Kicking the habit

Published 2:33 pm Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In the 1970s, I worked in the ghetto in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida. The setting was a store front counseling center that focused on drug abuse prevention and treatment. In the first phase of my work there, the center mainly saw teenagers and young adults who were experimenting with marijuana and/or with hallucinogens. Later, however, as the scope of the project expanded I became the director of the methadone maintenance program. This was a shift in clientele from recreational drug users to hard core addicts. Addiction doesnt occur in the way TV sometimes claims it happens. Its not a get hooked if you even try it situation. That analysis is used in an attempt to discourage all experimentation. For some few people that first taste will presage an addiction, but that person was probably destined by his/her DNA to become addicted to something. Facts support a gradual descent into addiction either from recreational or medical use.

The journey from first use to full blown addiction is usually filled with ups and downs – the ups positively reinforcing continued use in the most coercive and binding manner (intermittent reinforcement). I heard stories from clients about bursts of creativity, feelings of well-being, and clarity of thinking or freedom from pain. Accompanying those stories, however, were stories of anxiety, confusion, depression and feeling out of control. These clients followed a pattern – initial low dose usage to more frequent, higher quantity use to constant use, sometimes in quantities that boggle the mind.

Entering treatment to attempt to kick the habit was almost always precipitated by some event – often an arrest, but also things like traumatic accidents, marital problems, or threats to employment. Going through treatment and becoming free of the addiction is very difficult. There is both physical and emotional pain. Recidivism is very high. Individuals undergoing this change display frayed emotions – anger, frustration, fear and hostility. The physical manifestations include cramping, nausea, sleeplessness, headaches, and bowel dysfunction. The only answer is to go through it; you cant dodge this bullet. On the other side of successful treatment, new habits must be formed to fill the time and energy voids left from previous, now discarded, lifestyle. &bsp;

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In his state of the union address in January of 2006, then president George W. Bush made the point that America is addicted to oil. The point is almost obvious but I admit that viewed in the context of my clinical background, the statement resonated in me and has continued to linger at the fringes of my consciousness. Certainly the gradual increase in consumption is readily visible. Long lines and mass grumbling resulting from periodic shortages dating from the 1970s demonstrate the anxiety that arises when supplies are threatened. The long run of Americas feelings of well being have become so common place that it seems normal for that to be the case. Americans lifestyles typically require mobility.

Currently, the Gulf of Mexico is awash in a killer flood of oil gushing from a burst deep well. A way of life is threatened. A precious ecosystem is on the brink of desecration. The wisdom of continued drilling for a supply of cheap energy is called into question. Truly, this is a catastrophic event – with no visible end in sight.

Will America take the hint and enter treatment? If so, what might we expect to result from such an undertaking?

I believe that treatment of the nation to break its dependence on fossil fuels will be no different from the individuals experience of detoxifying from a drug. The hard part will be committing to making the change. If drilling in the gulf is curtailed, shortages will occur and prices at the pump will rise. There will be anxiety and outrage. Accusations will be hurled (probably at whichever political organization is in power). Adjustments to lifestyle will be mandatory. Public transportation will become more fashionable and in demand. The ability to go and do whatever we want will be curtailed. The percentage of our income devoted to transportation will grow. We will suffer physical, emotional and economic distress. But we can survive this.

After making the adjustments to the changes foisted upon us we will seek answers to new lifestyle arrangements. Hopefully we will finally find a way to create a national energy policy that addresses the true needs of the entire nation, rather than simply serving the wishes of the oil conglomerate and its shareholders.

We should see a retooling of national industries toward transportation driven by electricity. We should see freight being moved over long distances more by rail than by truck (at least one of the countrys billionaires, Warren Buffet has already begun to invest heavily in rail transportation). Perhaps fuel cells or hydrides will provide an answer.

Whatever the new answers are, it will take time to recover our balance and status. I dont doubt the ability of Americans to solve these problems. We must first admit that there really are problems, and then set about doing the work required to get back on track. Overcoming this addiction will require R & D money and a lot of patience. Will the rupture in the Gulf wake us up?

Don Weathington is a retired psychotherapist and business owner who lives in Gillette Woods at a place called Birdland.