to predict treatment outcome in patients with eating disorders, alexithymia has attracted special interest.
Alexithymia is a personality construct characterized (partly) by a difficulty in identifying and describing feelings.

Several arguments, namely, factor analyses and longitudinal studies, have supported the view that alexithymia is a stable personality trait rather than a state-dependent phenomenon linked to depression or to clinical status [3,4].

Several studies have reported high levels of alexithymia in patients with eating disorders, especially in individuals with anorexia nervosa [5–8]. There are several reasons to believe that this construct could play a major role in the illness course of eating disorders: due to their cognitive limitations in emotion regulation, alexithymic individuals with eating disorders may resort to
maladaptive self-stimulatory behaviors such as starving, bingeing, or drug misuse to self-regulate disruptive emotions.

The results of our study indicate that one of the facets of the alexithymia construct, the difficulty in identifying feelings, is a negative prognostic factor for the long-term outcome of patients with eating disorders. Patients with the
greatest difficulties at identifying emotions at baseline are more often symptomatic at follow-up and show a less favorable clinical improvement.

There are several ways in which alexithymia can affect the clinical outcome of eating disorders: via the negative influence it exerts on the clinical expression of the disorders and on the response to therapeutic interventions.

First, the difficulty in identifying feelings may reduce the capacity of patients with eating disorders to adapt to stressful situations [28]. Such situations generate an emotional overflow that alexithymic subjects apprehend less by emotional and cognitive features than by their associated somatic indexes[29]. This uncertainty between feelings and bodily sensations reminds us of the interoceptive (a sensitivity to stimuli originating inside of the body) confusion proposed by Hilde Bruch [30,31].

Luminet et al. [32] have experimentally observed a dissociation of the components of the emotional response of alexithymic subjects (a physiological hyperreactivity to emotional stimuli associated to a deficit at the level of the cognitive experience), which illustrate the functioning of patients with eating disorders.

Faced with the physiological arousal induced by emotional demands, these patients may show poor adaptive strategies. They may resort to restricted patterns of repetitive and automated behaviors, such as the hyperactivity of anorexic individuals or the binges/purge cycles of bulimic  subjects, which temporarily relieve their feeling of discomfort and restore their inner equilibrium [33,34] but generate, in the long term, a positive reinforcement of the eating disorder. 

Second, alexithymia may be related to a chronic course of eating disorders by its relationship with other pathological behaviors, especially with addictive disorders. We have shown in previous studies that alexithymia is associated
with addictive behaviors in patients with bulimia [35].

Patients with eating disorders may resort to addictive behaviors to relieve the anxious and depressive feelings elicited by their negative perceptions of themselves [36].”

Thus to conclude, eating disorders appear to have the same emotion processing and regulation deficits as other addictive behaviours, particularly emotional differentiation, a difficulty in knowing exactly what one is feeling.

Interestingly eating disorders seem also to be driven by the same negative self perception we have seen in other addictive disorders.

References

1.  Speranza, M., Loas, G., Wallier, J., & Corcos, M. (2007). Predictive value of alexithymia in patients with eating disorders: A 3-year prospective study.Journal of psychosomatic research, 63(4), 365-371.

 

“Eating our Words!?” – Emotion-Processing Deficits in Eating Disorders

In eating disorder patients, an impairment of emotional processing is clinically supposed. As quoted by Bruch (1985), anorexic patients not only show impaired differentiation between hunger and satiety, but they can hardly differentiate their physical sensations from their intimate emotions, which they often cannot describe. Bulimic patients often respond to stress with a bulimic crisis and vomiting, but they can hardly correlate their crisis with any emotional stimulus (Davis, Marsh, 1986).

Several studies suggest that alexithymia is a predominant factor in eating disorder.

Emotional awareness was defined by Lane and Schwartz in the late 1980s as the capacity of an individual to describe his or her own feelings and another person’s emotional experience (Lane & Schwartz, 1987). Lane and Schwartz  conceptualised emotional awareness as a cognitive process undergoing various structural transformations along a cognitive-developmental sequence (1987,
p. 134).

Lane and Schwartz focused on a way to measure the level of emotional awareness an individual has reached. For these authors, the degree of structural organization of emotional awareness is reflected by the verbal material individuals provide to describe their emotional experience. They pinpoint that emotional experience does not require language to be conscious, but that language helps to structure and
establish concepts, and therefore increases the ability to discriminate between differentiated emotional states.

From this point of view, Lane, Quinlan, Schwartz, Walker, and Zeitlan (1990) elaborated the Levels of Emotional Awareness Scale (LEAS), which is aimed at evaluating an individual’s capacity to describe not only his or her own emotional experience but also the emotional states of others. The scoring of this instrument is based on the analysis of the verbal contents the individual provides in response to a series of 20 short stories depicting a variety of emotional situations. The discriminant validity of this instrument has confirmed that the level of emotional awareness is independent of depression and anxiety (Bydlowski et al., 2002;
Lane et al., 1990).

 

Alexithymia was considered by Lane and Schwartz  as corresponding to the lower end of the emotional awareness continuum, that is, the preconceptual level of emotion organization and regulation within their hierarchical model. Indeed, alexithymia can be viewed as a deficit in the cognitive processes involved in the representation of emotional internal and external experiences, characterized by the
persistence of cognitive-affective modalities of the first levels of development, below the concrete operational level (where emotions are experienced somatically).

 

eating-disorder-clinic-300x250

 

This study (1) in accordance with their initial hypothesis, demonstrated that patients suffering  from eating disorders showed evidence of an emotion-processing deficit independent of affective disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

In the current study, individuals with an eating disorder were characterized by a global emotion processing deficit, with impaired ability to identify their own emotions, as well as an impairment in judging others’ emotional experience.

In our study, anorexic patients had a significantly lower level of emotional awareness than bulimic patients, Our results are in line with those
of Smith, Amner, Johnsson, and Franck (1997), who showed a marked tendency of these patients to develop alternative strategies to avoid empathizing.
These strategies are not limited to the restricted use of emotional words. According to the authors, eating disorder patients have good verbal skills, but
cannot use them adequately to describe their emotional experience, indicating a pronounced in capacity for emotional understanding.

