Everyone knows that addictions are harmful, because they often cause serious physical, psychological, social and financial problems for people who struggle with them. Addictions kill thousands of people every year and impact millions of lives.
Addiction is an intense craving for something that you know is bad for you, but you just can’t seem to stop. Somehow this thing has gotten a hold on you without you realising it, and now it has you strongly in its grasp! We long for that state of euphoria, pleasure and happiness, so we keep coming back for more, only to discover that the more we indulge, the less fulfilled we feel.
If you are searching for the keys to fulfilment and lasting happiness, then join me, Gary Kent, as we discuss the science behind addictions with a special guest, and uncover the secrets that can set people free, and bring us happiness.
No one ever intends to become addicted. But at some time, when we feel sad or empty on the inside, we search for something to make us feel better. We make a choice and we reason that just doing it once won’t hurt us. We feel that we are still in control of our lives.
But maybe we aren’t as in control as we thought? In fact, statistics show that 43% of Australians have used an illicit drug. Over 80% regularly participate in gambling activities of some kind, which is the highest rate of gambling in the world. In fact, we gamble away 23 billion dollars a year, and it’s increasing every year!
Sometimes we choose alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling, gaming, or even seemingly harmless things like social media, sugar and chocolate to give us a few moments of pleasure. We long for that feeling, so we keep coming back for more, until soon we’re in a vicious cycle of indulge, binge, feel guilty – and then we do it all over again.
Drug abuse is escalating around the world at an alarming rate. Statistics reveal that 1 in 10 people are addicted to alcohol. Although we think it is our choice what we do, the results of our addictions can seriously impact the people around us through related crime, disease, and mental health issues.
Addictions destroy marriages, friendships, careers, and threaten a person’s basic health and safety. What started as the path to pleasure and happiness, ends in emptiness, heartache and brokenness?
If you think you know someone battling an addiction, and you would like to learn more about the warning signs and find out what you can do to help, then join me as we visit Dr Neil Nedley, a specialist in Internal Medicine with an emphasis on mental health and lifestyle medicine.
Dr Nedley is the President of Weimar Health Institute and is the author of the acclaimed Depression and Anxiety Recovery Program. He’s done extensive research into addictions – how to identify them, what causes them, and the damage they do to our brains – and what it takes to untangle yourself from them when they have taken a hold on you.
Gary: Dr Nedley, it’s a pleasure to have you on our program today to discuss this important topic. What are the most common addictions today that people are struggling with?
Dr Nedley: Well, it’s great to be here again Gary. Thanks for having me! And the most common addictions are actually becoming more common. But there are many.
There are Benzodiazepine addictions – these are drugs like Xanax, Atipan, Lorazepam, Alprazolam – there’s a whole class in there, and a host of people in western society that are addicted to these drugs.
Even more serious are the narcotic addictions. These are pain relievers…Morphine, that can get even to the point of Heroin. In fact, in the United States and Australia deaths due to overdose of those narcotics are rising rapidly, and it’s actually due to the addictive component of these drugs – needing more and more.
In addition of course, Alcohol, one of the ones that has been around for a long time. Alcoholism is still way too high, and still kills many people prematurely. We also have Tobacco, and some people kind of…because these other addictions have gotten so big, we forget about the big tobacco problem.
Some of the other addictions are gambling, which is rapidly rising in western societies, and also sexual addictions – pornography is at an all-time high in both males and females – female pornography rapidly rising significantly in the western world.
And in regards to self-mutilation, just to show you how rapidly some of these addictions are rising, in 1993 only 1% of girls, females under the age of 25, cut. Now at that time that was seen as a lot, because self-mutilation was very rare, much more rare prior to this, in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. But every 7 years there’s a national survey, and in 2000, 2% under the age of 25, cut. In 2007 it was 4%, so you can see the exponential rise. So in 2014… 25.6%! So it even broke the exponential curve that it was forming before.
One out of 4 females now self-mutilate under the age of 25, and this is due to the addictive component. Yes, there’s anxiety and depression, and those things behind it, but when people self-medicate through these type of addictions, it actually starts to accelerate, and so they don’t want to do it per se, but they don’t know how to stop. And that’s one of the characteristics of addictions.
Gary: Are there other addictions that we’re not aware of?
