I’m Still Stereotyping Addicts…Are You?

I had a terrific discussion last night with a mental health professional and we talked about the stigmatizing stereotypes around not just pornography addiction, but addiction in general. I recognized that for some addictions, I probably still have a bit of “smartening up” to do.

One of the things I preach whenever I talk to a group or do an interview is that there is no stereotypical porn addict. I was a white-collar, married, father-of-two who was seen as a pillar of the community. Heck, when you think “porn addict,” you probably don’t think of a guy who was awarded the Key to the City. But I know people also don’t think 50-year-old female nurse, or high school art teacher or well-respected dentist, but I met these people and dozens if not hundreds more during my journey.

Do you know who I didn’t meet? The pimply-faced, 19-year-old who is living in mother’s basement who is socially awkward and has never kissed a girl in real life, but I think this is most people’s image of who a porn addict is. I’m sure he’s out there, but I’ve never met him.

We talked about my belief that this kind of stereotyping helped contribute to the opiate/opioid crisis. The drug problem we face today shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are episodes of Dragnet from the late 1970s where they are talking about the dangers of heroin. You can go back to rap music from the late 1980s and early 1990s where they are talking about abusing Vicodin. It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. Opiates/opioids were not invented in 2009, yet it only seems like we’ve cared about it for 10 years or so.

Why? I think it’s because we put such a stigma on drug users in the 1980s through many of the anti-drug campaigns. “Just Say No to Drugs” is a good message, but I think my 8-year-old mind also heard, “…because those who say yes to drugs are dangerous and/or bad people.” I believe as a society, we looked down on drug users as being from the wrong side of the tracks. We may have had a distant cousin or a friend-of-a-friend who had a cocaine issue, never imaging how close to home the opiate/opioid epidemic would eventually hit for most people only a couple decades later.

That same decade, we gave a lot of attention to AIDS. It was really the cause of the 1980s, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Thankfully, a ton of money went into research to create drugs like AZT and societal standards, like how donated blood is handled or needle exchanges for IV drug users, changed. Earlier this month, it was the anniversary of Magic Johnson announcing he was HIV positive. Remember when that happened? Many of you are probably too young because it took place November 1991. Everyone thought he’d be dead in a year because up until that point, people died that quickly. Twenty-eight years later, he’s still here. I bring up AIDS because it shows what we can do as a society when we heap attention, money and research on a problem: We can solve it.

It wasn’t until I went to my first inpatient rehab that I actually met heroin users. I met meth users and pill poppers and people whose alcohol addiction made mine seem like a walk in the park. Essentially, I met people who I would have crossed the street to avoid before I got there.

What I recognized was that these were some of the most real people in the world. They didn’t judge me and they helped create a safe space where I could be myself and share my truth. Unlike the people who I dealt with every day in my professional life, they were open and honest and made me feel OK for being who I really was. Luckily, I adapted quickly and changed my attitude about who drug users really were. I needed to meet these people before I could change my mind.

The same is true about those with eating disorders. At the second rehab I was at there were probably 8 women and 1 man in their eating disorder program. Sex/porn addicts have a lot in common with people who suffer with eating disorders. I’ve only had this proven further to me in the fact that this blog about it is the most read entry in the history of this site.

In getting to know several of these women very well, I can tell you that not all of them were stick thin. I don’t think anything they ever saw on TV or in a fashion magazine led them to become the way they were. Some of them could be quite complimentary toward certain parts of their appearance. Getting to know them one-on-one blew apart 95% of the stereotypes I had about women with eating disorders.

I’ve not met any people who need a 12-step group like Codependents Anonymous, but I don’t have the greatest stereotype of codependent people in my head, nor do I about people who end up with video game addiction or a few other maladies out there. The conversation I had last night made me recognize that I still classify certain people a certain way because I just haven’t had the personal interaction with them, yet I’ve had enough interaction with other kinds of people that I should know better by now.

I’m not going to wait until January 1 to start. My November 22 resolution is to stop stereotyping people who suffer from any addiction or behavioral disorder.

Guest Blog: Understanding Depression During Addiction Recovery

Note from Josh: While I take an extended break this summer, I wanted to provide some kind of content, so Patrick Bailey was once again nice enough to contribute several entries you’ll read over the next few weeks.

By Patrick Bailey

People who have gone through withdrawal or have witnessed someone suffer because of addiction understand how difficult it is. Besides the physical discomfort and pain, people in this process suffer from devastating depression that makes the recovery even more difficult.

Depression is a mental illness that can affect anyone and anywhere in the world, even those in rehabs. According to the report released by the Center for Disease Control, 10 percent of physician’s visit is because of depression. The World Health Organization reports that it is the leading cause of disability.