The current report is also consistent with clinical descriptions of the types of affective difficulties characteristic of anorexics and bulimics. Indeed, some authors consider the deficits in the processing of the subjective experience and the perception of oneself as the most fundamental difficulties of this type of disorder (Corcos, 2000; De Groot & Rodin,
1994; Jeammet, 1997).

These subjects seem to have a limited access to their emotional life and/or feel easily dominated and overwhelmed by their emotions  (Bruch, 1962). Thus, the ability to take into account one’s own emotions is diminished in individuals  with eating disorders, probably because body sensations cannot be related to affects, or because the perception of undifferentiated body impulses prevents understanding of how affects are elaborated. Lacking knowledge of their own emotions, these individuals are not able to represent another person’s emotional experience.

Because the capacity to differentiate one’s own and others’ emotions in a given context is associated with the ability to tolerate and manage a large number of emotional states, emotions that are not integrated remain global and undifferentiated, which leads to an incapacity to use affects to guide the selection of an adapted behavior (Krystal, 1974),

These emotion-processing deficits induce intense, often uncontrolled, affective reactions. The food related behavioral problems of anorexic and bulimic
patients have been conceptualized as a consequence of the incapacity to control distressing emotions through psychic processes (Taylor, 1997a).

Abnormal eating behaviors would thus represents a way of discharging negative affects.

With the demonstration of increased secretion of cerebral b-endorphin in patients with anorexia nervosa perhaps eating disorders should, therefore, be regarded as addictive behaviours, whose purpose is to control the subject’s affective inner turmoil (Jeammet-1997).

The finding that neither level of emotional awareness scores nor alexithymia scores were correlated with the duration of illness suggests that emotional internal life impoverishment is not due to the severity of the disorder. One may wonder whether this deficit predates the occurrence of the disease, potentially favoring the development of eating disorders. This hypothesis is in line with the point of view of some authors who consider alexithymia to be a predisposing factor in addictive behaviours (Taylor, 1997a, 1997b).

References

1. Bydlowski, S., Corcos, M., Jeammet, P., Paterniti, S., Berthoz, S., Laurier, C., Chambry, J. and Consoli, S. M. (2005), Emotion-processing deficits in eating disorders. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 37: 321–329.

 

“Staying in Action” Part 3

In this third part of our blog on the gambling addicts version of “dry drunk” we look at further “symptoms” of this. We hasten to add that a good 12 step program would soon iron out  most of these emotional and behavourial manifestations and maintenance of our “emotional sobriety” via steps 10-12 keep them in manageable order.

Nonetheless, this article (1) gives us good insight into the emotional malady we suffer from without a therapeutic solution, and which can creep up on us in many ways even when trying to “work our program” .

Other manifestations of “Staying in Action” –

Flooding

Gamblers who rely on avoidance as a defense mechanism are frequently flooded with feelings and memories when they become abstinent. This can occur in several ways. Most commonly the gambler becomes overwhelmed with guilt as he or she remembers things that were done, people that were hurt, episodes of lying and cheating. A common refrain is “I can’t believe I did that.”

A similar experience is the sudden realization of time wasted. During the years they had been gambling, their lives had gone on and they are now older. There is an acute sense of lost opportunities, and of lost youth and innocence. Disappointment becomes self-pity and there is an impulse to give up or to punish oneself by a return to gambling or some other self-destructive behavior.

A third kind of flooding involves the sudden remembrance of painful and traumatic memories of childhood—physical or sexual abuse, extreme neglect, disturbed parents. This may occur when the patient stops gambling or quits other addictive behaviors.

(( we dealt with these ourselves in steps 4 through to seven, followed up with amends 8-9)  As we have already blogged on previously the steps 4-7 in particular allow one to process memories from the past via the adaptive processing of emotions attached to these memories as well as the realisation they we were in the grip of a profound affective and addictive disorder.   Also as the Big Book states “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”

This transforms our self pity and sense of wasted years into a powerful transformative tool for helping others. It is no longer wasted but the most precious thing we possess in helping others, in sharing our experience, in being there for others because we know what it’s like to feel the way they do, to be where they are at. )

Boredom

According to the description in DSM-IV, as well as the writings of most clinicians (for example, Custer & Milt, 1985, p. 52), the typical pathological gambler is “restless, and easily bored.”  This proneness to boredom has been the focus of two studies (Blaszczynski, McConaghy, & Frankova, 1990; Elia, 1995) that compared pathological gamblers to normal controls; boredom scores were significantly higher for the pathological gamblers.

(Again this ties in with alcoholics without a recovery as per the BB ” being restless, irritable, and discontented”, page xxvi).

For early onset male gamblers, particularly if there have been decades of gambling activity, the gambling was typically how they defined themselves. Without their identity as a gambler, they do not know who they are. Giving up gambling leaves a large vacuum or hole in their lives. They have no other interests, and there are few activities that can compete with the excitement of gambling.

As already noted, boredom can mean understimulated. when they stop gambling and “get off the roller coaster” of strong sensations and self-created crises, they may find the underlying restlessness unbearable.

Patients who are manic also need time to adjust to being normal. What others regard as normal feels like being in slow motion to them, or as if something is missing. They describe it as strange and uncomfortable.

Boredom can mean that individuals cannot be alone because of problems in self-soothing. Boredom can mean that they are left alone with intolerable feelings, such as depression, helplessness, shame, or guilt. There is a need to escape, to get away from themselves.

(as an alcoholic the main reason I gave for drinking was “to get away from myself!”) 

For some, being alone means an intolerable state of emptiness or deadness. Those individuals who did not bond in infancy may carry within themselves an image of parental rejection or disgust, or affects engendered by an overwhelmed mother. Being alone and quiet means experiencing these intolerable affects, which they instead try to externalize through addictive substances and behavior.

Problems with intimacy and commitment

By the time the gambler is in treatment and has stopped gambling, spouse and family members are aware of the debts and depleted finances, the pattern of lying, and other problems. The response is usually one of anger, helplessness, and betrayal. Not infrequently, it is only after the gambling has stopped that the brunt of the spouse’s anger is expressed. This is often difficult for the gambler to understand. The anger is often proportional to the fear of being hurt and betrayed again. Holding on to the anger is a way for family members to protect themselves.

