The Roots of All Our Troubles!?

 forgive 684ff8fbbaddd4975eebd912c09013af

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.


Helping Others Helps Us.

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

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

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

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

This has been my experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AA should be encouraged for socially anxious youths in particular.

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


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



The Fanatic in the Attic

When I first came into recovery the thing that really killed me was realising that my thinking was haywire – that I was generally wrong about everything.

My ego was devastated by this newly apparent reality.

I had long prided myself in always being the smartest guy in the room often dismissing other people’s views on things. Generally I always thought I was right about practically everything and what I did know was hardly worth knowing.

I found out my dismissiveness was linked to my insecure attachment. I ended up being intolerant, arrogant and dismissive of others. It kept others at arm’s reach because I didn’t trust them.

The echos of childhood can reverberate for decades afterwards.

So finding out I was often completely wrong about stuff was devastating?

How could I be so wrong about stuff?

Especially I had built up over a life this façade always being right?

My counsellor asked me once “Would you rather be right or happy?

“Right of course” I replied.

I was rarely right about anything in the first months of recovery.

I could not grasp why I was so often wrong, how I kept completely misperceiving events or mistinterpreting people, their facial expressions, their tone of voice.

I would recount something to my sponsor,  he would listen and then give the version of events that actually occurred.

I despaired that I had turned into a cretin somehow?

When at wit’s end, this former intellectual genius was illuminated one day.

One day after group therapy in treatment – where 10 complete strangers take  seeming delight in telling you who are really as opposed to who you think you are – I was walking in a local park when I suddenly had this revelation that my thoughts were always leading me to a place of emotional pain.

It was as if my thoughts were out to get me, had sort of stopped  working for me and had decided to work against me instead.

My thought seemed to blame me for everything as if they were trying to get me to go ”to hell with it, let’s have a drink!”

The thoughts seemed to be the voice of a really negative self schema, mixed with my alcoholic voice that just wanted out of this strange alien world of sobriety and thought it would hassle me until I succumbed.  A world full of people who scared me, whom I did not trust.

I did not know how the hell to cope with this world sober and it scared the hell outta me.

The thoughts were fraught, negative, self loathing, they seemed to contain fragments of the reasons why I drank in the first place and the reasons why I drank years after.

There was a maelstrom of unresolved issues and negative ideas of self mixed up in a strange brew with the motivation voice of my addiction which just wanted to drink.

It was no wonder I drank, with this discordant cacophony of mangled thoughts and harsh voices blaring way.

When I rang my sponsor, with news of this revelation , he was so delighted for me.

At how I had managed to disassociate me from these thoughts. He said these are the thoughts of your illness.

I imagined these voices coming from an alcoholic on a park bench who alone and skint with no means of getting more alcohol. Whinging and criticising, desperate and self loathing, life hating…

This had been my illness constantly jibbering away,  trying to demoralize me..

He told me the 12 steps would help deal with these thoughts although they never go away completely.

It was such a breakthrough in early recovery. It is one of the main reasons I am alive today.

I had realised there was this addicted me, living upstairs like a fanatic in the attic, which was distinct from the new, recovering me that would have to try my best to ignore it.

This has become easier as recovery has progressed.

My illness and it’s lies, it’s quite convincing chatter lives in ME, the parts of my brain that deal with self, especially motivational parts of the brain.

Hence I have to be careful of wanting or desiring stuff as the thoughts and the chatter get turned on again. If I turn my will, my thoughts over to my HP then serenity prevails.

I have to be aware of Me. Me. Me.

I have to be aware of thoughts which have me, mine, or I in them.

If my thoughts have me, mine or I in them then I am lending my ear to my illness again.

This stuff is a difficult thing to come to terms with – it is similar to egodystonic thoughts in OCD sufferers –  thoughts in conflict with a person’s ideal self-image – but when you do grasp this you are well on your way to recovery!





Childhood Maltreatment and later Alcoholism/Addiction

One old timer I know often says two things that I often take issue with – 1. there are as many alcoholisms as alcoholics and that 2. we all come to AA in different boats but end up in the same dock.

Thanks to having a wife in Al Anon I have had the benefit of her insight and from other al-anons who state how remarkably similar we alcoholics are in our behaviour, particularly in dealing/coping with distress and stress, our emotional reactivity and at times immaturity (or so-called defects of character), I disagree that we are so different in our addictive behaviours.

