The Roots of All Our Troubles!?

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Most of my distress and emotional pain in recovery comes from wanting stuff, and not getting my way or not accepting things as they are.

As Bill Wilson noted, we seem to get distressed when we don’t get what we want or feel people or trying to take away what we have.

This was his observation after a decade of psycho analysis with the psycho analyst Harry Tiebout.

A decade of therapy also showed Bill Wilson he has two default settings in his relationship to other human beings – he either tried to dominate them or he became dependent on them for his sense of self and emotional well being. In other words, he became dependent on others, on external means for approval and elevating his self esteem.

This is similar to relying on external means, i.e. alcohol, drugs, addictive behaviours to regulate our emotions and bolster our low self esteem.

We are in a sense co-dependent on other people for our sense of esteem.  We rely on others in terms of how we feel about ourselves.

As a result we are guarded against those that we perceive will reject us or be negative to us, harm us in some way and we seek to dominate these folk or we are dependent on those who are kind to us, help us and care for us. We swing at times between these extremes.

Some of us are “people pleasers”, some of us are dismissive towards others. I can be a dismissive person more than a people pleaser. It is all manipulating our interaction with others to our selfish ends.

Some of these tendencies are the result of our childhoods and how closely attached we were to our parents.

Some of us have this knawing feeling of not being good enough, have a hole in the soul which we are/were kinda always unconsciously trying to protect, shield from the world.

It is a strange feeling of not wanting to be found out of being less than, not good enough. “If people realise what the real me is like, they will reject me!” type thinking although a lot of this is unconscious and does not pop in to our minds as thoughts but is an unconscious self schema that shapes our behaviours.

In simple terms we manipulate via people pleasing or we push people away via being dismissive and putting others down, we guard against any threat of perceived rejection or threats to the self via defense mechanisms such as projecting what we do not like about ourselves on to others.

We often do not like traits in others because they somehow mirror traits in ourselves although we are not always conscious of this.

We have difficulties in our relationships with others, these relationships are often unhealthy and ill.

Some of this is touched on in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but much of it comes from later observations by Bill Wilson after the publication of the Big Book and my and others’ observations since.

I have seen in myself how fear and shame seem to drive most of my maladaptive behaviour.

My illness of addictive behaviours.

I have an illness of chronic malcontent, things are rarely good enough and I am rarely good enough, according to my “out of kilter”  thinking which  I usually try to ignore, turn over to God or on occasion challenge via reasoning and sharing with other people.

My thoughts are often not my friends, they are often not in the service of my ongoing well being, quite the opposite in fact.

This is how a mental health disorder manifests itself as distorted fear based thinking which appear, if acted upon, to make one’s situation a whole lot worse.

We can not rely on our thoughts and feelings or, in other words, our Self Will. Our self will has become impaired and is no longer in the service of our successful survival.

I have found over the last decade in recovery that when I turn my Will over to the care of the God of my understanding that I am restored to sanity and my thoughts are sound, they are on a higher plane as the Big Book tells me.

I can become the fullest expression of me in the God, not the ill, deluded version while running under my own self will. That has been my experience.

It is only with God’s help that I get restored to sanity or reasonableness.

When I have a fear of not getting stuff and this is linked to insecurity, as mentioned in the Big Book, it is usually in relation to my pocket book, financial insecurity, personal relationships, self esteem etc.

I will now look at this fear based reaction to my security which is mainly to do with stuff out  there (external) such as work, people and how they affect my sense of self before looking at how my internal sense of self, based on the fear based emotion of shame seems to play a pivotal role in my relationship with others and the world around me.

I am assailed externally by fear of what other’s think about me and internally about what I think of me – when these two line up it can have a powerful and damaging effect on my psyche.

Desiring stuff seems at the root of my fear based stuff – the exquisite torture of desire which soon loses it’s so-called relish and just becomes torturous.

Alcoholics do not seem want stuff like normal folk, but have a pathological wanting, an all consuming need to get stuff regardless of it’s worth or value.

We seem to compulsively seek to relieve an inherent distress of not having what we set out to get. Our decision making seems fueled at times by this need to relieve distress rather than the intrinsic value of what we are seeking.

We seem to become manic in our pursuit of things and end up overdoing whatever we are doing via this stress-based manic activity.

This seems compounded by not always being able to read our emotions or somatic states.

One of my own difficulties is realising I am hungry or tired and I can often end up exhausted by over-doing stuff especially manual work around my house. My stop button broke a long time a ago and probably did not work very well to begin with.

So we have  stress-based compulsive need to do something and very limited brakes in the brain stopping us and very little emotional feedback going on, a limited consideration of  “aren’t we overdoing this a bit?”

Desire obviously runs contrary to the idea of being in God’s will, in fact it is being in Self Will that seems to create distress in many people with addictive behaviours.

I would add to this that I also get distress via fears of rejection from others, I suffer from fear based shame to a chronic extent.