Mistrust of the gambler continues longer than it does with other addictive disorders because a relapse can be so devastating in terms of a family’s financial situation, and also because it is so much more difficult to recognize. As frequently stated, gambling is not something that a wife can smell on her husband’s breath nor observe by his gait or coordination. Nor are there blood or urine tests so that one can detect it with certainty. What we need to emphasize with both patient and family is that reestablishing trust will take time, and that if treatment is successful there will be observable changes in personality as well as behavior.

There are usually problems with intimacy that precede the gambling, in which case they will be there after the individual has stopped. Pathological gamblers often have difficulty being open and vulnerable and depending upon others in a meaningful way.

(I can relate to all of the above too – waking up to an awkward and at times profoundly troubling and distressing emotional illiteracy  is perhaps the last thing one needs in the early days of prolonged withdrawal and feelings of almost overwhelming emotional distress that can sometimes accompany the early weeks and months of recovery)

They have learned to suppress their feelings and to detach from potentially painful situations. Much of the work in therapy has to do with identifying emotions and learning how to express them.

Family members have their own issues which if not dealt with may sabotage the gambler’s recovery (Heineman, 1987; Lorenz, 1989). For example, some of the wives of recovering gamblers will admit that they miss the gifts they received when their husband came home after winning. They confess to a wish that he could have just one more big win, which would allow them to pay off their debts. They may realize they had been living vicariously through him, particularly if he was an “action” or “high stakes” gambler. His optimism and grandiosity were contagious. Initially they may have been attracted to him because he was a man with big dreams, a risk-taker, and big spender. According to Heineman (1987) and others, many wives of compulsive gamblers are adult children of alcoholics or of compulsive gamblers. Living from crisis to crisis may be familiar and exciting for them. In some cases there is a need for the gambler to remain “sick” so that they can take care of him.

Many pathological gamblers were brought up in a home in which intimacy was lacking.  They tolerate financial indebtedness far better than they do emotional indebtedness. Many experience claustrophobia in their personal relationships (Rosenthal, 1986), in fact in any meaningful situation. Commitment is experienced as a trap. They have difficulty saying no, or setting limits. This is related to an excessive need for other people’s approval and validation. When they say they feel trapped by another person, what they mean is that they feel trapped by their own feelings about the other person. They may have projected various expectations or demands on to the other, so that they are overly concerned about disappointing them, or about not being adequate to the task.

Excessive reliance on these projective mechanisms leaves them uncertain as to their boundaries, between inner and outer, self and other. A question they frequently ask themselves: what am I entitled to?

Male gamblers, in particular, are preoccupied with power games (Rosenthal, 1986). Power, as opposed to strength,3 is defined in relation to others, and is invariably gained at someone’s expense.

Relationships take on a seesaw quality, with the gambler battling for power and control.

Due to unresolved guilt about his gambling, a patient felt “onedown” in relation to his wife. He felt unworthy of her and not entitled to be treated decently. He did not verbalize this, but instead provoked fights at home. Similarly, his self-esteem was based on material success. When they had to scale down their lifestyle, he felt diminished. Again feeling like a failure, he blamed others and took it out on those closest to him. Compulsive gamblers are often good at “turning the tables,” so that it is the spouse who feels helpless and inadequate or is apologizing to the gambler and seeking forgiveness. For male gamblers, particularly action seekers, relationships are typically adversarial.

In light of the above, it is not surprising that there are frequent sexual problems (Daghestani, 1987; Steinberg, 1990, 1993). Adkins, Rugle, and Taber (1985) found a 14 percent incidence of sexual addiction within a sample of 100 inpatient male compulsive gamblers. When “womanizing” patterns are investigated, the incidence is closer to 50 percent (Steinberg, 1990, also personal communication). The excitement associated with the pursuit and conquest of women resembles the excitement and “big win” mentality of gambling.

In treating early onset male gamblers, in particular, one typically encounters two patterns of aberrant sexual behavior: (1) celibacy or a kind of phobic avoidance of sexual relationships, and (2) compulsive sexual behavior consisting of promiscuous womanizing, or compulsive masturbation related to various forms of pornography. The two patterns may be mixed.

Success

A closely related problem has to do with difficulties handling success. It may be blown out of proportion. For example, in some parts of the country a GA birthday is a cross between a bar mitzvah and a Friar’s Club roast. Gamblers compete with each other in seeing how many people will attend and who will receive the most glowing testimonials. It is a critical time, in that the achievement of a year’s abstinence, or some other landmark, poses an immediate risk for relapse.

There frequently are unrealistic expectations of what success will mean, so that its achievement leads to disappointment and depression. Sometimes the gambler abstained in order to prove something to someone, in effect to win a mind bet. Sometimes they were doing it for their family or for the therapist, so that after a period of abstinence they feel justified in saying “Okay, I was  good for a year. Now I feel something is owed me so I’m going out to have some fun.” Fun, in this case, of course, means gambling.

 

compulsioncartoon

 

Sometimes their successes are attributed to omnipotent parts of the personality (Rosenthal, 1986). Success can trigger mania.

They get high on their success and grandiosity takes over. Some gamblers are fearful of success, and there is a subset of gamblers with masochistic character disorders. Some of them feel more alive when they are in debt and having to work hard to pay creditors. A critical time is when they are just beginning to get in the black, when they can start to have something for themselves.

The gambler’s relationship with reality may be adversarial, persecutory, or humiliating. The gambler may want to see himself as an exception—exceptional among people, and an exception to the rules. Not wanting to be pinned down, he is looking for “an edge,” or for loopholes. This search for “freedom” is often what gets him into trouble.

Once initial problems have been dealt with and abstinence established, gamblers are often at greatest risk when life starts becoming predictable. Meeting responsibilities and living a “normal” life leads to a feeling of being trapped for those gamblers who have not yet internalized a value system based on facing responsibility. Rather than viewing their new life as a self determined one, gamblers are more likely to see such behavior as externally imposed. Feeling controlled by their own schedule, they experience a need to rebel.

Conclusion

Staying in action is, for the pathological gambler, equivalent to the alcoholic’s dry drunk. It is a way to maintain attitudes and behaviors associated with gambling while superficially complying with treatment and Gamblers Anonymous. After the patient has initially achieved abstinence, it is important to look for more covert forms of gambling and other ways in which the patient may still be in action.