All addictive behaviours from alcoholism, substance addiction, eating disorders to hypersexual disorder seem to be based on an inherent problem with emotion and stress dysregulation.

I believe I have a distress based condition. It results in what appear to be distress based reactions such as perfectionism, distress intolerance and frustration intolerance, normally exemplified in my shouting at my PC when it doesn’t work quickly enough or crashes!

I also believe I have distress based impulsivity, I want that thing, whatever it is, NOW. That anything!

In fact I have noticed when I want something, anything, I end up pathological wanting it in no time at all! It seems then like I NEED it. I too think this is based on distress and heighten stress reactivity.

In fact it is through this pathological wanting that my so-called defects of character that my examples  of emotional dysregulation appear.

If I can’t get what I want, all range of negative emotions spill forth such as intolerance, impatience, arrogance, pride, shame, selfishness etc .  They only appear when I want something and you are getting in the way of me having it!!

So there is a link between my motivation (which is dysregulated due to the effects of chronic stress which turns simple wanting into something more akin to “needing”) and my subsequent emotional dysregulation.

So where does this distress come from? Is it purely the effects of chronic stress dysregulation caused by years of neuro toxic brain damage or does it go back further, into childhood?

I do not think we all have separate alcoholisms, I feel we have remarkably similar reactions to life and these centre on an inherent difficulty regulating stress and emotion.

I also believe we have come to recovery in similar boats. In fact the majority of us have come to recovery in a remarkable similar boat so much so that it would resemble a gigantic ship rather than a boat. That boat is the ship of childhood maltreatment.

Child maltreatment has been frequently identified in the life histories of adolescents and adults in treatment for substance use disorders, as well as in epidemiological studies of risk factors for substance use and abuse.

 Child Maltreatment

One study (1) suggests there is ample evidence exists for higher rates of substance abuse and dependence among maltreated individuals.

In clinical samples undergoing treatment for substance use disorders, between one third and two thirds evince child abuse and neglect histories (Dembo, Dertke, Borders, Washburn, & Schmeidler, 1988Edwall, Hoffman, & Harrison, 1989Pribor & DiWiddie, 1992Schaefer, Sobieragi, & Hollyfield, 1988).

In the US a survey of over 100,000 youth in 6th though 12th grade, Harrison, Fulkerson, and Beebe (1997) Harrison, Fulkerson, and Beebe (1997) found that those reporting either physical or sexual abuse in childhood were from 2 to 4 times more likely to be using drugs than those not reporting abuse; the rates were even higher for youth reporting multiple forms of child maltreatment. Similar findings have been reported by Rodgers et al. (2004) and Moran, Vuchinich, and Hall (2004).

Among youth with Child Protective Services documented maltreatment, Kelly, Thornberry, and Smith (1999) reported one-third higher risk for drug use among those with an abuse history. In a large epidemiological study, Fergusson, Boden, and Horwood (2008) have shown physical abuse and particularly sexual abuse to be related to illicit drug use, as well as abuse and dependence.

Another Study (2) study would suggest the figures are much higher –   data were collected on 178 patients–101 in the United States and 77 in Australia–in treatment for drug/alcohol addiction. The purpose of the study was to determine the degree to which a correlation exists between child abuse/neglect and the later onset of drug/alcohol addiction patterns in the abuse victims. The questionnaire explored such issues as family intactness, parental violence/abuse/neglect, parental drug abuse, sibling relationships and personal physical/sexual abuse histories, including incest and rape. The study determined that 84% of the sample reported a history of child abuse/neglect.

A third study (1) stated that, using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire-Short Form (CTQ-SF; Bernstein & Fink, 1998; Bernstein et al., 2003) to assess childhood maltreatment in a community sample of active drug users, Medrano, Hatch, Zule, and Desmond (2002) found that 53% of women and 23% of men were sexually abused, 53% of women and 43% of men were physically abused, 58% of women and 39% of men were emotionally abused, 52% of women and 50% of men were physically neglected, and 65% of women and 52% of men were emotionally neglected.

Substance abusers, in addition to having higher rates of childhood maltreatment than members of the general population, have been found to have levels of psychological distress that increase with increasing severity of all types of childhood maltreatment (Medrano et al., 2002). This association is important considering that stress increases an individual’s vulnerability to addiction and addiction relapse (Goeders, 2003; Sinha, 2001;Wills & Hirky, 1996).