Shame, also the consequence of being in Self Will, was not really mentioned in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, mainly because it was not really known about as a psychological or psycho-therapeutic concept then.

Much of the Big Book was influenced by  psycho-analysis which did not consider shame, but rather guilt, in psychological disturbance.

In fact, it has only started considering the role of shame in the last few decades.

So I would add fear of not getting what we want or having something taken away is also complemented by shame-based fears of being rejected.

For example there is an undercurrent in fear of things being taken away, of it being because we are not good enough, deserving enough, have failed in some way, which are shame based reactions.

In fact the Big Book gives me a good idea of the “sins” or “defects of character” I have when I have a resentment but does not explain why I have resentments in the first place.

It explains this as selfishness, self centredness… the root of all our troubles.

It does not, for me, clearly explain why we resort to these selfish, immature, emotional reactions or why we persist with resentments?

It does not explain the emotional immaturity at the heart of alcoholism,  this spiritual malady of inappropriate emotional response to the world around us?

Bill Wilson was struck himself, when he started working with other alcoholics, how much they were plagued constantly by various resentments. How they were haunted by memories of situations in the past, how they swirl around and pollute their minds in the present. How they could not let go of events in their past?

For me he was seeing the root of this spiritual malady, this emotional disease.

For me we engage futilely and distressingly in resentment because we have an inability to process and control our emotions, they overwhelm us and we often react by people pleasing (shame) or react via various defense mechanisms (also shame based).

Defense mechanisms are central to psycho-analytic thought – such as projection etc, the idea that we  expel “out of ourselves what we do not like about ourselves onto others.

Sometimes others expel the same negative emotions on to us. I have found this a fairly common trait among male alcoholics in recovery settings and meetings.

I was discussing this with a newcomer last week, how people who seek to “put us down”  do so out of shame and induce in us all the negative emotions they are experiencing themselves!

The newcomer gave me an example of a resentment he was experiencing after this guy at a meeting said “get off your pink cloud” a phrase that refers to the sometimes  mildly ecstatic feelings of early recovery.

This made the newcomer ashamed that he could have been so stupid for being on this pink cloud, as if this was a selfish indulgence!?

I explained to him that his pride had been hurt, he was in shame and his “apparent” depression every since was simply prolonged self pity.

If we leave self pity to fester long enough it becomes depression, that is my experience anyway.

I said the other guy was probably “hurt” to see a newcomer having such a good period of recovery (God does want us to be happy, joyous and free after all) – I said his false pride was hurt too, that he was not having the recovery experience at present of the newcomer (possibly because he wasn’t putting the effort in) and was in shame (not good enough) and self pity. This mesh of negative emotions can link up fairly instantaneously I find.  It is the web my spiritual malady seeks to ensnare me in.

The guy was probably in guilt too as he could been working on his recovery more.

As a result this guy put the newcomer down to alleviate his own sense of self, his low self esteem.

He “had to” react with arrogance, dismissiveness, impatience and intolerance, because his shame, which is a fear based emotion, made him fearful of his own recovery and fear makes one strangely dishonest (at times deluded), This is my experience.

All because a newcomer had the temerity to be enjoying his recovery?

Not completely, this is half the answer.

The other part is that this guy, if an alcoholic like me, has real difficulties accessing in his heart and mind how he actually “feels” at any particular time. Or rather what emotions he is experiencing at any particular time.

This guy could have been experiencing guilt or shame for example.

Instead of saying to himself I am feeling guilt that my recovery is flabby  compared to this newcomer or that I am being an arrogant “know it all”, putting this newcomer in his place because  he had been in recovery longer – although being in recovery and being sober are different things I have found.

Either way, if he could perhaps of had the ability to say this is how exactly I am feeling he could have acted on this emotional information rather than reacted to it.

What do I mean by this?

Well, if I was feeling guilty about this newcomer it would cause a disturbance in me because I have difficulties processing my emotions.

It would have turned up therefore as a resentment of someone having something I do not have and as them taking away the illusion that my recovery was going OK?

I would have found this threatening to my sense of self so I would have reacted via defense mechanisms. I would have strangely blamed this person for making me feel the way I did! Even if this person had no such intention of hurting my feelings I would blame him nonetheless via my defensive reactions.

It is as if my emotional well being is dependent on other people and their behaviours, this is my spiritual malady, my emotional disease.

As I would have had a resentment, it would have had a wolf pack of negative emotions attached.

In this instance I might have have acted differently.

If I had been in God I would have been more sane for a start and had more loving tolerance for a newcomer.

I would have been acting not reacting. I would have had empathy for where the newcomer  “was at in his recovery” as I had been there once too.

This love and tolerance for the newcomer evolves the displaying of virtues (the opposite of defects are virtues).

What virtues? Well as the newcomer was relatively new I would attempted to be patient, empathetic, kind, gentle, tolerant, considerate  etc. These prevent the defects occurring I find.