Lasting abstinence requires personality change. At a minimum, there is a need to identify and confront whatever it is from which the gambler is escaping. This would include the intolerable situation and feelings as well as the mechanism of their avoidance. Honesty means more than not lying to others about one’s gambling; it means being honest with oneself about one’s feelings. One learns to take honest emotional risks, rather than those based on the need to manipulate or control external events.

As is true for all addicts, gamblers at the beginning of treatment cannot trust themselves. Self-trust requires self-knowledge, which in turn requires curiosity about oneself. Stated differently, “The key to building self-trust” (Kramer & Alstad, 1993, p. 252) “is the ability to utilize one’s own experience, including (one’s) mistakes, to change.”

(This article (1)  is worthy in addressing the oft unspoken realities of abstinence/sobriety when the emotional dysfunction and emotional immaturity once solely regulated via addictive behaviours seeps into sober life also and the formerly habitualised compulsive approaches to life re-surface in abstinence. There can be quick and profound self transformation in recovery but many of the habitualised behavioural patterns continue to stalk our every day lives, as we ” trudge the road of Happy Destiny”. They are there waitng to resurface. They are normally the consequence of reacting to the world as opposed to acting responsibly in it.

I have an addicted brain and a recovering mind, they do not always mix very well. They pull me in opposite directions and have sometimes heated arguments in my head.

I have to manage my illness. It hasn’t gone away. The drink did not make me ill. It didn’t help but it did not solely make me an alcoholic, some emotional dysfunction worsened by alcohol, drugs and other addictive behaviours did. I had a vulnerability and a propensity to later addictive behaviours. I was primed to go off. If alcohol or drugs were the sole problem I quite simply would have given them up. As I did with cigarettes etc

If I do not try to remain manageable or emotionally sober I can still react and “still go off on one”, on temporary, fleeting dry drunks.

Hey I appear even to have many  “stay in action” similarities and I haven’t gambled since I was 14 years old. Perhaps these emotional and behavioural manifestations have certain commonalities among addictive disorders?  A spiritual malady or emotional dysfunction which activates “old patterns of behaving” ?  

Then again I only gave up gambling on poker machines because I was losing all my drinking money on gambling machines!!))  

 

References

1. Rosenthal, R. J. (2005). Staying in action: The pathological gambler’s equivalent of the dry drunk. Journal of Gambling Issues.

 

 

 

 

Gambling Disorder and Emotional Dysfunction

Following on from our recent blog on emotional dysfunction in sexual addiction we continue our series which explores the inherent role of  emotional dysfunction in all addictive disorders.

We will explore eating disorders later.

Here we use excerpts from a very interesting article (1)  on

Deficits in emotion regulation associated with pathological gambling.

 

“Pathological gambling is recognized as an impulse-control disorder characterized by a loss of control over gambling, deception about the extent of one’s involvement with gambling, and significant family or job disruption (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Failures in self-control, therefore, represent a defining feature of pathological gambling. Self-control involves over-riding impulses by substituting another response in its place (Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000), and failures in self-control are primarily associated with the desire for short-term gains despite associated long-term negative consequences (Baumeister, 1997, Baumeister, Heatherton, & Tice, 1993).

Failures in control over gambling are likely to be influenced by individual coping styles. Problem-focused coping includes active and effortful problem solving, while emotion-focused coping includes escape and avoidance behaviours (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Scannell, Quirk, Smith, Maddern, and Dickerson (2000) suggested that loss of control over gambling is associated with emotion-focused coping such as avoidance or escape. This suggestionhas been supported by evidence that gamblers demonstrate deficits in coping repertoires (McCormick, 1994) and some rely on gambling to provide an escape from personal or familial problems (Corless & Dickerson, 1989; Lesieur & Rosenthal, 1991). Finally, in a sample of adolescent gamblers, those identified as at-risk for developing pathological gambling behaviours were those who exhibited more emotion-focused coping styles
(Gupta & Derevensky, 2001).

Gambling behaviours, therefore, seem to be associated with a deficit in self-control
processes that may be exacerbated by reliance on coping styles characterized by
avoidance and escape. At a more basic level, difficulties managing emotions effectively may contribute to the use of maladaptive coping strategies and result in failures in self regulation and impulse control. Optimal self-regulation relies on being able to focus on long-term goals in the presence of emotional distress that tends to shift attention to the immediate present (Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000). In addition, struggling with one’s feelings may deplete coping resources and leads to decreased self-control (Baumeister, Muraven, & Tice, 2000), leading to increased risk of disinhibited or impulsive behaviour.

Finally, individuals who are feeling acute emotional distress will likely wish to escape via activities that promise immediate pleasure (Tice, Bratslavsky, & Baumeister, 2001) and pathological gamblers often report using gambling to escape from negative mood states (Blaszczynski & McConaghy, 1989; Getty, Watson, & Frisch, 2000).

Emotion regulation refers to strategies to influence, experience, and modulate
emotions (Gross, 1999). Although there are several factors that influence whether a
certain emotion-regulation strategy is adaptive in a particular situation, certain strategies appear to be costly and maladaptive. For example, suppression or avoidance of emotions is associated with increased negative effect and anxiety, physiological activity, and physical pain (Campbell-Sills, Barlow, Brown, & Hoffman, 2006; Gross & Levenson, 1997; Levitt, Brown, Orsillo, & Barlow, 2004; Masedo & Esteve, 2007). Experimental investigations also support the notion that the effort of suppressing emotions drains mental resources (Richards & Gross, 2000), which could lead to decreased self-control.

Ricketts and Macaskill (2003) investigated several techniques that gamblers use to
modify their emotions, one of which was the technique of ‘shutting off’ or using gambling in order to stop an unpleasant emotional state. Participants receiving treatment for gambling were interviewed or watched during treatment sessions and administered questionnaires. Patients who used the technique of ‘shutting off’ were often the ones who also reported poorly tolerating emotional discomfort (Ricketts & Macaskill, 2003).

According to Baumeister, Zell, and Tice (2007), emotional distress leads to an increase in self-awareness, which consequently leads to a desire to decrease ones self-awareness, but at the cost of self-regulation. If one is unable to self-regulate, this could lead to an addiction or a relapse of an addictive behaviour (Sayette, 2004).