There is also evidence that the way in which people cope with stress is related to substance use. For example, researchers have found that greater use of avoidance stress-coping strategies (i.e., disengaging from investing effort to cope with a problem) is related to a greater likelihood of drug use initiation, higher levels of ongoing drug use, and a greater probability of relapse, whereas greater use of active stress-coping strategies (i.e., taking steps to deal with a problem) most consistently functions to protect individuals from substance use initiation and relapse (Wagner, Myers, & McIninch, 1999; Wills & Hirky, 1996).

Childhood maltreatment may influence substance use behavior through its effect on stress and coping. There is emerging evidence that childhood maltreatment may negatively affect the maturation of self-regulatory systems that enable an individual to modulate and tolerate aversive emotional states (Cicchetti & Toth, 2005; Hein, Cohen, & Campbell, 2005). Childhood maltreatment may disrupt neurobiological development and elevate subjective stress by biologically altering the brain’s response to stress (Bugental, 2004;DeBellis, 2002; Heim & Nemeroff, 2001; Heim et al., 2000; Sinha, 2005; Wills & Hirky, 1996). Childhood maltreatment may also affect an individual’s characteristic style of coping with stress so that he or she may be more likely to rely upon maladaptive strategies, such as avoidance of problems, wishful thinking, and social withdrawal, rather than active strategies, such as seeking information and advice from others (Bal, Crombez, Van Oost, & Debourdeaudhuij, 2003; Futa, Nash, Hansen, & Garbin, 2003; Krause, Mendelson, & Lynch, 2003; Leitenberg, Gibson, & Novy, 2004; Thabet, Tischler, & Vostanis, 2004).

Elevated stress and maladaptive coping related to childhood maltreatment may translate to greater substance use behavior by making the coping motives of substance use appear more attractive (Wills & Hirky, 1996). Indeed, substance users commonly report using psychoactive substances such as alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine to cope with stress and regulate affect (Boys, Marsden, & Strang, 2001)

Most cocaine dependent inpatients reported multiple types of childhood maltreatment, and only 15% reported no maltreatment at all, (similar figures to study 2).

“Our findings suggest that the severity of overall childhood maltreatment experienced by recently abstinent cocaine dependent adults has a significant relationship with perceived stress and avoidance coping in adulthood.

Our findings suggest that having a more severe childhood maltreatment history may result in a greater sensitivity to stress…basic coping skills training may not be adequate in decreasing distress and avoidant coping in order to decrease substance use and relapse. Additional interventions that focus on stress tolerance, altering appraisals of stress, stress desensitization, and affect and emotion regulation skills may be of particular benefit to patients with childhood maltreatment histories.

The fact that childhood maltreatment is a preventable phenomenon that occurs early in life and affects psychological functioning well into adulthood makes our findings relevant to clinical practice with children as well. Early identification and treatment of maltreated children may help prevent stress sensitivity or the development of a less adaptive style of coping. Assessment of coping ability and the implementation of coping skills and stress tolerance training may also be indicated for maltreated children in an effort to increase their coping efficacy and decrease their vulnerability to stress later in life.”

I may have been in recovery for a number of years now but coping with stress/distress is still central to my recovery. Dealing with the effects of childhood maltreatment not only via negative self esteem and self schema but in the real sense of coping with every day stress/distress, mainly prompted in my interpersonal relationships (other people!) and with my PC!



1. Rogosch, F. A., Oshri, A., & Cicchetti, D. (2010). From child maltreatment to adolescent cannabis abuse and dependence: A developmental cascade model.Development and psychopathology, 22(04), 883-897.

2. Cohen, F. S., & Densen-Gerber, J. (1982). A study of the relationship between child abuse and drug addiction in 178 patients: Preliminary results. Child Abuse & Neglect, 6(4), 383-387.

3.  Hyman, S. M., Paliwal, P., & Sinha, R. (2007). Childhood maltreatment, perceived stress, and stress-related coping in recently abstinent cocaine dependent adults. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 21(2), 233.

The Rejection Issues at the Heart of Addiction?

