There is no one Addictive or Compulsive Behavior.
There are many. Sex, gambling, internet pornography,
cutting, eating disorders, these would be the more
common examples of just a few. Additionally, there is
not just one drug of choice. There are many. For example,
alcohol, opiates, meth, cocaine and marijuana, are
some that are readily available and waiting. Yet rarely if
ever, does any one person find themselves compulsively
engaging in all of them. The compulsive and addicted
individual gravitates to a drug or activity of choice.
They participate in that special primary relationship
that defines the nature of their addiction. How did that
happen? Did we just pick door number three and suddenly
become a meth or opiate addict? Or perhaps we
spun the wheel and it clattered and clicked then slowly
settled on alcohol abuse and addiction. Did that door
or wheel ultimately lead us to multiple DUI’s, career
mishaps, incarceration and family destruction? Are we
just passive participants waiting for the next spin of the
wheel to determine if there is a reward or a bankrupt?
Should we have opened a different door? Make no
mistake about it. We chose our addictive compulsive
behavior ourselves. We chose which drug or activity
to become our new best friend. Not by the chance
spin of a wheel or opening a mystery door but by our
own choice, and we chose it for a reason. How does
that happen? Why would we choose such a life? Let’s
explore a little.
Summer is coming to an end. It is a breezy beautiful
day, late afternoon in southern Nevada. I am driving
by one of our city parks, a welcome oasis in the middle
of the desert.
Children are playing tag on the grass, throwing Frisbees,
swinging on swings by the dog park and just
enjoying the remaining few days of summer vacation.
Most of them are pre-teens, laughing, smiling and enjoying
the day. Now here is the amazing and alarming
truth. Within the next few years over half of these children
will have experimented, used, habitually abused
and in some cases become addicted to some form of
chemical or compulsive activity, and they haven’t even
gotten to high school yet. That is a fact. This is how it
We are who we are. We have parents and they had
parents too. We have a family and genetic connections.
Family history is a factor to be considered and
understood in addictive behavior. Now understand
this. No family is the cause of addiction. Remember
the door and the wheel. We are not passive participants.
We have choices. Genetics and family history
do determine many things. Some people will get a
beautiful tan when out for a day or two at the beach.
Others like me will get sunburn in a much shorter time.
That is genetics and family related. I have a choice to
burn or monitor my time, wear proper clothes and use
sun block. If I burn do I blame my great grandfather or
my mother? I had a choice. Here is my point. If your father
and mother are alcoholics perhaps you cannot be
a social drinker. And your alcohol history will tell you
something about you. If you have family members who
have engaged in compulsive behaviors you also may
be at risk. But you have choices. It’s not fair and it may
not be easy but a choice is going to be made one way
or another. You have a choice. I do understand that
someone already in active compulsive behavior and
addiction has temporarily lost the cognitive ability to
choose but we will talk about that in a short time.
We are who we are. We have a Psychological Nature.
We have a particular personality, a personality unique
to us. Are we shy or out-going? Do we make friends
easily? Does it take us time to fit in? Are we comfortable
around others? Is your sales call or interview
stressful? These factors determine our emotional state.
If we are not content with ourselves and who we are,
what drug or activity could we use to change that state
of emotion? Would alcohol allow us to relax and fit in
more? Would stealing something or gambling give us
the thrill we have been craving? Would marijuana make
the boredom of school or work easier? Did that experimentation
with meth give us a lift to see the world in
a more exciting way? Does cutting my arm, just a little,
make me feel more alive? Will that work again? Forever?
We are who we are. Within our brain we have billions
of brain cells called neurons. Each one of these neurons
has hundreds of thousands of receptors. These
receptors receive information. How do we know the
difference between our house key and our car key?
Are those people friends or strangers? Are they going
to hurt me? Do I feel safe? For us to be able to interact
with the world, have a sense of well-being, have the
ability to learn, sleep and eat, each one of these neurons
and receptors must communicate with another
neuron. But neurons don’t touch each other. They
communicate by sending chemicals back and forth into
the many receptor sites. Our entire body and mind is
Brain Chemistry, the neurotransmitters,such as Serotonin,
Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Endorphins and
many others. All these neurotransmitters play a major
role in how we function, how we feel and who we are
at any given point of time. When we or those children
in the park first experimented with an outside drug
or thrilling activity, brain chemistry began to change.
Receptor sites became blocked, temporarily stimulated
or sedated. If we did not like the feeling we did
not return. We would not use that drug or engage in
that activity again. But what if we felt better? What if
we liked it? Could we talk to people and fit in? Were
we less shy? Were we less hyper and intense? Did we
feel better about ourselves? Did our emotional state
seem to become more functional for the situation?
Was school more tolerable? Was it easier to go home?
Was the sales call or interview less stressful? Maybe
that same drug or activity will work again, and another
time too. We have just found our drug or activity of
choice and it is different for everyone. Brain chemistry
continues to change. What once was working one way
now begins to work another way. More and more of
the drug or activity are now being compulsively craved
to try and maintain some level of perceived normal
function. Less and less of the normal brain chemistry
is being produced causing craving, anxiety, insomnia
and a lack of well-being. What seemed to work in the
beginning and make us feel better now never seems to
be enough to get us where we want to be. In fact now
we feel worse than we ever did. We are chasing an illusion.
Our best friend is letting us down. And to make
matters worse everyone around us can see it happening
and we keep chasing the dragon.
Instead of the brain functioning cognitively and logically
we now have the mid brain in control, the midbrain,
the reactive brain, that is the involuntary part of the
brain. We now do things that are irrational and illogical.
We do what we don’t want to do, and we do it over
and over again. We have lost our ability to choose. We
now have a compulsion and an addiction. It may have
all begun by experimenting with friends after a day of
playing in the park, having fun at a party, perhaps after
a high school football game, or getting to know new
peers in a college dorm, but it had a beginning. We
have gone from abstinence to addiction within a progressive
process that seems mere a moment.
Now let me end with some wonderful and positive
news. News that I hope you would also share. There
are millions of people around the world who now
lead positive productive lives. People who have had
their health, families and careers restored. They are in
recovery, free from compulsive and addictive behavior.
Recovery is available to anyone no matter how long
or how severe that addiction is or has been. I know. I
have been helping people successfully achieve and live
a life of recovery for over 3o years. Recovery is real. It
begins with recognition and the decision to change.
The first step is by breaking that mid brain compulsive
cycle. That requires treatment, and I don’t mean
switching one drug for another. That is not treatment .
That is insanity.
The power of choice returns once the cognitive mind is
back in control. This is the point where counseling will
have its most beneficial effect. We get to choose how
we conduct and live our lives. We get to live a life of
Dr. Michael De Vito is a Diplomate and is Board Certified
in Addictionology and Compulsive Disorders. He is the
founder and program director of NewStart Treatment
Center located in Henderson, Nevada. He is presently in
private practice helping patients successfully live a life of
recovery from substance abuse and addictive behavior.
Dr. De Vito is internationally recognized. He has appeared
on world wide media and has written numerous articles
on the subject of Addiction and Life Long Recovery.
NewStart Treatment Center utilizes a Drug Free and Natural
approach to the treatment of Substance Abuse and
Dr. De Vito is a graduate of Mansfield University of Pennsylvania
and Northwestern Health Sciences University in
Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has taught Medical Ethics,
Clinical Pathology, Anatomy and Physiology at the College
of Southern Nevada.
He has over 30 years of experience in successfully guiding
patients and clients on the path of Recovery Consciousness.
He is the author of “Addiction: The Master Keys
to Recovery”, one of the few addiction recovery books
approved by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for
inmates in the Texas prison system.