If we practice virtues instead of defects then the brain changes for the better and we recover quicker. Our positive loving, healthy behaviours change us and our brains via neuroplasticity for the better.

Attempting to live according to God’s Will (which is a state of Love) also helps me not react but to act with Grace.

In Grace we can still experience negative emotions but God allows us to see them for what they are and not react. His Grace takes the distress out of thee negative emotions. This is my experience.

This allows me to do a quick inventory of my negative emotions and a prayer to God to have them removed. My experience is that they are always removed and that we are immediately restored to sanity.

I do not necessarily have to react to my feelings of negativity about myself, someone else does not need to experience the consequence of my resentments.

I can manage my spiritual malady or emotional dysfunction, I have the tools to do so.

I also impressed upon the newcomer that what the other guy was experiencing and was reacting is also how he, the newcomer, reacts and how I react too.

It is what our spiritual malady looks like I believe, it is the map of my impaired emotional responding.

I also impressed upon him that mostly I can manage this emotional dysfunction but often I fail to and get into a resentful anger.

This is why I have to forgive the other guy as I have been forgiven but also to forgive myself (or ask God to forgive me my shortcomings) for my reactions.

We are not perfect, far from it. We are far from being Saints but have a solution Saints would approve and achieve a kind of transient sanctity in this 12 step solution of letting go and letting God.

We have to show love and tolerance for each other as we suffer the same illness/malady. Dismissing others like us for having what we have and acting as we do is like a form of self loathing. We have to forgive ourselves and each other for being ill. Self compassion allows us to be compassionate  towards others.

Also we need to be aware what we project on to other alcoholics is the same thing as they project on to use and sometimes we project if back.

So we have two main ailments, distressed based wanting which results in the same negative emotions as being in a shame- based fear of rejection.

I can get out of the distress of wanting/needing stuff by asking God to remove those negative emotions which block me off from Him.

For example, if I really want something and feel someone is preventing me getting that thing or that they are taking this thing away from me I have a hunting pack of negative emotions running through by heart and pulsating through my veins, propelling me to want that thing even more! As if my very life depended on it?

These feelings are translated as “how dare you take that thing/stop me getting that thing” – False Pride – followed by fear of being rejected – Shame (this is because I am not good enough)  and possible Guilt (for something I must have done wrong as usual) – then leading to “poor me” and feelings of Self pity, all because I am in Self, so I am being Self Centred and not considering someone else’s view so I am Selfish.

I retaliate via by “I”ll show you/I’ll get you” emotions of Dismissiveness, Intolerance, Arrogance and Impatience – my “I’ll put you down to make me feel better!”

All because I am fearful that you are taking away something from me or rejecting  me –  Fear and Fear is always accompanied by dishonesty.

I will act out on these somethings, if I do now use my spiritual tools and let Go and Let God, usually by eating too much, Gluttony, having a shopping spree, Greed, engaging  sexual fantasy/activity Lust of “freezing” through fear in the subltle sin of Sloth (procrastination).

A perceived slight or a rejection can have an incredible emotional effect on me

This is all emotion dysfunction and immaturity. I have resentments because they are a true sign of emotion dysfunction.

The mature way to to access, identfiy and label how one is feeling and use this information to reasonably express how one is feeling. This way we do not retaliate, fight, flee or freeze. Instead our emotions do what they are supposed to do. They are suppose the tell the fronts of our brains to find words for our feelings. Not to tell the bottom of our brains to fight back or run or freeze.

Let me use an example.

I had an argument with a guy once who suddenly proclaimed he was upset by what I had said. I was amazed as this guy was reading his emotions, identifying verbalising/expressing them to me in a way I have never been able to do.

My alcoholism is rooted in an impaired ability to read, identify, label and express my emotions (otherwise called emotion processing) – as a result my emotions have always troubled me and been so troubling in their undifferentiated state that I have always either avoided them or ran away from them.

I have sought refuge from my negative emotions in alcohol, drugs and other addictive behaviours. It is this that propelled my addictions, this inability to deal with my negative emotions. I dealt with them externally via addictive behaviours, not internally via emotion processing.

My emotions became wedded in time to being undifferentiated arousal states that prompted me to seek an external way to deal with these troubling emotional/arousal states.

Today when I engage in the above emotion dysfunction, engage in the above web of defense mechanisms it is because I have not been able to locate in me what feeling is disturbing me ?

On occasion it is, as the guy above said, because I am upset. I have not learnt the ability to say that I am upset etc. The words for these feeling states somehow can continue to elude me unless I am in God’s Grace.

God does for us what we can not do for ourselves!

Finding out what is really going on with us emotionally is at the heart of recovery. That is why we have to constantly share how we are feeling with others so that we can find out what we are feeling.

Unless, we let Go and Let God and ask God to remove these negative emotions/sins/defects of character we end up in a futile increasingly distressed spiral of negative emotions.

We end up cultivating much greater misery.

As soon as you can, let Go and Let God.


There is a map of Emotional Responding Tattooed on my Heart.