Guest Blog from “Inside the alcoholic brain”

Role of Early Maladaptive Schemas on Addiction Potential in Youth

by alcoholicsguide

The aim of this study (1) was to predict the “Addiction Potential” in youths by their early maladaptive schemas by using the instruments of the Addiction Potential Scale (APS) and Early Maladaptive Schemas SQ-SF .

The results showed that there was positive and significant relationships among early maladaptive schemas particularly between Disconnection/ Rejection, Impaired autonomy / Performance and addiction potential.

“Addiction Potential” is defined as the beliefs and attitudes of people about drugs, and the negative and positive outcomes of using them (2). Tendency is an internal feeling with high probability of shaping some behaviors or simply learning them (3). It was shown that drug users suffer from some early maladaptive schemas which can be the Potential for drugs abuse (4). Schemas are formed from early life and affect people throughout their lifespan (5). Early maladaptive schemas are the kind of beliefs that people have about themselves, others, and the environment which are normally derived from dissatisfaction about basic needs, especially emotional needs in childhood (6).

Young, Klosko and Weishour identified eighteen early maladaptive schemas and they introduced them in five areas as follows: Disconnection/Rejection (abandonment/instability, mistrust/abuse emotional deprivation, defectiveness/shame, social isolation/alienation); Impaired autonomy/Performance (dependence/incompetence, vulnerability to harm or illness, enmeshment/undeveloped self, failure); Impaired Limits: (entitlement/grandiosity, insufficient self-control/self-discipline); Other directedness: (subjugation, self-sacrifice, approval-seeking/recognition-seeking); and Over vigilance/Inhibition (negativity/pessimism, emotional inhibition, unrelenting standards/hypocriticalness and punitiveness) (8). Young believes that maladaptive schemas result in experiencing the negative events in life and these negative events cause irregular psychic pressures in people (9). Then these people, who use maladaptive schemas inordinately, are affected more by negative events (10).

Rake, Boer and De boa argued that “people who use adaptive schemas have more capabilities to cope with mental pressures and when they encounter stressing events, they are less likely to suffer from mental problems and drug abuse (12). Findings showed that maladaptive schemas in drug users are higher than the other people (1315). In another research conducted on alcohol addiction, it was shown that most of the alcoholics have more early maladaptive schemas in comparison with normal people (16).

Also, the results showed that drug users apply Disconnection/Rejection schemas (17). A study showed thatpeople with dependence/incompetence and defectiveness/shame schemas have a tendency to use drugs (18).

In other research, it was indicated that personality troubles andaddiction mostly appear as emotional deprivation, dependence/incompetence, entitlement/grandiosity, enmeshment/undeveloped self and failure schemas (19).

According to Young (5), maladaptive behaviors are created in response to schemas and then these behaviors are activated by the same schemas; and when the maladaptive schemas are activated, people experience high levels of (negative) feelings such as severe resentment, anxiety, distress or feeling guilty.


This severity of activating schemas is usually unpleasant, therefore, people almost use maladaptive behaviors such as abusing drugs in order to avoid activation of schemas and of the feeling of excitement associated with these schemas (8).

According to the results of the current study, there is a significantly positive relationship among the five areas of early maladaptive schemas: Disconnection/Rejection, impaired autonomy and performance, Impaired Limits, Other-Directedness and Over vigilance/Inhibition, and the addiction potential. In this context, the schemasDisconnection/Rejection, impaired autonomy and performance, and Other-Directedness had the highest prediction of the addiction potential variances.


Studies have pointed to the correlation between early maladaptive schemas and drug dependence (14, 25), and this supports the preceding results. For example, Ball et al. had assumed that early maladaptive schemas appeared in the area of Disconnection/Rejection especially in the drug abusing group (12).

Findings coincide with many of the previous studies (4, 1317). They indicated that addiction is correlated with early maladaptive schemas. Furthermore, these studies showed that the abundance of the schemas of Disconnection/Rejection area (abandonment/instability, mistrust/abuse, emotional deprivation, defectiveness/shame, social isolation/alienation) is greater than other areas, which is true for the findings of the current study.

The results indicated that maladaptive schemas in Disconnection/Rejection area are the strongest predictors for addiction potential. Similarly, researchers showed that early maladaptive schemas, especially in areas ofDisconnection/Rejection schemas, impaired autonomy and performance, and other directions play an important role in the prediction of addiction (1820).