Depression is a mental illness that can happen anytime. In fact, it often strikes during recovery from alcohol or substance abuse and addiction. The symptoms often show during the first few weeks or months of the recovery phase. It is therefore essential that the treatment facility, be it a regular type or a luxury rehab in California, offers dual diagnosis treatment in order to effectively provide care should depression happen during recovery.

Causes of Depression During Recovery

There are many factors that could cause depression during the addiction recovery process. This includes the following:

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or simply PAWS is the usual phenomenon related to recovery. Depression can function as PAWS and commonly happens in the days or weeks after symptoms of acute withdrawal died down. The symptoms of acute withdrawal often coincide with detoxification and linger until the first few weeks of recovery. On the other hand, depressive symptoms can last for months during the recovery stage.

Changes to the brain related to addiction

During addiction, the brain is affected by alcohol or drugs. When you go to a rehab or a treatment facility, you are treated. As a result, your brain adjusts to the effects of the substances by decreasing the production of neurotransmitters that give you the high or feel good sensation. This includes dopamine, GABA, and serotonin.

These neurotransmitters are responsible for modulating your mood or simply tell you how you should feel. When these chemicals are at their optimum levels they can be translated as a positive outlook or a good mood. When these neurotransmitters are at their lowest levels, this could manifest as depression.

During the early stage of recovery, when the brain is still adjusting to life without harmful substances like alcohol or drugs, depression can happen due to low levels of dopamine, GABA, and serotonin. This usually happens approximately 90 days without drugs or alcohol. A brain functioning lower than normal and producing lower levels of these neurotransmitters can show symptoms of depression ranging between mild and severe.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis has a higher chance of occurring to people with substance addiction. Although there are also other factors at play such as family history. Usually, an untreated dual diagnosis like bipolar disorder, major depression, and other depressive mental issues may be the reason for depression during recovery. After all, there is a strong link between alcoholism and dual diagnosis as well as depression and substance addiction. Several studies show that many cases of substance addiction are due to the patient’s effort to numb the pain he is feeling.

Feelings of despair

Most patients undergo the stage where they grieve for the loss of drugs or alcohol in their life. This usually happens at the start of the recovery process. Letting go of your old habits or addiction, however crucial to your well-being, can still cause you to feel a sense of loss. In addition, emotions that were once repressed by alcohol or drugs can suddenly arise causing sudden negative changes in your mood.

Symptoms

During the addiction recovery stage, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of depressions. Signs can include the following symptoms that could manifest alone, or all at the same time:

  • Persistent emotional numbness or being in a sad, empty, or low mood
  • Recurrence of negative thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty to focus or concentrate
  • Changes in appetite (eating remarkable more or significantly less)
  • Having trouble sleeping, oversleeping, or staying asleep
  • Lack of motivation for hobbies that you once loved
  • Feeling of worthlessness
  • Frequent feeling of being guilty

If you or your loved one is experiencing or manifesting any of the symptoms listed for a couple of weeks or more, consult a healthcare professional about this.

Risks of Untreated Depression

Clinical depression that goes untreated and allowed to progress can compromise your recovery in rehab centers, treatment facilities, or wherever you are admitted. This is applicable especially during the first few weeks of the recovery stage when cravings are at their strongest. Negative emotions like anger, grief, sadness, feeling of helplessness, can trigger anyone to go back to their old habit.

There is also a great chance that the patient will have the urge to escape the facility because of the painful situation he is undergoing. Patients usually report ebbing of suicidal thoughts. The worst thing that could happen when depression happens during recovery is drug or alcohol relapse. Going back to alcohol or substance at this stage could have fatal results because of the high risk of overdose and deadly health effects.

Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.

Is it Possible for an Addict to Go From “Recovering” to “Recovered?”

If you’re reading this on the day I wrote it, April 2, 2019, today marks five years of sobriety from alcohol. I also count this as my sobriety date from pornography, although it technically was a few days earlier. If you would have ever told me I’d go five years without either of my nearly life-long addictions, I’d have said it could only happen once I was put in the ground.

I won’t be attending AA to pick up my five-year chip. I believe I took from the program what I could in about six months of attending meetings. One of the things that I questioned at the time, and question even further now with so much sober time behind me, is if their belief that alcoholism is an ongoing disease and people never truly “heal” or completely “recover” is accurate for every addict.

I have no question in my mind that I was addicted to pornography and alcohol. They were my go-to vices when I needed to curb anxiety and stress for two decades. Despite negative consequences and a desire to stop, I didn’t until the law intervened. For me, being told I’d be thrown in jail (first on bail, then on probation) was the incentive I needed to quit.