When I was doing my step four inventory as part of my 12 step programme of recovery  I did it pretty much as suggested in the Big Book.

My sponsor at the time asked me to do an additional part that is not explicitly mentioned in the Big Book.

He said to list all the negative emotions (or defects of character) that I had been in the grip of and exhibiting in relation to my various misdemeanors and the resentments I had held against various people and institutions over the preceding decades.

This turned out to be a brilliant idea for two reasons.

First it showed me that  I held a multitude of resentments because I had a problem of emotion regulation.

I did not realise that the engine driving this emotion dysregulation was chronic shame.

I realised when doing my step 4 that that I had not previously been able to leave various supposed slights and abuses from my past in the past because I did not have the emotional maturity to look at these episodes reasonably and objectively.

In other words, I had not processed these episodes emotionally and embedded these events in my long term memory like healthy more emotionally mature people do.

Hence when I came into recovery I had hundreds and hundreds of resentments swirling around my mind, poisoning my thoughts and sending constant emotional daggers into my heart.

My past constantly assailed me emotionally, randomly attacking my mind.

My step 4 and then 5 showed me that I did  not have the natural ability to deal with my negative emotions.

Secondly, listing all the negative emotions I had when I held a resentment against someone was very revealing in that when I held a resentment, any resentment, and against a wide variety of people, the negative emotions listed where generally the same! In fact they were all interlinking in a pattern of emotional reacting, one activating the other. It was like a emotion web that ensnared one in increasingly frustrating states of emotional distress and inappropriate responding.

This was quite a revelation!? That I respond in exactly the same way to my sense of self being threatened?

That there was a map of emotional responding tattooed on my heart.

I was drawing up a web of my emotional dysregulation, a route map of all the wrong ways to go, to emotional cul de sacs.

It was a list of the negative emotions which appear always when I felt anger and resentment against someone for hurting me and my feelings.

Just as revealing where the negative emotions listed which clearly showed how  I react, and can still react to people who I believe have caused my hurt or rejection.

In fact it seems now that I treat all insult, intentional or otherwise, in a very similar way.

I have spent years trying to work our why?

I got as far as deciding it was an inherent problem with processing negative emotions, which it is.

However, there seems to be a problem specifically with a patterned mesh of negative emotions which are activated when someone upsets me.

In fact I think this pattern of interlinked negative emotions occurs simply because of inability to identify, label and share the simple fact that I have been upset  by what someone has said or acted towards me.

“Shame is a fear-based internal state being, accompanied by beliefs of being unworthy and basically unlovable. Shame is a primary emotion that conjures up brief, intense painful feelings and a fundamental sense of inadequacy. Shame experiences bring forth beliefs of “I am a failure” and “I am bad” which are a threat to the integrity of the self. This perceived deficit of being bad is so humiliating and disgraceful that there is a need to protect and hide the flawed self from others. Fears of being vulnerable, found out, exposed and further humiliated are paramount. Feelings of shame shut people down so that they can distance from the internal painful state of hopelessness.”

“… unacknowledged thoughts and feelings become repressed and surface later through substitute emotions and dysfunctional behavior. Other emotions are substituted to hide the shame and maintain self esteem. Anger, exaggerated pride, anxiety and helplessness are substituted to keep from feeling the total blackness of being bad. The buried shame is expressed through defense mechanisms that shield negative unconscious material from surfacing.

Anger responses are modeled and learned in some families. The anger response is more comfortable than feeling the shame for some individuals. Families where coercive and humiliating methods of discipline are used develop children who are shame prone. Behavior become driven by defenses that function to keep from feeling bad. Reality becomes distorted to further protect the self from poor self esteem. The transfer of blame to someone else is an indicator of internal shame.

Children who live with constant hostility and criticism learn to defend against the bad feelings inside and externalize blame on others. External assignment of blame is a defense against shame. People who are super critical have a heavy shame core inside.”

I was working with someone last year and we had a disagreement and this guy said to me “I am upset” and “You have hurt my feelings” I was taken aback. I thought I never say things like that. This guy was an Olympic champion at expressing how he feels compared to me. I never say I am upset because it also seems to be an undifferentiated emotion that I have trouble accessing, mentalising and expressing.

I have not been taught as a child or since to simply say I am upset.

Instead of acting on my upset by saying to someone,  you have hurt my feelings  I do the opposite,   I react and attack them in my head, my thoughts, my words and sometimes in my actions. Sometimes I “get them back” somehow. I make them pay in some way.

Honesty is the heart of recovery and I am being honest. The years of recovery reveal many different things, some of them not so palatable.

I grew up in a family that did not express emotions like the ones I had mentioned. We reacted via anger and put downs hence I have grown up to be dismissive.

My dismissiveness and my arrogance are parts of defence mechanism against rejection, they guard my inherent sense of shame. I am full of shame, more so than fear, although these two overlap. Shame is in fact fear evoking.