Cognitive schemas in Disconnection/Rejection area show thatpersonal needs are not satisfied with safety, stability, affection, sympathy, sharing feelings, acceptance and respect in predictable styles.


1. Bakhshi Bojed, F., & Nikmanesh, Z. (2013). Role of Early Maladaptive Schemas on Addiction Potential in Youth.International Journal of High Risk Behaviors & Addiction, 2(2), 72–76. doi:10.5812/ijhrba.10148

Interpersonal Factors in Relapse – Part 1

“Living life on life’s terms” essentially means living with others.

The majority of relapses I have witnessed have been due to interpersonal factors, e.g. arguments at home with family and loved ones, not being able to cope with relationship breakdowns, perceived rejection by loved ones.

Research itself shows that the majority of relapses are caused by an inability to deal with distress (negative emotions) especially in the context of interpersonal relationship.

While neurobiological accounts of addiction suggest the main cause of relapse is due to responding to alcohol or drug cues, an effect heightened in the presence of stress, it does not allow for the main arena in which this stress/distress occurs i.e. with loved ones or people we are having relationships with, or thwarted relationships . Living with others can be difficult for alcoholics and addicts especially as we often found ourselves living in social isolation from others at the endpoint of our addictions.  Especially as many of us, if not the majority, have insecure attachment styles.

So why do addicts and alcoholics and others suffering from a range of addictive behaviours from sex to eating disorders have difficulties with coping with relationships with others?

This point certainly needs addressing as it appears to be a major determinant of relapse!

I do not know about you but there are certain parts of my “personality” that I do not like.

I believe these are mainly do to my insecure attachment – these include the tendency at times to be dismissive, to be needy, look at “me, me me!”, to be wary of others and their motives and to be very rejection sensitive. I have major issues with rejection from others and guard against it. I am also taking action in my personal life to deal with these issues more adaptively, more healthily.

It appears to me increasingly that part of my alcoholism is rooted not only in the genes I inherited from both my parents but in the fertile ground of insecure attachment and childhood maltreatment.

So have any researchers considered these factors? Not many it has to be said but this study (1) certainly did an it is one o the best and most comprehensive studies I have read in relation to these issues.

So in short, is there a sequelae between insecure attachment, rejection issues, low self esteem, interpersonal relationship difficulties and relapse?

“In this article, we review the literature on interpersonal stress and rejection sensitivity and examine how these factors increase the risk of relapse in individuals with alcohol or drug dependence…(to) provide insight into the role of interpersonal stress as a powerful and oftentimes destructive factor that affects individuals in recovery from substance dependence.

Relapse following treatment for alcohol or drug use disorders is a common problem. Studies indicate that 50–70% of patients are unable to remain abstinent during the first year following addiction treatment (1)…(we)  review the constructs of rejection sensitivity, insecure attachment, and low self-esteem, integrating these traits and considering how they influence relapse vulnerability…

Next (blog 2), we review the constructs of expressed emotion, perceived criticism, and marital distress, examining how these negative social contexts can contribute to unfavorable outcomes among individuals recovering from substance dependence.

We conclude with the testable hypothesis that there exists a subgroup of substance-dependent individuals with high trait rejection sensitivity that is particularly vulnerable to relapse in the context of a harsh and critical interpersonal milieu. We propose that high trait rejection sensitivity is a unique risk factor for relapse that can inform research in this area.

rejection images (40)

Intrapersonal Vulnerabilities to Addiction and Relapse

Interpersonal stressors are regarded by many as the one of the most severe forms of stress and can affect an individual’s cognition and behavior. Interpersonal stress is a well-known precipitant of maladaptive drug and alcohol use…we will review the extant literature on the related constructs of rejection sensitivity, insecure adult attachment style, and low implicit and explicit self-esteem. Although not identical, all of these constructs contribute to an individual’s compromised sense of self and an inability to interact comfortably and effectively with others. Further, they all share a propensity to increase an individual’s vulnerability to addiction.

Rejection Sensitivity

Rejection sensitivity (RS) is defined as the disposition to anxiously expect, readily perceive and react intensely to rejection. High-RS individuals interpret ambiguous social cues as indicative of rejection (22,23,24). Individuals entering into a romantic relationship with expectations of rejection attribute insensitive behavior by their partners to hurtful intent. RS also causes people to be dissatisfied in relationships and to anticipate that their partners are dissatisfied and want to end the relationship. High-RS individuals react in ways that undermine their relationships, ultimately serving as “self-fulfilling prophecies” (22,23). High-RS people have lower self-esteem and coping skills than those with low RS…and have higher levels of drug use than low-RS individuals (24).

