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Personality and Addiction

Personality and Addiction

Many years ago, while working in a community drug and alcohol service I was helping a gentleman who had recently lost his driving license due to a conviction for driving while under the influence of alcohol. He had been referred to me by the custody sergeant at the police station for two sessions of advice support and guidance under the “Alcohol Arrest Referral Scheme”. A successful and affluent businessman, immaculately dressed, he asked me, “Is there such a thing as Alcoholics Anonymous for Executives?”. I suggested he go along to a meeting, where no doubt he discovered people from all walks of life, including judges, solicitors, and even police officers. My own father, a highly successful accountant at a respected patent attorney’s chambers in the City of London, had 27 years of recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous.

Addiction is an equal opportunities problem. It effects people from all backgrounds and all walks of life, from every level of education and income, and from any demographic or socio-economic group. Trying to identify a personality trait, an addictive personality, is, I believe, a bit of a red herring.

In his book, “Chasing the Scream, The first and last days of the war on drugs”, Johann Hari points out that statistically, and perhaps contrary to public perception, one in ten who try a particular drug experience harm; which of course means that nine out of ten don’t experience significant harm. So, what is different about the one who does?

Hari talks about the seeds of addiction falling on either fertile or barren ground. This makes perfect sense to me. If you are good at making connections with others; those you love, those who are like minded, those who support you and whom you support in return, those who you learn from, then you are much more likely to be barren ground on which those seeds fall. If you have a high degree of resilience, if you are good at expressing your emotions, comfortable in your own vulnerability and in asking for help, then even more so. If you practice gratitude and are able to live mindfully in the moment, then you are on a positive path.

If however you isolate yourself from such connections, lack resilience, find it unbearably uncomfortable to express your emotions or ask for help, if you live in fear of being vulnerable and particularly if you have experienced trauma, then it is possible that you become fertile ground on which those seeds take root and flourish.

If you find it hard to live in the moment but instead revisit past anguish with resentment and pain, then you leave yourself vulnerable to dysfunctional coping mechanisms.   The derivation of the word resentment means literally to re-feel, so when you feel resentful about a past event you are voluntarily re-feeling the pain associated with it.   If you persistently create in your mind painful scenarios for the future (which may never come to pass) then similarly, you leave yourself vulnerable to dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Mark Twain once said “I have suffered a great many catastrophes in my life, most of which never happened”.

These dysfunctional coping mechanisms might include gambling, inappropriate sexual behaviour, over eating, or a growing dependency or drugs or alcohol.

At The Hygrove, our approach is to ensure that you become barren ground for the seeds of addiction. We work towards improving your ability to connect with others and reduce your propensity to isolate. We help you to build resilience through positive experiences of risk. We help you learn the skills and to become comfortable expressing emotions and asking for help. We help you to trust. We help you to understand how the human experiences and becomes paralysed by trauma. We practice mindfulness to help you live in the moment. We help you find balance in your life, and we do all of this not just through therapeutic interventions but through encountering nature, through getting outdoors and facing new challenges, through creativity and self-expression, through experiential learning. In short, we help you to reconnect and renew.


What is a detox really like?

In 2015 as part of a wonderful initiative first created by Phoenix Futures, I was lucky enough to take part in “The Voyage of Recovery” This sailing expedition aboard the 85 ft Tectona, owned by The Island Trust, was a journey of some 120 nautical miles, setting out from Plymouth.

Tectona was built in India in 1928 by local people and elephants who dragged huge teak trees to the beach to be chopped into planks. She was commissioned by a Major in the medical corps for use as a private yacht and was brought back to the UK, and over the next 30 years she changed hands and professions several times. She was used to ferry supplies and personnel in the Hebrides during WW2 and later as a charter yacht before she finally found her place in sail training. (See Island Trust Website)

The Voyage of Recovery saw twelve volunteers, all of whom were in recovery from dependency upon heroin, crack cocaine or alcohol, form a crew led by a skipper and two other qualified sailors. The volunteer crew were responsible for every aspect of life on board from cooking and cleaning, to navigating, scrubbing the decks and raising the sails. With group activities at night, but more importantly with the relationships and interactions that developed, the Tectona became a floating therapeutic community.

Having experienced sea sickness before I went aboard with some trepidation, but early on the first day I turned to the skipper and said “this isn’t too bad” to which he replied with a weary look on his face “we’re not out of the harbour yet!”

Days three, four and five of the trip brought idyllic weather during which we all climbed the mainsail, dived into the sea, rowed to harbour and threw many buckets of sea water over each other. On the fifth evening we sailed through the night beneath a wonderful canopy of stars.

However, the first night brought confused seas and force 8 storms (they may not have been force 8 but that is how I remember it). One by one we succumbed.  For me the nausea was dreadful. The anti-seasickness tablets did nothing to help, neither did the magnetic bracelet, nor did chewing ginger or focussing on the horizon. It was all I could do to not just lay on my bunk in a foetal position. As I looked around at the number of people suffering as I was, I honestly thought that the expedition would end at the first mooring.

As I secured myself to the safety line so that I could lean as far over the side of the boat as humanly possible, now not even trying to preserve my dignity, a friend six feet away on the same safety line turned to me and said……”now you know what withdrawal from heroin is like!”

Thankfully, at The Hygrove, detox does not need to be that way. From the moment you arrive our team of specialist doctors and our nursing team will be looking after you. Medications are prescribed to ensure your detox is safe and that the symptoms of withdrawal are alleviated to the greatest possible degree. The comfortable surroundings, country air and supportive staff help enormously too, as does the support of others who have gone through the same experience and can reassure you that it doesn’t last forever.

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