A Big, Warm Hug.

In my journey through mental health services, I have met a number of people, both in hospital and outside it. As those of you who read this blog will know, a serious amount of drinking accompanied my mental ill health, and it was through this that I was admitted to our local drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit. It was during my time there that I met people not only with problems with alcohol, but also "hard" drugs, like heroin.
I am somewhat intrigued by the subject of addiction, and although my own problems have only ever been to do with drugs of the legal variety, i.e. tobacco and alcohol, when I was admitted to the unit I was, therefore, curious about what other drugs actually did for people. The downside of drugs is well known and overtly publicised, but as many people succumb to them, there must be an upside, otherwise why take them? Why take all the risks if there is no reward?
It seems to me that the taking of a drug in an addictive fashion might replace, or be a substitute for, human affection. Indeed, I remember that one of the people I met in the rehabilitation unit described the effect of taking heroin as being akin to getting "a big, warm hug".
Of course, we can add to that that drugs often give solace to those who experience some from of loss, or perhaps just some great emotional upheaval. I certainly think that my own relationship with alcohol only became problematic after experiencing a somewhat traumatic emotional time and becoming unwell.
Irvine Welsh, the author of the great novel about drug addicts in Scotland, "Trainspotting", remarked once on BBC2's "The Culture Show" that heroin appeared to have "filled the gap" left by the decimation of local industry in the 80s and the resulting economic hardship of the populace. So, drugs and the taking of them may be linked to economic, as well as emotional, problems.
But, to me, it is the feeling of well-being that drugs induce (which seems to replace our own feelings of well-being) that is the overriding issue. Indeed, it appears that when we are not enjoying life in any form that drugs can provide us with some relief. This is not to say that I recommend taking them, I am simply looking for the reasons why they are taken. One of the consultant psychiatrists who treated me at one stage even said that more creative people often succumb to drug use because levels of creativity are linked to levels of dopamine in the brain. If, apparently (and according to him), our levels of dopamine are not what they are supposed to be, this can lead to a lack of enjoyment in life, and ultimately the use of substances to then enhance the experience of existence. I suppose one thinks immediately of the death of Amy Winehouse last year. Also, levels of dopamine are linked to illnesses, like schizophrenia, which bring about feelings of joylessness.
It seems, then, that there are many reasons why people would want to take drugs, the risks to our health sometimes being outweighed by their apparent alleviation of emotional or even economic hardship. And, having been regarded once as just another drunkard, I would hope that these reasons become better understood, and that those who do indulge in drug taking are treated, at least, in a more non-judgemental fashion. Indeed, for all those whose music doesn't quite chime with the chorus, I wish a big, warm hug.


bazza said…
Hello David,. Do you accept the concept of an 'addictive personality'? This is something that, as a student of psychology and a qualified counsellor, has always interested me. Is it a simple chemical imbalance or an reasonable excuse of some kind? In a similar way overweight people sometimes claim to have a 'slow metabolism' which is not really a true condition.
Mt Toad from Wind in the Willows ia a great example of an addictive personality as he moves from one mania to another (hot-air ballooning, motoring etc)!
By the way, on another topic, you remember how you acknowledged Clare Danes' character in Homeland as a breakthrough in portraying mental illness? Well I just watched her in a 2005 film (Shopgirl) in which, halfway through, she admits having stopped taking her tranquillisers without medical supervision to explain her behaviour. She has also portrayed a women with autism. Interesting....
David said…
Hi bazza,
I'm not sure about "addictive personality", but I do know that certain personality types can be more prone to having mental illness. If you are a perfectionist, for example, I believe you are more likely to become depressed. And, if what the psychiatrist I spoke to is correct, then certain chemical imbalances can make you more prone to abusing substances. However, I think I have a bit of a problem with people describing things like alcoholism as "illnesses", simply because it involves will or choice. At the end of the day we have the ability to choose to, or choose not to, ingest any given substance.
As for Claire Danes, maybe she has had some personal experience of illness which has led her to portray such people. I don't really know, but as you say, it's interesting all the same.
Thanks bazza.
Very Best Regards,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
Well said and I heartily concur with what you so eloquently observed.
From my own experiences as I delved into the insidious world of that evil drug, alcohol, it was a way of coping, a way of numbing out the pain of a life that had fallen apart. And yes, it was, in its own desperate way, a replacement for the love I thought had abandoned me. And like all insidious drugs, alcohol, my best 'friend', became my worst enemy. Of course, somehow, I beat the addiction.
And being a former drug counsellor working in Stoke on Trent, I have seen decent folks who have been consumed by their addiction. Better understanding and the treatment of people is such a plight, would be a significant step forward. Well said, David.
Best wishes, your way, Gary
dcrelief said…
Dear David,
Emotinal trauma as a cause? I was seeking confidence and found it in the craziness of using drugs and alcohol. Issues from childhood never ocurred to me, to be a problem. They were simply experiences that happened. Yet my denial made no difference, as eventually I would have to deal with them. Therefore I can agree that emtional trauma is a possible cause for using, yet I am also aware that many people suffer worse, never reaching the conclusion that I did.
Physical trauma as a cause? (1) When I was born all infants were placed in incubators. The nurse discovered that my oxygen was off, and I was turning blue. I sustained damage to my eye sight. Was there other damage to my brain, particularly, the neurotransmitters? I'm not sure if neurotransmitters were even heard of... I'm old, David! (2) The year before I began using, I sustained head injuries in two car wrecks and a boating accident. The boating accident damaged all four quadrants. (3) Did a third car wreck finally straighten out the brain? I don't know, but I began to seek council and attend a 12 step program of recovery, within a couple weeks. (4) Fibromyalgia affects people differently. However, the medical field recognises that neurotransmitters are the main issue. At one point I had seven doctors, several of whom questioned 'if' i had this from birth? No wonder I often feel like a gerbil on a wheel; or which came first, the chicken or the egg? It is what it is!
So there - lots of things to add to your research. My 22 years of remaining 'clean and sober' have been worth every moment of struggle!! I offer great empathy to those not quite 'there'.
Thanks for allowing this lengthy comment. Your post was VERY interesting... but they always are.
In kindness, Dixie
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your kind remarks. Of course, I know about your own problems with the demon drink, and I think you've done an incredible thing in beating them. And I also hope that a better understanding of people with such issues comes to pass.
Very Best Wishes, your way,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thank you for your (rather long!) comment. 22 years clean and sober is quite an achievement, and all the information you give is very interesting (a bit like my blogs!). Here's to another good 22 years, Dixie.
Very Best Wishes,

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