High-RS individuals may quickly activate a defensive motivational system (DMS), which acts automatically and at a nonverbal level (22). The DMS results in rapid execution of automatic behavior aimed at self-protection, whether the threat is physical or social (22). Although the DMS is adaptive when a quick automatic defense to threat is required, it is maladaptive when a response requires higher reflective cognition (22)….

…thwarting a person’s fundamental need to belong produces cognitive dissonance, leading to a failure to self-regulate effectively, which is manifested in self-defeating behaviors (25).

Insecure Adult Attachment Style

Anxiously attached adults lack self-confidence, are extremely sensitive to interpersonal rejection and lack effective emotion regulation skills, while securely attached adults have high self-worth, perceive that other people are accepting and engage in healthy coping skills (28,29,30). The ability to regulate distressing emotional experiences is theorized to develop during infancy in the context of a responsive and available caregiver (27,28,30). A primary function of attachment, therefore, is the interpersonal regulation of distressing emotional states (27,31). Insecure attachment is marked by deficient mood regulation skills and a propensity to use maladaptive coping methods, such as drugs and alcohol, to modulate distressing affect (27,29,30,31,32).

Anxious attachment, therefore, predisposes individuals to heightened interpersonal conflicts due both to their diminished self-worth and their deficits in regulating emotion.


Insecure adult attachment is associated with addictive disorders (27,28,29,31,32). Thorberg and Lyvers (30) found that, compared with control subjects, individuals with a substance use disorder scored lower on the “attachment dimension of close” and the “attachment dimension of depend” and higher on the “anxiety dimension” of the Revised Adult Attachment Scale. These measures reflect the extent to which a person feels comfortable with closeness and intimacy, how much they feel they can depend on others, and how anxious they are of being abandoned or unloved. Those with substance use disorders were also more emotionally reactive than controls (30). Another study by these investigators (31) used the Negative Mood Regulation (NMR) expectancies scale to examine the association between anxious attachment and mood regulation. The NMR measures an individual’s ability to regulate and successfully cope with negative affective states. They found an association between anxious attachment and a diminished ability to regulate negative moods and postulated that substance use represents a “mood regulating coping mechanism” (30).

McNally et al. (27) examined the relations between alcohol-related consequences and adult attachment dimensions. They used the adult attachment style conceptualization of Bartholomew and Horowitz, which is similar to that of Hazan and Shaver except that they differentiated avoidant attachment into “dismissive” and “fearful” attachment. Two dimensions exist in this model: view of self and view of others. Securely attached individuals have a positive view of self and others; anxiously attached (renamed “preoccupied”) individuals have a positive view of others but a negative view of self; dismissive individuals have a positive view of self but a negative view of others; and fearful individuals have a negative view of both self and others. These investigators found that individuals with a negative view of self (i.e., those with preoccupied and fearful attachment styles) reported greater alcohol-related consequences, which were mediated by the individual’s desire to alleviate negative affect. The investigators noted that the “individuals’ global feelings of insecurity in relationships and interpersonal interaction, and in particular, their sense of themselves as both inadequate and undeserving (negative model of self) appear to have a direct effect on the motivated use of alcohol to cope with negative affect, and an indirect effect (mediated by coping motives) on drinking-related problems” (p. 1124).”

Negative reinforcement of social rejection is not the only mechanism increasing high-rejection-sensitivity individuals’ risk for addiction and relapse. Because rejection activates the defensive motivational system, these individuals frequently respond with automatic aggressive behaviors, sometimes assuming a passive form of “going out and getting wasted” to “punish” the person who rejected them. Social rejection also impairs self-regulation, further diminishing the high- rejection-sensitivity individual’s ability to employ the strategies and cognitions necessary to avoid relapse.

I call this a “to Hell With It!” relapse! You reject me and I will reject you back! Again this ties in with the emotional immature reactions that we blogged on before, and the direct consequence, again, of insecure attachment.

In Part 2 we will look at low self esteem and interpersonal vulnerabilities to relapse (particularly in family settings).

To be continued.