Dr Nedley: Yeah, There are a lot of addictions out there that people actually don’t necessarily classify that way, but they actually fit the addiction definition. Caffeine is an addictive drug, so coffee, Pepsi, Coca Cola, you know… Mountain Dew – these things actually are addictive.
Of course, it’s a good commercial business enterprise when you can give somebody something that is addictive, because they can go back to it, and that’s how businesses thrive…is to put things that are addictive in these types of beverages and food.
Marijuana actually is addictive. I mean, there are people that deny that, but we’ve had many marijuana patients come, and they have withdrawal – you know – nausea, vomiting when they’re on it on a regular basis and consuming large amounts.
And then there are things like Sugar. Sugar can be quite addictive.
And there are non-substances as well, like technology. Social media can be addictive. Entertainment, television, with its rapid scene of reference changes. Movies…people can get addicted to entertainment, television and movies.
Gaming, video gaming, you know… huge addiction, and it can be quite problematic. Even entertainment sports, and particularly watching entertainment sports can fit that classification of addiction.
And then music, particularly the music that has a syncopated rhythm. Now some music is actually not addictive, other music is addictive, and this is why, you know, some people say, “Well, I have an addiction to food”. That’s not really true, they’re only addicted to some foods. And it’s the sugary foods that tend to have that addictive component. And it’s the syncopated rhythm aspect of music that tends to be addictive, and also not healthy as far as the frontal lobe is concerned.
You know, gaming is a big issue. We have a lot of people come to our program with this addiction and it’s rapidly rising. You know, they even have gaming sporting events, on-line and so on, where they’ll give prizes, and so people are trying to get better and better at these video games, and they can encompass 14, 16 hours a day, where they’re just totally engrossed, and they think, “Boy, there’s this prize at the end. I can get better!”
But the problem is, there’s millions of others trying to do the same thing, and it is a rapidly rising addiction that causes all sorts of mental health problems. And then they don’t know how they can get away from it. They end up in our program before they’re able to get the victory over it, over their gaming habits.
Gary: A lot of us are involved in some of these activities, how do we know whether we are addicted?
Dr Nedley: Well, some of the clues that we are addicted are, if we are lying about our behaviour. That’s a major clue. In other words, if we’re kind of denying when someone asks us if we’re involved in this, or we act like we’re not as involved as we are.
If we notice that we’re needing a little more of this, and there is this craving, this kind of need. And then also, if we stop using it, if we actually feel kind of worse. In other words, if we’re having withdrawal symptoms? Those are major clues that there’s an addiction there.
And of course, the other aspect of it is, the addictedness is often what the addicted person doesn’t realise, is there is an adverse affect on them and others. So, are others being adversely affected? And can you admit that you are actually being adversely affected? Those are out there, that’s a major clue that there’s an addiction there.
In fact a study was done recently showing that [of] those in Generation Z, which is the young generation, those born after 1995, 40% of them actually admit to being addicted to their iPhones or their electronic device. In fact, they can’t even imagine life without them, and so their life seems to be totally centred in these devices, but yet we recognise things are not going right with these kids that are that way. They’re not relating right, socially more inept, they don’t have good strong relationships with their parents and their siblings, their ability to learn is down, their ability to manage their emotions.
And so some have intuitively put two and two together, but a good share of people do not recognise what this is causing until they see the evidence. And then once they see the studies and the evidence, which are becoming abundant – just look up ‘complications or risks of devices’ and you’ll be able to see some of these studies – then they realise, ‘you know what, a lot of my problems I had no idea was linked to this gripping device I carry around in my pocket all the time, and I’m having trouble staying off it.’
And so, they need to be educated, and that’s why I’m glad for shows like yours Gary, that are getting the word out there, because the technology companies are not going to get the word out there.
Gary: Dr Nedley, how do addictions work – how do they take such a hold on us?
Dr Nedley: How addictions work, and how they take hold of us, actually has to do with brain chemistry…they’re involving our Dopamine pathway. Addictive substances actually produce more of a surge and a spike in dopamine levels. And so it can get us up into the euphoric state, particularly the first few times we’re using the addictive substance. And then the dopamine starts to go down pretty fast as well. At first it just goes down a little less than neutral, but the more we utilise the substance, the less surge we’re getting, so dopamine isn’t going up as high now, but in between times our levels are going far less than neutral.