I’ll admit, the cravings for porn were strong that first year and the cravings for alcohol were just as strong for around three years. Today though, unless I’m writing for this blog or giving an interview on a podcast, thoughts about using are not there. It’s just not a part of my everyday thinking anymore.

I think it’s healthier for me not to attend multiple meetings per week where discussions of alcohol and pornography are the focus. I appreciate the newcomers who are on the verge of falling back into that world of addiction, but I’ve met so many people with long-term sobriety who didn’t take the 12-Step route to know it can be another road to success.

I spent years (and continue to attend) in therapy, learning what happened in my life to contribute to the addictions starting. I have also spent years carefully crafting a new life where my routines are different, my motivations are different and I dutifully pay attention to my mental health.

So, am I still a recovering addict? According to most of the messaging, yes. I’ll never actually “recover”. Can one be an addict yet not actively participate in their addiction, nor having cravings? I’m not sure. Someone who played professional baseball from 1970 to 1984 is not still a baseball player. Someone who stopped smoking in 1997 is not still a smoker. Someone who spent their single life as a womanizer, but remains devoted in marriage is not still a philanderer. So why am I still an alcoholic and a porn addict?

I think the answer for most is, “It’s safer to consider my addiction as an active, living thing instead of a behavior of the past. I’m just one bad choice away from being back there.”

I understand that line of thinking, but aren’t I just one bad choice away from being a heroin user or starting a gambling addiction? We’re all just one bad choice away from ruining our lives, addict or not.

I believe addiction is a disease. It’s been proven by science. But science has also proven there are many diseases that people recover fully from. Is it possible addiction is one of those diseases?

I’m not completely there yet, but I have a feeling at some point, there is going to be an evolution in my mindset from “recovering” to “recovered” and I’m not worried about it being the slippery slope that returns me to the addictions. While I hopefully will always educate and inform about the dangers of addiction, I think the personal danger can dissipate to nearly nothing over time for many people.

Maybe this is just a matter of semantics. We love to label things in our society and we also tend to catastrophize for the worst-case scenario. When I was in rehab, the program was geared the same toward me, who needed only one trip each for alcohol and porn, as it was the person who had been 12 times and never been successful. I realistically probably didn’t need the same level of care that they did.

If constant self-monitoring and keeping your addiction top-of-mind, even after a decade, is what you need to stay sober, then please, fight the daily fight. I don’t want anything I say to dissuade you from continuing on with a program that works for you. I’ll never say that I wasn’t “really” addicted because I don’t need to white-knuckle it day-to-day anymore.

I also think it’s OK if you’re not struggling day-to-day. I don’t think it minimizes your battle and I don’t think you have to apologize for a recovery that the mainstream doesn’t acknowledge. I think it’s actually the place that most addicts strive to arrive at. I’m here, and I’m grateful.

Latest Q&A: What does ‘Gaslighting’ mean?

QUESTION: My husband is a porn addict. I’ve heard the term “gaslighting” used in this situation. What does it mean?

ANSWER: I know there are more technical definitions for gaslighting, so I’ll just handle the been-there, done-that side. Essentially, it’s the pure form of manipulation where I deflect, accuse and confuse.

Gaslighting is me making you think that you’re crazy for asking me questions about being a porn addict. Gaslighting is me manipulating you into doubting your own good sense of what is happening in front of your eyes.

It’s me telling you that I’m getting better and taking care of my problems so you live on the fumes of false hope. It’s about saying what I need to say and doing what I need to do in any given situation so I can continue to be an addict and take the spotlight off of myself.

Gaslighting is the control I have over you. I know you don’t want to leave this relationship or marriage. I know you love me and my knowledge of that is a chip in the game. I know you worry about how you’d deal with finances on your own or what would happen to the kids if you took some kind of stand about my condition. More chips for me. I know all of these things and I will use all of them to my advantage like a grand champion poker player trying to push a weaker player around.

When I’m deep in my addiction, I want you to stop asking questions and telling me what to do and I want to be left alone to engage in my unhealthy behavior. I’ll do what it takes to make that happen because I’m an addict. Porn, sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol, food – it doesn’t matter the addiction. As long as you’re standing in the way of me doing this thing, I’ll do what I need to do to move you out of the way, even if it’s hold you mentally and emotionally hostage. That because I’m an addict.

I read all this and think, “What an evil person” but I’ve described just about every addict I’ve ever met. We could teach a masterclass in manipulation. We’d even have the students believing “masterclass” means something other than “class”.