1. Leach, David, and Henry R. Kranzler. “An Interpersonal Model of Addiction Relapse.” Addictive disorders & their treatment 12.4 (2013): 183–192. PMC. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.

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.




Love is the Drug!

Science as we have shown in many blogs has given us unprecedented insight into brain mechanisms implicated in addiction. It has shown us how various neural networks governing reward/motivation, memory, attention and emotions seem to be usurped in the addiction cycle.

Important aspects of “the self” are taken over in other words. It has shown how those vulnerable to addiction seem to have decision making deficits, suffer impulsivity, choose now over later, do not tolerate distress or negative emotions etc. Over react to life!!

It shows how addicts have difficulties in  regulating stress, and that stress systems in the brain are altered to such an extent that they rely for brain function on allostasis not homeostasis.

They show us that various neurotransmitters are also reduced in the addict’s brain such as GABA, the inhibitors or brakes of the brain. We are deficient in natural opioids, dopamine, serotonin etc. Our brains are different to “normies” to “earthlings.

Science suggests the majority of addicts have had abuse or trauma, neglect or adverse experiences while in childhood and this too contributes to addiction vulnerability via stress and emotion dysregulation and a heightened sensitivity to the stimulating effects of drink, drugs and certain behaviors such as eating, sex, gambling, gaming, internet use  etc.

Science also offers suggestions on treatment. It offers the use of chemicals or antagonists to reduce “carving” and it suggest the effectiveness of CBT, Mindfulness and DBT but it seems to know little about how or why 12 step programs work.

Science can’t quite bring itself to believe that laypeople, fellow addicts, can help solve each others’ problems. It scratches it’s head about “spiritual maladies” and “spiritual solutions”; how the 12 steps could bring about such a cathartic change in personality to change someone from a hopeless addict to a person in recovery.

It wonders how helping others and taking fearless and honest inventory can bring about the psychic change sufficient to help some with addiction recover. To be restored to sanity.



In various blogs we have suggested the spiritual malady can also be viewed as a emotional disease and that the 12 steps also allow us to process emotions and regulate feelings in a way we could not before.

It helps us process the many negative emotions of the past via steps 4-9 and sets us free by consigning these emotions to long term memory instead of having them swirl around forever in explicit memory, forever tormenting us.

For us, 12 step programs offer a workable definition of the addict. The “spiritual malady” mentioned in the Big Book does however refer to all people, not just alcoholics/addicts, and is borrowed directly from the Oxford Group.  But reading around this, there are many examples of emotional and stress dysregulation in the BB, some 70 plus examples in the first 164 pages  of  how our emotions dominated us and how we were shot through with fear.

It is the description of alcoholics in the BB that highlights we have an emotional as well as spiritual  disease. What is a spiritual disease if not manifest in negative emotional states such as resentments, false pride, anger, jealousy, and so on. The need to control, to be better than, to know best, all also signs of emotional immaturity.  The BB clearly show us alcohol(ism) has made us very emotional irresponsible. We step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.

We have a spiritual malady but, from descriptions of ourselves, it seem more extreme than normal people. It is not only in terms of alcohol that “the delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.”

The definition is thus workable because it allows one to act in relation to it. For example, if I am aware of the nature of my defects of character I am in effect aware of what cuts me off from the “sunlight of the spirit”, aware of what keeps me spiritually and emotionally ill, what keeps me in a state of unprocessed emotions, of emotional dysregulation, of undealt with distress. Of what keeps me in resentment in a viscous circle of unprocessed negative emotions.

It shows me how this dysregualtion effects other people and gives me the tools to correct my mistakes, to make amends for the mistakes I have made. To relieve distress. It gives me a framework, a program of action which allows me to live with others, on life’s terms, although I might not immediately agree with those terms, which is often the case!

It gives me a choice that I never had before. It says to me you can live with unregulated negative emotions and cultivate your misery or you can choose to use the program to free yourself from these negative unregulated emotions and by processing them be restored to to sanity. It can help me get out of the past/future and into the now, the present.

The solution to my spiritual and emotional malady is this simple. Identify, label, verbalise either to God or to another human being the nature of these wrongs/sins/defects/shortcoming/negative emotions – those factors that trapped me in self propelled distress – and they are quite simply removed. That is my experience. Honesty, openness, willingness, the how of getting out of self. Repeatedly during the day. When I do not do this I suffer emotionally, and others suffer too.