And after we use it hundreds of times, we’re actually no longer using it for euphoria, we’re just using it to feel neutral – or numb. And in between times there’s this deep distressing sense of deprivation, even though there’s nothing bad going on in your life.
And so in reality, we first do it in order to gain this pleasure and this euphoria, but eventually we’re doing it only to get numb. But because this process is so gradual we often don’t recognise that we’re actually getting far less dopamine in our day above neutral, than what we used to get before we ever had this addiction to begin with.
And so what’s interesting is that people who aren’t addicted to substances, they actually have dopamine levels far above neutral the vast majority of their day, because simple things just result in pleasurable activities and pleasurable levels of dopamine, without it surging downwards. So going for a nice walk, for instance. If you’re not addicted, that can produce a nice dopamine high which lasts much longer than going to an addictive substance.
You know, reading a good book, listening to healthy music, these things can produce nice dopamine levels, and what the addict does not realise…they get to the point where they’re thinking ‘you know, this is bad for most people, but because of who I am, I need this. I need this, because without it I’m just in bad shape.’
But they don’t realise that if they recovered, their happiness and success and fulfilment in life would be far greater than this dependency, and having to go back to this in order to try to feel neutral or normal.
Gary: What is the best way to overcome an addiction?
Dr Nedley: The best way to overcome an addiction, is to first recognise that your habit is destructive, that it’s not healthy for you and that it’s not healthy for the people around you and that you can actually live a far better life once you recover and get over this addiction.
So that step number 1 is to recognise that it is destructive.
And then step number 2 is to make a choice, and say ‘you know what, I’m going to do what it takes to get rid of this. This is adversely affecting my life.
And then, step 3 is where the work begins. That involves a decision point where you’re going to abstain from it, and you might suffer from withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms are not going to kill you per se, you know, unless it’s heavy alcohol all the time, unless it’s heavy narcotics or benzos. Those might need a professional involved.
But these other addictions don’t require necessarily a professional to help you – you just have to make this decision, and be willing to go through withdrawal symptoms.
Now how is the best way to do this? Exercise regularly. Try to get enough sleep.
And then also rely on spiritual resources. One of the things that we’re finding is that virtually everyone that overcomes an addiction that has a grip on them does it through spiritual resources. That means the frontal lobe has to be involved, and you have to recognise that this is not something you can get over yourself.
Yes, you’re the one that makes the choice, it’s the will power, it’s not going to do it without your choice, but then once you make that choice, ask God to help you. And God does actually help those who are willing to put their all into developing that relationship with Him, to help them overcome these powerful addictions.
And then, life starts to improve. At first they’re wondering, ‘boy, my life is worse’ but over time they will actually, as I mentioned, they’ll actually have much higher dopamine levels just doing the simple pleasures in life that are not addictive. And they will have far better relationships. Far more productivity at work. Far better family life. It’s worth all the effort that you can do to overcome any addiction that you might have.
Well, you know interestingly Gary, in the medical/psychiatric establishment the highest rates of agnosticism and atheism are in the Psychiatric profession, so in my Psychiatry learning I learned from these individuals that didn’t really have God in their lives, but what I would notice is, when they had people with powerful addictions coming to them and begging them as a psychiatrist, “Please, is there anything you can give me to overcome this addiction? Don’t you have a pill for it, Doctor? Don’t you have…?”
And the doctor would say, “I have nothing. There is no pill that is going to help you. I actually don’t have anything to help you.”
“But I can tell you, that my patients that have gotten help, they’ve all gone the spiritual route. And let me tell you where you can go, where the other patients have gone to get help.” he says. “I don’t know what happens there, but I know the spiritual part is the way my patients have overcome addictions like that. So you need to see them!”
And so in general the psychiatric community recognises God and a spiritual power is involved in that. They’re not necessarily in contact with that power, but they recognise from their own experience that patients who have overcome addictions have a strong spiritual influence that helped them to overcome.
Gary: To overcome an addiction obviously requires change. Can you tell us a little about that?
Dr Nedley: Yes. Overcoming addiction there are four stages of change. The first stage is when the addict doesn’t even realise that they need to change. That’s what we call ‘Unconsciously Incompetent’. They’re incompetent but they don’t recognise they’re incompetent.
The second stage is to become ‘Consciously Incompetent’. That means that you actually are convinced that it is harmful, and it often takes knowledge for an addict to recognise that. And so, some good knowledge. This is why we have to teach people the harms of this behaviour – what it would be like without the behaviour, and then show them the evidence.