Impulse control represents one of the major behavioural aspects of emotion regulation (Gratz & Roemer, 2004) and has been identified as an important component of addictive processes (Evenden, 1999). More specifically, research has demonstrated that failures of emotion regulation are associated with addictive behaviours (Coffey & Hartman, 2008; Fox, Axelrod, Paliwal, Sleeper, & Sinha, 2007; Goudriaan, Oosterlaan, De Beurs, & Van Den Brink, 2008; Lakey, Campbell, Brown, & Goodie, 2007).

Several recent studies have employed the Difficulties in Emotion-Regulation Scale (DERS), a recently developed and validated measure of emotion regulation, in assessing behavioural addictions (Bonn-Miller, Vujanovic, & Zvolensky, 2008; Fox et al., 2007; Fox, Hong, & Sinha, 2008). The DERS assesses both general deficits in emotion regulation and deficits in specific domains of regulation. It is based on a model of emotion dysregulation that includes: (1) deficits in awareness and understanding of emotional experience (i.e., clarity), (2) minimal access to strategies to manage one’s emotions, (3) non-acceptance of emotions (i.e., reactivity to one’s emotional state), and (4) impaired ability to act in desired ways regardless of emotional state (i.e., impulsivity and an inability to engage in goal-directed behaviour).

The goal of the present study was therefore to examine emotion regulation difficulties among individuals being treated in a specialist gambling clinic and
to compare the use of strategies to a mixed clinical comparison group and a sample
of healthy community controls. Specifically, we investigated the association between
emotion-regulation deficits and gambling pathology using two measures of emotion
regulation, the DERS and the Emotional Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ; Gross & John, 2003). The ERQ examines the habitual use of two specific emotion-regulation strategies, namely expressive suppression and cognitive reappraisal. The use of suppression reduces the outward expression of emotions in the short term, but is less effective in reducing emotions in the long term and is, therefore, considered a maladaptive emotion-regulation strategy (Gross, 1998; John & Gross, 2004). Cognitive reappraisal involves changing the meaning associated with a particular situation so that the emotional impact is altered (Gross, 1999; Siemer, Mauss, & Gross, 2007). Reappraisal is considered an adaptive strategy to regulate one’s internal states and is associated with higher self-reported positive emotions and fewer depressive symptoms (Gross & John, 2003; Mauss, Cook, Cheng, & Gross, 2007).

gambling-slots-cover (1)

 

 

Discussion

As expected, we found a significant relationship between self-reported problem,
gambling behaviour, and negative effect as measured by the DASS, as well as deficits
in emotion regulation as measured by the DERS.

With respect to group differences, the gambling group reported a greater lack
of awareness of their emotions compared to both comparison groups.

With respect to the overall findings of emotional dysregulation, Blaszczynski and
Nower (2002) proposed a pathway model of the determinants of gambling and identified three separate trajectories into problem gambling. Of relevance to the current study, the authors identified an emotionally vulnerable group of problem gamblers who used gambling as a way to regulate affective states by providing either emotional escape or arousal.

According to the pathway model, once a habitual pattern of gambling behaviours has been established, the combination of emotional vulnerabilities, conditioned responses, distorted cognitions, and decision-making deficits maintain the cycle of pathological gambling. Blaszczynski and Nower (2002) suggest that such emotional vulnerabilities make treatment more difficult in this particular group of gamblers and emphasize the need to address these underlying vulnerabilities in addition to directly targeting gambling behaviours in therapy. It may, therefore, be of therapeutic benefit to specifically assess for and target emotion-regulation strategies in this population of gamblers.

Given the gamblers in the current study demonstrated limited access to effective strategies for managing difficult emotions, it may be important for clinicians to address coping strategies (including emotion-focussed strategies) as a part of any comprehensive treatment package. Gamblers need to be able to recognize and modify unhelpful thinking patterns (both in relation to problem gambling situations and, more generally, to other life stressors).

It is also important that the clinician is aware of any deficits in emotion-regulation strategies to ensure that the client is prepared to guard against relapse, given that the ability to tolerate distress is associated with increased length of abstinence from gambling (Daughters et al., 2005).

. More specifically, given the finding that gamblers were less aware of their feelings, mindfulness strategies may be useful to increase awareness of one’s
emotions. This could potentially be helpful in reducing automatic and habitual responses, particularly in high-risk situations. Decreasing emotional avoidance through mindfulness may also assist pathological gamblers in better understanding the impact of various mood states on their behaviour. Individuals who experience heightened awareness of emotions, and who learn to observe and act in a more aware manner, are less likely to engage in maladaptive behaviours such as gambling (Lakey et al., 2007).”

 

References

1. Williams, A. D., Grisham, J. R., Erskine, A., & Cassedy, E. (2012). Deficits in emotion regulation associated with pathological gambling. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 51(2), 223-238.

Different addictive behaviours all centre on the same inherent difficulties.

by alcoholicsguide

 

Commonalities across all addictive disorders. 