I hide my shame away under an anger of emotional hostility, stay away or else! I will get you back somehow. Sometimes I am in shame and offend via my attitudes.

I also have other ways of reacting in an emotionally unhealthy way that my step 4 showed.

If someone hurts me, according to my step 4, my angry resentment of what they have said or done makes me ashamed. This can quickly prick my sense of self pity (uselessness and hopelessness) which is something I have always rage against (rage is an essential part of shame plus I rally against this feeling of powerlessness) and I retaliated via excessive pride (I am better than you, I will put you down and see how you like it!) I put you down in my mind or through the words uttered from my mouth by arrogance, dismissiveness, impatience and intolerance.

I do so because I am being dishonest and fearful.

I do some because I am self centred and selfish.

These are all parts of my emotionally entangled web that is spun when I react to some sense of rejection.

Sometimes the shame persists for some time and I try to relieve it by behavioral addictions, too much shopping, too much eating, too much objectification of the opposite sex.

Not enough action, or effort to change my feelings in a healthy manner.

My step 4  showed me this is the unhealthy fruit of my greed, gluttony, my lust, my sloth.

My spiritual malady.

Add in perfectionism because that is the quick way to do nothing, a fear of failure  that paralyses.

These are my main negative emotional  reactions to the world that often scare me and make me feel ashamed.

I have felt powerless via your comments so try to to steal some power back by making my self seem more powerful over you.

I respond to feelings of humiliation by humiliating you, I react to my chronic shame by attempting to created shame in you.

Some days I react more adversely than others.

For example, this family have just moved into my neighbourhood, they seem wild and out of control.

I am not only fearful (leading to dishonesty in my thinking, catastrophizing, intolerance of uncertainty about how they will behave etc) I have reacted to their arrival via shame based defence mechanisms and reactions. I am shamed and disgusted that my neighourhood has come to this. I am dismissive of them, intolerant, impatient and arrogant towards them. All shame based reactions.

Last night the police were called to their home and one of them was handcuffed and put in the back of the police van.

My head went “I told you so!”

It was a very shameful scene for the whole family.

When things had died  down and calm restored I spent the evening not in my fear or shame but in empathy and compassion.

How embarrassing for them how shameful.

I relate to them as they are out of control, my family was at varying times completely out of control too, traumatic and this is what has created a chronic shame in me, even still now after 10 years of recovery!

My shame responded and related to their shame.

Nobody wants to be out of control, to be teetering on the verge of the next disaster, the next moving of home, the next calling of the police,  the next swirling carousel of unmanageabiilty.

No one.

I related and all my negative emotions retreated to source like a evening tide on a beach.

I relate to my fellow human beings when I am not in fear or shame.

When I am in fear and shame the same pattern of negative reactions entrap my heart in its’ poisonous grip and I react in a way I would not choose to, if more reasonable.

This is what the heart of my alcholism looks like. Not a pretty sight some days.

The most beautiful thing about me most days is the fruits of my recovery.

Now at least I can see how I react and can take steps to deal with it.

I have a spiritual tool kit that deals with this emotional disease.

Whether  I stay in fear or shame is now my choice. A choice I once did not seem to have.

This is what recovery has given to me.

I do not have to cultivate my own misery through blind reaction.

Via an Amazing Grace I can now see what ails me.

Via AA I now have the tools, never taught to me in my family or in my troubled home environment.

I have gone home in AA. I learnt an attachment to those in AA and others.

I share my feelings of shame with those who know what that feels like.

Together we share our pain and we recover.




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.



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.



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.


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.


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.

What recovers in Recovery? – Cognitive Control over emotions?