And then they realise ‘alright, this is more of a problem than I thought it was, and it’s probably causing all sorts of problems in my life that I don’t even recognise.’ But they still haven’t changed, as far as getting rid of the addiction. They are now just conscious that they are incompetent.
And that’s an important step. An addict will not overcome without some knowledge.
And then, the third aspect is now to become ‘Consciously Competent’. That means that you have, with your willpower and choice, you’ve made a decision, you are giving up this addiction and it is no more going to be a part of your life.
Yes, ask God to help you, recognise your dependence on Him, and do what you can with your own body – with exercise and sleep and those types of things to get over it – but you need to recognise – you know – let’s just talk about a simple addiction.
If you’re addicted to Pepsi, when you get thirsty, you’re still going to think of Pepsi. And you’re going to have to say, ‘No, not Pepsi! It’s going to be water.’ The next time you’re thirsty, you’re going to think of Pepsi again, and you’re going to have to say, ‘No, not Pepsi! It’s going to be water.’ That’s ‘conscious competence’, and you have to continue in that conscious competence phase differing amounts of time, depending on the addiction.
But with Caffeine, it’s about a month, and after one month, when you get thirsty, you’re now thinking of water. You’re actually enjoying water, that you didn’t like the taste of before, and you recognise, ‘You know what, I don’t have the problems with caffeine any more. I’m not irritable, I don’t my reflux, I don’t have those type of symptoms…’
And that’s when you’ve reached stage 4, which is ‘Unconsciously Competent’. And so it’s no longer a struggle. A lot of addicts think it’s going to be this life-long struggle, where they’re going to go back and forth between stages 2 and 3 – conscious incompetence and conscious competence – and they don’t realise if they stick with it, there is unconscious competence coming!
And that’s when the dopamine levels are above neutral the vast majority of the day. We’re getting nice dopamine satisfaction, the usual irritations and nuisances of life don’t get them down at all any more, and they’re able to live above the fray. They become more productive, relationships improve, success and fulfilment skyrocket.
That’s unconscious competence that’s awaiting every addict that goes through those 4 stages of change.
Gary: Dr Nedley, what message would you give to those who are struggling with addictions?
Dr Nedley: The message I would give for those struggling with addiction is, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your addiction is, you can overcome with the power of God in your life!
Do what it takes to make this choice. Depend upon God. He will help you, and you can break free!
Gary: Dr Nedley, thank you for being on our program today, and for sharing such valuable information with us.
Dr Nedley: Thanks for having me, Gary! It’s always great being here.
Happiness and fulfilment are what we all really want in life. Turning to things that fill us only for a moment, but lead to heartache and misery, anxiety and depression, are like seeing a mirage after a long walk through a thirsty desert, but never experiencing the life-giving water that we desperately crave.
In the Bible, there was a woman with addictions that had taken a hold on her, leaving her socially isolated and empty inside. Jesus met her one day at a well in the desert and offered her the water of life that could truly quench her thirst and fill her deepest needs.
He said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst. But the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water, springing up into everlasting life” John 4:13-14.
This woman had been looking for happiness and fulfilment in all the wrong places, but what she was really missing, was Jesus! The day she met her Saviour, she found hope. The day she let Him into her heart, she found peace, and real joy that satisfied the deepest needs of her soul.
If you would like to begin a journey with Jesus and receive some practical suggestions on how to overcome an addiction that you are struggling with – or if you know someone who is struggling with addiction – then I’d like to recommend the free gift we have for all our Incredible Journey viewers today.
It’s a booklet called, ‘12 Proven Steps for Overcoming Addictions.’ This booklet is our gift to you and is absolutely free. I guarantee there are no costs or obligations whatsoever. So, make the most of this wonderful opportunity to receive the gift we have for you today.
If you’ve enjoyed today’s journey into the world of addictions and our reflections on overcoming addictions and finding peace in our lives, then be sure to join us again next week when we will share another of life’s journeys together. And now, I’d like to invite you to join me as we pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you that you are the water of life that can quench our thirsty souls. We’ve been looking for love and fulfilment in all the wrong places. Today we have discovered that our search for happiness and true inner joy, can only be found in knowing and following you – the God who made us and loves us. Today we invite you into our hearts and lives, in Jesus name we pray, Amen.