The steps allow me to reduce my distress and this control of distress and stress via the cultivation of serenity, balance, selflessness deactivates my illness for a while allows me to be happy, joyous and free as this appears to be the state of freedom from self, in my experience, this seems to be a state of Grace in other words. The sunlight of the spirit that Bill W mentioned.

It is the solution. I drank to get away from myself. To exhale some air and go “phew!”  I do not not have to even consider that now because I can do that via the steps, by simply taking inventory and letting go. It is our emotions that hold on to negative thoughts, that grow them in the dark shadow of our souls like fungus. Honesty is a light that extinguishes them. By letting go, by allowing my emotions to lower in intensity, to label and identify them and thus allow via, God’ loving Grace, for them to be removed (and stored away where they belong in long term memory).

But there are so many more reasons why 12 step programs work! If the majority of us have had abusive upbringings then it suggests perhaps that there are attachment issues present in many of us. For me my insecure attachment to my primary care giver, my mother, may have caused an insecure attachment which has certainly kick started my later addictions. In fact some observers have gone so far as to view addiction as an attachment disorder.

I will blog on this in the next weeks or two. I will blog on this attachment disorder as perhaps causing that “hole in the soul” that many addicts talk about in meetings.

That not belonging, being separate from. That isolation – these may all stem from insecure attachment. Insecure attachment can shape the brain in a way that makes it difficult to regulate stress and emotion and thus contribute to later addiction. It may cause the differences in emotions mentioned above. It may also point to heart of the problem and why 12 steps groups work in treating addiction.

12 step groups seem to directly treat the “Hole in the soul” by instantly giving an addict a sense of belonging which is particularly powerful after many years in the desolation of addiction. I know that I stayed in AA because I have finally found the club, the tribe, that I belong too. This   like other families is a group of people I love, but sometimes have problems with, fall out with, return to and see in a new light. It is an organic relationship. It has never been wonderful at all times but that says as much about me and my distrust of others, my insecure attachment as it does AA.

I had grown up not even feeling part of my family. The required psychic change happened to me in my first meeting I believe.  Others have commented on how I walked into the meeting a different person from the person who left the meeting. I had a spiritual experience of some sort in my first meeting, purely through identifying with the other recovering alcoholics in the meeting. Not about their drinking, but by identifying with their spiritual malady. I identified with there emotional disease and I realised that if they could find a solution then there was a chance, however small, that I could too. The first flickers of hope happened in that very first meeting.

I knew in my heart I had somehow returned home in a strange way. I had found my surrogate family, those who would help love me back to health and recovery.
Perhaps this is what Science is generally not getting about 12 step groups, the powerful therapeutic tool of talking with someone who has been where you have, who shares your disease and who can help you recovery, as they have. Even now sitting in an AA meeting is the most spiritual thing I do. More so that attending Chapel, visiting monks in isolated monasteries.

Identification with those in the same boat as you is profound. It tells you are not alone. It tells you I need to help you to help me. We are in this together, not you and I. Us, together.

It accepts you as you are, at your lowest ebb, at your rock bottom, your most degraded self. It offers your affection when you are your most unlovable, most wretched.

This for me was the key, being accepted into a group I knew I belonged in. My new home. My new secure attachment. I believe this secure attachment and the love you have for fellowships, sponsees and the love you can now show yourself and your family and friends and people in your life is that solution. To Love and be loved.

I felt in my active addiction I was not deserving of love, that you shouldn’t give me your love. I didn’t know how to give you mine. Now I have so much love inside of me. It is this love that has filled up the hole in my soul.

Okay, it has also increased my natural opioids, raised my dopamine via belonging, raised the GABA brakes in my brain. It has also increase my serotoninergic well being and happiness, it has lower my excitatory glutamate. It has restored more neuro-chemical balance in my head. By prayer and mediation and helping others it restores sanity, fleeting periods of homeostasis, balance, serenity. It most importantly reduces stress/distress, silences my addiction, long enough for me to think of others, help others. And there is not greater buzz that helping others. Love is the drug that I have been thinking off. Love is the solution.

Trust someone enough so that you can begin to allow them and God to love you and you will eventually love them back. A whole new world, full of love and being whole awaits.

The journey is from the crazy head to the serene heart.