 In recent blogs we have called for an increase in research into the neurobiology of recovery to add to the extensive research already published on the neurobiology of the addiction cycle.
There has been extensive research into the neurobiology of addiction, most of this has focused on reward and motivation networks of the brain.  In effect this suggests there is a pathological wanting in addicts, an excessive motivation towards drug taking over all other rewarding activities.
This view does not fully consider that this pathological wanting is in itself a product of dysregulated stress systems in the brain, many the product of neglect, abuse and maltreatment in childhood. These stress factors are also reflective of the role of emotional distress in the addiction cycle . This distress is we feel a product of the emotion processing and regulation deficits commonly seen in all addictive behaviours such as alcohol and substance addiction, eating and gambling disorders and sex addiction etc (and often reflective of childhood maltreatment).
In fact , this emotion processing and  regulation deficit is also apparent in certain children of alcoholics and may be a vulnerability to later alcoholism as these children demonstrate a deficit in impulsivity (common to alcoholics and addicts) and a decision making profile based on choosing now over later (short term gains based) and which recruits more subcortical and motor expressive (compulsive) parts of the brain rather than cortical and reflective/evaluative parts of the brain.
This means they make decisions to alleviate the distress of decisions (as undifferentiated emotions appear to be distressing) not via evaluative processes). This has obvious consequence for decision making over a life span.
This emotion dysregulation is also seen in active addicts and alcoholics and at the endpoint of addiction there is a fairly complete reliance of this compulsive decision making profile, which begs the question, does the decision making deficits seen in at risk children simply get worse in the addiction cycle via the neuro toxic effects of substance abuse?
This emotion (and stress) dysregulation also potentiates reward (makes things more rewarding) so alcohol is seen as more stimulating than for non risk children. This vulnerability may lead to the need  to regulate, especially negative, emotions ( and low self esteem ) via the stimulating and highly rewarding effects of alcohol make perpetuate the addiction cycle to it’s chronic endpoint where chronic emotional distress acts as a compulsive stimulus to the responding of chronic alcohol and drug use.
This emotion dysregulation also seems to play a huge part in relapse – so it begs the question does this emotion regulation improve in time via recovery, particularly long term recovery?
In the next two blogs we look at how the emotion regulation areas of the brain become reinforced, strengthened by the process of recovery or in other words we appear to develop the brain capacity for controlling and regulating our emotions more adaptively and this reduces the stress/distress which often prompts relapse.
Personally, I can wholeheartedly say, that the one main aspect I have developed in my recovery has been the awareness and skills in regulating/controlling emotions. Via recovery I have learnt to identify, label, describe by verbalising and sharing with others how I feel. This processes and regulates the emotions that used to cause me so much distress.
I have also developed a more acute awareness of the the emotional expression and needs of yours. These were previously aspects of my life which were completely lacking and frustrating/confusing as a result.
By emotionally engaging in with the world, by becoming more emotionally literate, I can converse with the world in a way that was previously beyond my capabilities.
The research we look at in the next two blogs asks the question – is cognitive control over emotions, lacking in active addiction, one of the main brain functions that improve in recovery?
A core aspect of alcohol dependence is poor regulation of behavior and emotion.
Alcohol dependent individuals show an inability to manage the appropriate experience and expression of emotion (e.g., extremes in emotional responsiveness to social situations, negative affect, mood swings) (1,2). Dysfunctional emotion regulation has been considered a primary trigger for relapse (1,3) and has been associated with prefrontal dysfunction.
While current alcohol dependence is associated with exaggerated bottom-up (sub-cortical) and compromised top-down (prefrontal cortex) neural network functioning, there is evidence suggesting that abstinent individuals may have overcome these dysfunctional patterns of network functioning (4) .
Neuro-imaging studies showing chronic alcohol abuse to be associated with stress neuroadaptations in the medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate regions of the brain (5 ), which are strongly implicated in the self-regulation of emotion and behavioral self-control (6).
One study (2) looking at how emotional dysregulation related to relapse, showed compared with social drinkers, alcohol-dependent patients reported significant differences in emotional awareness and impulse control during week 1 of treatment. Significant improvements in awareness and clarity of emotion were observed following 5 weeks of protracted abstinence.
Another study (7) which did not look specifically at emotional regulation but rather on the recovering of prefrontal areas of the brain known to be involved also in the inhibition of  impulsive behaviour and emotional regulation showed that differences between the short- and long-abstinence groups in the patterns of functional recruitment suggest different cognitive control demands at different stages in abstinence.

In one study, the long-term abstinent group (n=9) had not consumed cocaine for on average 69 weeks, the short-term abstinent (SA) group (n=9) had an average 0f 2.4 weeks.