There are those, and some in treatment centres, who maintain that addiction is addiction is addiction. I have not always been convinced by this, mainly because I see differences in temperament and personality among different types of addicts (i.e alcoholics often appear different to heroin addicts in my mind) but these supposed and perhaps superficial distinctions may be masking inherent similarities or commonalities in the aetiology of all addictive disorders. There seems to be commonalities in particular between alcoholics, sex addicts, gambling addicts and those with eating disorders.  This commonality may also help explain “cross addiction” – the tendency to become addicted to various things, whether substances or behaviours.
I personally have become” addicted” in very short periods of time to chocolate and many other substances and behaviours, such as constantly having to watch my workaholic behaviour. By addicted I mean I have quickly suffered addictive behaviour symptoms such as excessive consumption, pathological craving, physiological withdrawals from the substance or behaviour and the gamut of negative emotions surrounding my shame and despair  at these obsessive compulsive behaviours. I can’t take it or leave in relation to many things in my life. Period!
There seems to a “manic hamster on the treadmill” mechanism in me that gets ignited by my engaging in what appears to be the most innocuous behaviour. Suddenly, whatever it is, leads me to want more, more, MORE of it!
I have an addicted brain and a recovering mind. 
What is this intrinsic mechanism in my brain? What trips the switch towards addictive behaviour? This is the heart of the question.
How does the brain tumble towards unbridled wanting. What leads our brain to suddenly say I NEED THIS! rather than simply wanting it?
Why does the most simple behavioural decision suddenly seem life or death, urgent, most necessary? Why a such a sudden recruitment of this emergency state? For us it is due to the limbic and subcortical areas, the “fight or flight” areas of the brain being recruited to make the most simple decision urgent. Even the most simple decisions seem to involve feeling about our very survival. As we have blogged about before in “Why a “Spiritual Solution” to a Neurobiological Disease?” survival becomes the domain of these emergency parts of the brain so we do everything like there is no tomorrow, It is everything or nothing NOW. We need these things. Our survival regions have become extreme and constantly react, not act.
Our very survival has become habitually and compulsive governed as if our brains are constantly under siege.
These commonalities centre on the fundamental role we believe emotional processing and regulation deficits have in these various types of addictive disorder. It may be these deficits that are present in all addictive behaviours and  it may suggest that they are fundamental mechanisms in driving addictive behaviours forward.
In a previous blog we showed how these areas of emotional dysfunction may even be inherited in many, so it is tempting to conclude that the vulnerability, or some of the major vulnerabilities that addicts and those with addictive behaviours inherit are the impaired ability to process and regulate emotions which leads to fundamental decision making difficulties and distress-based impulslivity (as the lack of processing emotions represents as distress signals act to relief these states not guide reflective decision making) which combine to shape the rest of their lives.
The encouraging aspect is that at an affective-cognitive level it may be possible to target these deficits in children at risk via prevention programs.
It illustrates what addicts of various types have said about their illness, however, that they suffer from an emotional disease.
The solution may be prevention and/or intervention to shore up these difficulties which is primarily what various treatments do without explicitly saying so. We first need to state categorically this is what we think drives addictive behaviours and then use complementary therapeutic strategies to specifically address these vulnerabilities.
We have to relearn emotions, how to identity, label, verbalise, process and subsequently regulate our emotions so that we become less impulsively driven and ultimately make better decisions in our lives.

We have in previous blogs discussed how substance addiction seems to have emotional processing and regulation deficits at the heart of their manifestation and act as pathomechanisms in propelling these disorders to eventual  chronicity.

In the next series of blogs we will be discussing whether fundamental emotional processing and regulation deficits are common to (or intrinsic to the aetiology of) other addictive disorders too).

First up, we discuss emotional (or otherwise known in research as affective) dysregulation in those with Hypersexual Disorder or more commonly know to lay persons as sexual addiction.

Hypersexual Disorder – the proposed diagnostic criteria that were given consideration for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder Fifth Edition (DSM-5) characterize hypersexual disorder (HD) (1) which is commonly known as sexual addiction.

This study (1) states that HD is a phenomenon involving repetitive and intense preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors, leading to adverse consequences and clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning(Bancroft, 2008; Kafka, 2010; Kaplan & Krueger, 2010; Marshall & Briken, 2010; Reid, Garos, & Fong, 2012).

Patients seeking help for HD typically experience multiple unsuccessful attempts to control or diminish the amount of time spent engaging in sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors in response to dysphoric mood states or stressful life events (Kafka, 2010).

Personality characteristics such as proneness to boredom (Chaney
& Blalock, 2006), impulsivity and shame (Reid, Garos, & Carpenter, 2011), interpersonal sensitivity, alexithymia, loneliness, and low self-esteem also have been observed in association with hypersexual behavior (Reid, Dhuffar, Parhami, & Fong, 2012; Reid, Stein, et al., 2011; Reid, Carpenter, Spackman, & Willes, 2008). Collectively, these  characteristics create significant challenges for hypersexual patients.

The importance of finding effective treatments for HD cannot be underestimated given the gravity of its consequences (Reid, Garos, et al., 2012): Hypersexual patients are at increased risk for loss of employment, legal problems, social isolation, higher rates of divorce (Reid & Woolley, 2006; Reid, Carpenter, Draper, & Manning, 2010; Zapf, Greiner, & Carroll, 2008), and sexually transmitted infections (Coleman et al., 2010; Dodge, Reece, Cole, & Sandfort, 2004; Rinehart & McCabe, 1997, 1998).

This study found (1) significant associations between unpleasant emotions, impulsivity, stress proneness, and hypersexuality replicating findings
noted in other studies (Reid et al., 2008; Reid, 2010). The findings in this study also offer some support for the DSM-5 proposed classification criteria for HD (Kafka, 2010). Specifically, stress and emotional dysregulation have been hypothesized as precipitating and perpetuating risk factors for hypersexuality, and, accordingly,  correlations to reflect this relationship, were consistent with findings of this study (1).

Another study (2) looked at  investigating alexithymia, emotional instability, and vulnerability to stress proneness among individual seeking help for hypersexual behavior. Findings (2) provide evidence for the hypothesis thatindividuals who manifest symptoms of hypersexual behavior are more likely to experience deficits in affect regulation and negative affect (including
alexithymia,  depression, and vulnerability to stress).

Sex-Addiction-Impulse-Treatment-Center

An increasing number of individuals are seeking help for hypersexual behavior related to a constellation of symptoms that reflect difficulties in regulating sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

This study’s (2) conceptualization of this phenomenon keys onbehavior dysregulation as manifest through exaggerated frequency and focus on sexual behavior (from sexual activity with partners, to use of pornography, sexual fantasy, or other erotic stimuli, to excessive masturbation).

Hypersexual behavior may include a sense of being out of control or a history of failed attempts at increased control, and it encompasses elements common to other psychiatric dysfunctions, such as impaired functioning in aspects of daily living, subjective distress, and deficits in coping strategies for addressing uncomfortable affective experiences (e.g., anxiety reduction), usually because of over reliance on sexual behavior as a means of affective regulation and relief. Many patients presenting with hypersexual behavior also report incongruence between their values and beliefs and their sexual behavior.

This study, used the definition of Reid and Woolley (2006) was used
to operationalize hypersexual behavior as: difficulty in regulating (e.g., diminishing or inhibiting) sexual thoughts, feelings, or behavior to the extent that negative consequences are experienced by self or others. The behavior causes significant levels of personal or interpersonal distress and may include activities that are incongruent with personal values, beliefs, or desired goals.The behavior may function as a maladaptive coping mechanism (e.g., used to avoid emotional pain or used as a tension-reduction activity)…. (p. 220)

“It may be that such persons possess deficits in affective regulation similar to those encompassed by the constructs of alexithymia and neuroticism. . It
is plausible that such deficits would influence exaggerated sexual behavior
in some persons (e.g., in the absence of other coping strategies for successful affective monitoring and regulation, the stress-reduction aspects of sexual behavior as a substitute may be powerfully reinforced).