I don’t know where the term comes from, but gaslighting is absolutely the No. 1 illusion in any addict’s box of magic tricks.

We all learn how to lie and manipulate in life. When you’re a baby you figure out that crying gets you fed and changed. We all learn to do it early on, it’s just that the addict, by sheer means of practice, gets really good at it. Most adults tone it down, especially with loved ones, as they get older. I didn’t. Maybe that’s why I did well in business and politics.

There were times when I would lie about something and think to myself, “Holy crap. That sounded legit! I could be an actor!”

I look back now and realize it wasn’t a compliment.

 

If you liked this Q&A, check out the others HERE

You can check out my Resources page if you need a place to start getting help. Click HERE

If you’d like somebody to talk to who has been there about porn addiction, be it yours or someone you love, but aren’t ready to make the leap to get help from the medical community, I can be a great resource. For more information, click HERE

 

DISCLAIMER: While many call me a pornography addiction expert, I have no formal training in counseling or medicine. My advice comes from experience as an addict and as someone in recovery for over four years. Please take my words only as suggestions and before doing anything drastic, always consult with a professional. If you’d like me to answer a question publicly, either post it in the comment section or visit the contact page. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

First Guest Blog: Google Trends Data Gives Insight Into US Addictions By State

Note from Josh: This is the first time I’m presenting a guest blogger. Aeden Smith-Ahearn approached me with some research he was working on and wondered if I’d like to share it. Upon looking at the map he’s created, I think he shows just how prevalent sex and porn addiction is in the US. I also think it’s important to point out all of the other addictions. This is really some fantastic work on his part and I hope you’ll enjoy it and be educated as much as I was.

 

By Aeden Smith-Ahearn

Addiction is on the rise, and with it comes a slew of problems that we seem unequipped to deal with. With the opioid epidemic being declared a public emergencyalcoholism on the rise, and pornography addiction still not being considered a “medical issue”,  it seems we have an overall problem that is being seriously overlooked.

In order to better understand this issue, and how it has permeated our society, we analyzed the data inside Google Trends to see just what addictions were concerning to modern Americans. We looked at this data on a state-by-state basis to find out which states were worried and educating themselves about which specific addictions.

America_Struggle_with_Addiction_1000x600

Here are some of our findings:

Pornography and Sex Addiction

By far the most prevalent and most searched for addictions fell in the pornography and sex addiction category. This is a growing problem, yet still not listed as an actual “disorder” by psychologists and medical professionals today.

(Note from Josh: This was written before the World Health Organization began listing sexual compulsivity disorder).

Sex addiction was more prevalent in the east, with pornography addiction trending more prevalently in the west. On the full scale, clearly American’s are worried about these addictions—given the massive search volume and popularity. Given this trend, is it only a matter of time before this problem gets too out of hand—if it hasn’t already?

Drug, Alcohol, and Opiate Addictions

With opiate and heroin related overdoses becoming a daily occurrence. News stories about drugs and alcohol are more prevalent than ever. Some states even showed trends regarding specific opiate medications, like Tramadol in Florida, or Vicodin in Michigan. Such specific trends get at the heart of the problem, with certain states having their own specific issues that are unique to them.

Nicotine and alcohol remain at large in the US as well, and work to further fuel other addictions. Rarely does one addiction come alone, but, often, one addiction leads to another in a cycle of behavior that is hard to eliminate.

Social Media and Internet Addictions

Apparently more prevalent in eastern states, the use of smartphones, addictions to social media, Facebook, and other Internet platforms are on the rise nationwide.

And because of the piggyback nature of addiction, we wonder if these simple, easy to access addictions are providing a basic neurological route that leads individuals down a path to much stronger addictions like drugs and pornography.

Food and Sugar Addictions

Overall health continues to get worse, and declining life expectancy in America is just one major signal of this bigger problem. Obesity and other issues continue to be a massive setback for the country. Food addictions are not making things easier, and many American’s are searching for education related to these addictions.

Are We Doing Enough?

The problem of addiction is very real. There is a conversation happening, and many are hoping this conversation leads to real change. However, many of these issues are new, and they come with very little real scientific understanding.

Change is happening, but is it happening fast enough? Are we doing enough? Are we creating the future for our children that will empower them?

Maybe time will tell. But let’s hope we are not leaving this problem up to chance. That seems like a poor approach to the significant problems at hand.

 

Aeden Smith-Ahearn is the content coordinator for Experience Ibogaine treatment centers. Aeden was a massive heroin addict for seven years and, ultimately, found sobriety through Ibogaine. He now spends his time writing, educating, and helping others find freedom from addiction through alternative treatment methods.