Relative to controls, abstinent cocaine abusers have been shown to have reduced metabolism in left anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and greater activation in right ACC.
In this study  the abstinent groups of cocaine addicts showed more elevated activity in the DLPFC ; a finding that has also been observed in abstinent marijuana users (8).
The elevation of frontal activity also appears to undergo a shift from the left to right hemisphere over the course of abstinence.  The right is used more in processing (labelling/identifying) of emotion.
Furthermore, the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) has recently been shown to be important for response inhibition (9) and in a task similar to that described here, older adults have been shown to rely more on left PFC (10). Activity observed in these regions is therefore likely to be response inhibition related.
The reliance of the SA group on this region suggests that early in abstinence users may adopt an alternative cognitive strategy in that they may recruit the LIFG in a manner akin to children and older adults to achieve behavioral results similar to the other groups.
In longer,  prolonged abstinence a pattern topographically typical of normal, healthy controls may emerge.
In short-term abstinence there was an increased inhibition-related dorsolateral and inferior frontal activity indicative of the need for increased inhibitory control over behaviour,  while long-term abstinence showed increased error-related ACC activity indicative of heightened behavioral monitoring.
The results suggest that the improvements in prefrontal systems that underlie cognitive control functions may be an important characteristic of successful long-term abstinence.
Another study (11) noted the loss of grey matter in alcoholism that last from 6–9 months to more than a year or, in some reports, up to at least 6 years following abstinence (12 -14).
It has been suggested cocaine abuse blunts responses in regions important to emotional regulation (15)
Given that emotional reactivity has been implicated as a factor in vulnerability to drug abuse (16)  this may be a preexisting factor that  increased the likelihood of the development and prolonging of drug abuse
If addiction can be characterized as a loss of self-directed volitional control (17),  then abstinence (recovery) and its maintenance may be characterized by a reassertion of these aspects of executive function (18)  as cocaine use has been shown to reduce grey matter in brain regions critical to executive function, such as the anterior cingulate, lateral prefrontal, orbitofrontal and insular cortices (19-24) .
The group of abstinent cocaine addicts (11) reported here show elevations in  (increased) grey matter in abstinence exceeded those of the healthy control in this study after 36 weeks, on average, of abstinence .
One possible explanation for this is that abstinence may require reassertion of cognitive control and behavior monitoring that is diminished during current cocaine dependence.
Reassertion of behavioral control may produce a expansion (25)  in grey matter  in regions such as the anterior insula, anterior cingulate, cerebellum, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex .
All brain regions implicated in the processing and regulating of emotion. 
1. Berking M, Margraf M, Ebert D, Wupperman P, Hofmann SG, Junghanns K. Deficits in emotion-regulation skills predict alcohol use during and after cognitive-behavioral therapy for alcohol dependence. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2011;79:307–318.
2.  Fox HC, Hong KA, Sinha R. Difficulties in emotion regulation and impulse control in recently abstinent alcoholics compared with social drinkers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2008;33:388–394.
3..Cooper ML, Frone MR, Russell M, Mudar P. Drinking to regulate positive and negative emotions: A motivational model of alcohol use. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1995;69:990
4. Camchong, J., Stenger, A., & Fein, G. (2013). Resting‐State Synchrony in Long‐Term Abstinent Alcoholics. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research37(1), 75-85.
5. Sinha, R., & Li, C. S. (2007). Imaging stress- and cue-induced drug and alcohol craving: Association with relapse and clinical
implications. Drug and Alcohol Review, 26(1), 25−31.
6. Beauregard, M., Lévesque, J., & Bourgouin, P. (2001). Neural correlates of conscious self-regulation of emotion. Journal of
Neuroscience, 21(18), RC165
7. Connolly, C. G., Foxe, J. J., Nierenberg, J., Shpaner, M., & Garavan, H. (2012). The neurobiology of cognitive control in successful cocaine abstinence. Drug and alcohol dependence121(1), 45-53.
8.  Tapert SF, Schweinsburg AD, Drummond SP, Paulus MP, Brown SA, Yang TT, Frank LR. Functional MRI of inhibitory processing in abstinent adolescent marijuana users.Psychopharmacology (Berl.) 2007;194:173–183.[PMC free article]
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11. Connolly, C. G., Bell, R. P., Foxe, J. J., & Garavan, H. (2013). Dissociated grey matter changes with prolonged addiction and extended abstinence in cocaine users. PloS one8(3), e59645.
12. Chanraud S, Pitel A-L, Rohlfing T, Pfefferbaum A, Sullivan EV (2010) Dual Tasking and Working Memory in Alcoholism: Relation to Frontocerebellar Circuitry. Neuropsychopharmacol 35: 1868–1878 doi:10.1038/npp.2010.56.
13.  Wobrock T, Falkai P, Schneider-Axmann T, Frommann N, Woelwer W, et al. (2009) Effects of abstinence on brain morphology in alcoholism. Eur Arch Psy Clin N 259: 143–150 doi:10.1007/s00406-008-0846-3.
14.  Makris N, Oscar-Berman M, Jaffin SK, Hodge SM, Kennedy DN, et al. (2008) Decreased volume of the brain reward system in alcoholism. Biol Psychiatry 64: 192–202 doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.01.018.
15, Bolla K, Ernst M, Kiehl K, Mouratidis M, Eldreth D, et al. (2004) Prefrontal cortical dysfunction in abstinent cocaine abusers. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 16: 456–464 doi:10.1176/appi.neuropsych.16.4.456.
16.  Piazza PV, Maccari S, Deminière JM, Le Moal M, Mormède P, et al. (1991) Corticosterone levels determine individual vulnerability to amphetamine self-administration. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 88: 2088–2092. doi: 10.1073/pnas.88.6.2088
17.  Goldstein RZ, Volkow ND (2002) Drug addiction and its underlying neurobiological basis: neuroimaging evidence for the involvement of the frontal cortex. Am J Psychiatry 159: 1642–1652. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.159.10.1642
18. Connolly CG, Foxe JJ, Nierenberg J, Shpaner M, Garavan H (2012) The neurobiology of cognitive control in successful cocaine abstinence. Drug Alcohol Depend 121: 45–53 doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2011.08.007.
19.  Liu X, Matochik JA, Cadet JL, London ED (1998) Smaller volume of prefrontal lobe in polysubstance abusers: a magnetic resonance imaging study. Neuropsychopharmacol 18: 243–252 doi:10.1016/S0893-133X(97)00143-7.
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Insecure attachment affects emotion regulation in alcoholics?