Adams and Robinson (2001), as well as others (e.g., Schwartz & Masters,
1994; Wilson, 2000), have theoretically postulated thathypersexuality represents a compensatory behavior that attempts to alleviate symptom distress associated with problems of affect regulation. A similar theory among individuals with eating disorders was advanced by Heatherton and Baumeister (1991), who argued that motivation for binge eating emerged as an attempt to escape from negative appraisals associated with self-awareness and unpleasant mood states triggered by stressful events.
It can be reasonably argued that sexual activity provides a mood-altering experience enabling individuals to disassociate from uncomfortable, awkward, or unpleasant emotions (Quayle, Vaughan, & Taylor, 2006).

The power of sexual experience to shield one from negative emotions, then, probably arises from sexual arousal’s inherent ability to create intense focus on the competing state of pleasurable arousal, as well as the release of tension associated with orgasm. Furthermore, some individuals may find that fantasizing about sexual activity provides a greater distraction than partnered activity because it encourages—and maybe even requires— disconnect from relationships with their inherent problems, challenges, and complexities.

One plausible way to understand hypersexuality is seeing behaviors associated with reward, distraction, or soothing—such as overeating, exaggerated focus on somatic complaints, substance abuse, or hypersexuality—as being particularly likely in those for whom emotional distancing has high priority. This need for emotional distance can arise from increased stress proneness, negative affective states, emotional pain associated with unresolved trauma, or the inability to develop and form secure attachment bonds.

Our clinical impressions of patients displaying hypersexuality, as defined above, are consistent with those of other researchers who have suggested that alexithymic individuals seek tension reduction from uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions (Keltikangas-Jarvinen, 1982; Kroner & Forth,
1995; Zimmermann, Rossier, de Stadelhofen, & Gaillard, 2005), thereby contributing to their eating disorders (Corcos et al., 2000; Larsen, van Strien, & Eisinga, 2006), substance abuse (Haviland, Hendryx, Shaw, & Henry, 1994),
and the like. Our rationale for suggesting associations of stress vulnerability, emotional instability, and alexithymia with hypersexual behavior also stems, in part, from our own observations of poor affect regulation and deficits in stress management among these patients.

Research supports some associations between alexithymia and stress. For instance, high, as compared to low, alexithymic individuals show different cardiovascular response to stress (e.g., Linden, Lenz, & Stossel, 1996).

The findings  support our hypothesis that alexithymia, emotional instability,
and vulnerability to stress are associated with the severity of hypersexual
behavior. More specifically, it appears that patients who present with more
profound levels of hypersexual behavior are more depressed, alexithymic,
and prone to stress.

These findings are consistent with our theoretical conceptualization of
emotional instability among individuals with hypersexual behavior. Our clinical impressions suggest this population struggles with uncomfortable, awkward, or unpleasant affective states, and in fact, these data indicate that they also experience the prevalence of such emotions in greater proportions than those found in normal populations.

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Many of the subjects in the present study displayed emotional deficits and a paucity of emotional awareness. Queries about feelings in therapy would often elicit a response such as “I don’t know” or “I’m not feeling anything.” – otherwise know as emotional differentiation and discussed recently in another blog. 

Our clinical impressions of hypersexual patients suggest that many of
these individuals habitually entertain negative self-appraisals that are likely
influenced by attention bias which seeks evidence in daily experiences to
confirm irrational beliefs (I’m unlovable, worthless, etc.). Additionally, many
of these patients devote time to maintaining facades and implementing strategies of impression management that may further disconnect them from their authentic self, including their genuine emotions. Patients desperately desire external validation by others and privilege such adulation while marginalizing subjective positive perceptions about the self. Unable to control and predict the reactions of others, patients vacillate along a continuum of emotional instability. Negative appraisals by others become threats to their sense of self-worth, and such criticisms often result in disavowing aspects of the self. Specifically, the patients disconnect from undesirable emotional states.

The function of sexual activity in these instances is stress reduction and escape from or avoidance of uncomfortable and unpleasant affective experiences attributable to difficulties in their interpersonal relationships and other challenges in daily living.

 

References

1.  Reid, R. C., Bramen, J. E., Anderson, A., & Cohen, M. S. (2014). Mindfulness, emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, and stress proneness among hypersexual patients. Journal of clinical psychology, 70(4), 313-321.

2.  Reid, R. C., Carpenter, B. N., Spackman, M., & Willes, D. L. (2008). Alexithymia, emotional instability, and vulnerability to stress proneness in patients seeking help for hypersexual behavior. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 34(2), 133-149.

Do Gambling addicts have emotional difficulties?

The article I reposted yesterday Gambling with America’s health!

Gambling-addiction

– mentioned how members of  Gamblers’ Anonymous saw gambling addiction, or gambling disorder, as an emotional rather than financial disease. The addicted person “wants to escape into the dream world of gambling” and “finds he or she is emotionally comfortable only when ‘in action.’”

This very revealing statement “emotionally comfortable only when ‘in action’.’” ties in with what we have being proposing in this blog. That addicts of various varieties engage in motoric or repetitve behaviours prompted by a desire to alleviate emotional distress, that somehow motoric of repetitive, compulsive behaviours almost people these individuals “regulate” or control their emotions. In the language of treatment centres, they “fix their feelings” via these obsessive-compulsive activities.

So there must be an inherent  emotional processing and regulation difficulty which prompts these addictive behaviours. As we have seen in previous blogs, the inability to regulate  and process emotions appears to lead to a recruitment of more motoric or compulsive (sub-cortical) parts of the brain rather than goal-directed, action-outcome, prefrontal cortex part of the brain. This leads to less conscious decision making and more “automatic pilot” type of responding.

Is there evidence of this emotional regulation difficulty in gambling addicts as there appears to be with alcoholics and those with eating disorders? In fact, we will explore in future blogs how there appears to be an emotional regulation and processing difficulty at the heart of all these different addictive disorders.

 

In a study we have recently come across pathological gamblers  reported significantly less use of reappraisal as an adaptive emotion-regulation strategy, and reported a greater lack of emotional clarity and more impulsivity than individuals in the healthy community comparison group. Pathological gamblers reported a greater lack of emotional awareness compared to the healthy control group and reported differences in access to effective emotion-regulation strategies compared to both comparison groups (1).