I have blogged recently about how insecure attachment is linked to various addictive behaviours.

What is important is to establish a mechanism by which insecure attachment contributes to later addictive disorders. It may not be enough to say attachment and addiction are linked but that they are linked via a pathomechanism of some sort.

I have argued many times before that I believe this pathomechanism, the mechanism by which a pathological condition occurs, or the mechanism that  drives a disease state (or disorder) is emotion processing and regulation deficits.

We look here (1) at a study that demonstrates how insecure attachment correlates in alcoholics with difficulties in emotion processing and regulation difficulties. I believe this is how addiction is driven to it’s endpoint of chronic, compulsive behaviour, although this study is only a correlational study and makes no such claims about causation.

Attachment theory has been conceptualised as an affect regulation theory, proposing that attachment is associated with the expression and recognition of emotions as well as interpersonal functioning… the objective of the present study was to investigate potential associations between attachment, Negative Mood Regulation (NMR) expectancies, fear of intimacy and self-differentiation…(with)  findings support broad attachment theory suggesting that attachment is associated with and predicts affect regulation abilities, difficulties with intimacy and intrapersonal as well as interpersonal functioning in a sample of substance use disorder inpatients.

Attachment is associated with the expression and regulation of emotion. Early attachment theory postulates that early bonding
with a significant caregiver is essential for the development of internal working models for communication, regulation of emotions and interpersonal behaviour.

These early attachment experiences are associated with adult attachment styles. Adult attachment styles are relatively stable and influence attitudes, emotions, affect regulation and behavioural strategies in relationships…Empirical evidence has indicated associations between insecure attachment, fear of intimacy and
emotion regulation difficulties  and between secure attachment
and a higher capacity for intimacy, emotional awareness and empathy.

Substance abuse has been proposed to be a consequence of emotion regulation difficulties with individuals using alcohol/drugs to avoid
intimacy or rejection, to ease pain, anger and ambivalence and possibly establish a “secure base”.

Negative mood regulation (NMR) expectancies are beliefs regarding a person’s ability to terminate or alleviate a negative mood state.

High NMR presumably reflects the ability to cope successfully with bad moods, whereas having low NMR may lead to less efficacious or maladaptive ways of coping… high NMR may be associated with secure attachment, as securely attached individuals tend to seek comfort from others when emotionally upset, and utilise constructive coping mechanisms to decrease the intensity of distress.

By contrast, low NMR may potentially be associated with anxious attachment as well as substance abuse...insecure attachment is a fearful attachment style characterised by a fear of intimacy and rejection, high emotional reactivity and a self-belief associated with being deserving of rejection. Some have argued that fear of intimacy (FIS) is associated with mental health issues and substance use problems…FIS research to date has largely reported significant associations with loneliness, lack of self-disclosure, low social interaction and low relationship quality.

Differentiation of self is defined as the degree to which an individual is able to balance emotional and intellectual functioning, intimacy and autonomy in relationships…Individuals with lower
self-differentiation experience higher levels of chronic anxiety, emotion regulation difficulties, mood disturbances and substance abuse.

In addition, previous studies have reported higher levels of mood regulation and interpersonal difficulties in substance abusers compared to controls…(As) attachment has been hypothesised to be associated with relationship functioning and mood regulation (and)  addiction has been proposed to be an attachment disorder,  potential relationships of attachment with mood regulation and interpersonal functioning in substance abusers may
potentially inform the development of future treatment approaches.

The results (of this study) indicated a significant negative association between anxious attachment and NMR…suggesting that anxious attachment may be associated with lower abilities to regulate one’s negative moods. This is in accordance with other research evidence suggesting that insecurely attached individuals tend to show poor affect regulation.

The present investigation also found that attachment was a strong predictor of FIS (and)  the present results suggest that adult
attachment is related to difficulties in intimacy and interpersonal functioning, in accordance with previous evidence that reported a significant association between insecure attachment and relationship problems as well as lower levels of trust, interdependence and commitment.

The present investigation also found that anxious attachment significantly predicted emotional reactivity (ER).

These data support the predictive power of anxious attachment in relation to being more emotionally reactive, having difficulties with emotion regulation and maladjustment in those with substance dependence…The predictive utility of attachment was also related to Emotional cut-off (EC)…This is in line with previous research suggesting a link between attachment and EC  in those with substance abuse and implies that attachment style is related to traits of emotional aloofness, anxiety, isolation from others and exaggerated independence…EC may be associated with, or a consequence of alexithymia, a personality trait associated with difficulties in identifying and describing feelings.”

The above sounds so familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds like most newcomers to recovery that I have ever come cross, including me.


1.  Thorberg, F. A., & Lyvers, M. (2009). Attachment in relation to affect regulation and interpersonal functioning among substance use disorder in patients.Addiction Research & Theory, 18(4), 464-478.




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.


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).




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).


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” –


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. )


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.


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.




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.


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!!))  



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)




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).”



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).


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.



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.