“Failures in control over gambling are likely to be influenced by individual coping styles. Problem-focused coping includes active and effortful problem solving, while emotion-focused coping includes escape and avoidance behaviours (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Scannell, Quirk, Smith, Maddern, and Dickerson (2000) suggested that loss of control over gambling is associated with emotion-focused coping such as avoidance or escape. This suggestion has been supported by evidence that gamblers demonstrate deficits in coping repertoires (McCormick, 1994) and some rely on gambling to provide an escape from personal or familial problems (Corless & Dickerson, 1989; Lesieur & Rosenthal, 1991). Finally, in a sample of adolescent gamblers, those identified as at-risk for developing pathological gambling behaviours were those who exhibited more emotion-focused coping styles
(Gupta & Derevensky, 2001).
Gambling behaviours, therefore, seem to be associated with a deficit in self-control
processes that may be exacerbated by reliance on coping styles characterized by
avoidance and escape. At a more basic level, difficulties managing emotions effectively may contribute to the use of maladaptive coping strategies and result in failures in self regulation and impulse control. Optimal self-regulation relies on being able to focus on long-term goals in the presence of emotional distress that tends to shift attention to the immediate present (Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000). In addition, struggling with one’s feelings may deplete coping resources and leads to decreased self-control (Baumeister, Muraven, & Tice, 2000), leading to increased risk of disinhibited or impulsive behaviour.

Finally, individuals who are feeling acute emotional distress will likely wish to escape via activities that promise immediate pleasure (Tice, Bratslavsky, & Baumeister, 2001) and pathological gamblers often report using gambling to escape from negative mood states (Blaszczynski & McConaghy, 1989; Getty, Watson, & Frisch, 2000).

Emotion regulation refers to strategies to influence, experience, and modulate
emotions (Gross, 1999). Although there are several factors that influence whether a
certain emotion-regulation strategy is adaptive in a particular situation, certain strategies appear to be costly and maladaptive. For example, suppression or avoidance of emotions is associated with increased negative effect and anxiety, physiological activity, and physical pain (Campbell-Sills, Barlow, Brown, & Hoffman, 2006; Gross & Levenson, 1997; Levitt, Brown, Orsillo, & Barlow, 2004; Masedo & Esteve, 2007). Experimental investigations also support the notion that the effort of suppressing emotions drains mental resources (Richards & Gross, 2000), which could lead to decreased self-control.

 

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Ricketts and Macaskill (2003) investigated several techniques that gamblers use to modify their emotions, one of which was the technique of ‘shutting off’ or using gambling in order to stop an unpleasant emotional state.

Patients who used the technique of ‘shutting off’ were often the ones who also reported poorly tolerating emotional discomfort (Ricketts & Macaskill, 2003).
According to Baumeister, Zell, and Tice (2007), emotional distress leads to an increase in self-awareness, which consequently leads to a desire to decrease ones self-awareness. but at the cost of self-regulation.

If one is unable to self-regulate, this could lead to an addiction or a relapse of an addictive behaviour (Sayette, 2004).

Measures of emotion regulation have proved helpful in identifying patterns of
emotional responding associated with a range of substance-dependent population.

Specifically, we investigated the association between emotion-regulation deficits and gambling pathology using two measures of emotion regulation, the DERS and the Emotional Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ; Gross & John, 2003). The ERQ examines the habitual use of two specific emotion-regulation strategies,
namely expressive suppression and cognitive reappraisal. The use of suppression reduces the outward expression of emotions in the short term, but is less effective in reducing emotions in the long term and is, therefore, considered a maladaptive emotion-regulation strategy (Gross, 1998; John & Gross, 2004). Cognitive reappraisal involves changing the meaning associated with a particular situation so that the emotional impact is altered (Gross, 1999; Siemer, Mauss, & Gross, 2007).

 

We hypothesized that pathological gambling would be associated with increased
habitual use of suppression and decreased use of reappraisal on the ERQ and deficits in emotion regulation across multiple domains on the DERS,  the gambling group would rely more on suppression as a habitual emotion-regulation strategy and report increased difficulty regulating their emotions. We also predicted that the gambling group would report less use of reappraisal as an emotion-regulation strategy compared to the healthy control group.

As expected, we found a significant relationship between self-reported problem,
gambling behaviour, and negative effect as measured by the DASS, as well as deficits in emotion regulation as measured by the DERS

Contrary to expectations, we did not find a significant relationship between gambling behaviour – although the gambling group reported a greater lack
of awareness of their emotions so may account for the lack of association between self-reported gambling behaviour and suppression efforts. If gamblers demonstrate less awareness or insight into their emotional states, there may be less need to suppress emotions.

Gamblers have been shown to  be prone to  depression and anxiety (Beaudoin & Cox 1999; Black & Moyer, 1998; Vitaro, Arsenault, & Tremblay, 1999), substance dependence, and greater difficulty managing stress (Blaszczynski & Nower, 2002) and this may  may further weaken inhibitory control and increase the already present propensity for pathological gamblers to make impulsive decisions (McCormick, Russo, Ramirez, & Taber, 1984).

Once a habitual pattern of gambling behaviours has been established, the combination of emotional vulnerabilities, conditioned responses, distorted cognitions, and decision-making deficits maintain the cycle of pathological
gambling. Blaszczynski and Nower (2002) suggest that such emotional vulnerabilities make treatment more difficult in this particular group of gamblers and emphasize the need to address these underlying vulnerabilities in addition to directly targeting gambling behaviours in therapy. It may, therefore, be of therapeutic benefit to specifically assess for and target emotion-regulation strategies in this population of gamblers.

Given the gamblers in the current study demonstrated limited access to effective strategies for managing difficult emotions, it may be important for clinicians to address coping strategies (including emotion-focussed strategies) as a part of any comprehensive treatment package.

It is also important that the clinician is aware of any deficits in emotion-regulation strategies to ensure that the client is prepared to guard against relapse, given that the ability to tolerate distress is associated with increased length of abstinence from gambling (Daughters et al., 2005).”

References

1. Williams, A. D., Grisham, J. R., Erskine, A., & Cassedy, E. (2012). Deficits in emotion regulation associated with pathological gambling. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 51(2), 223-238.