Monday, February 21, 2011

Random thoughts about cravings, compulsions, dependence, addiction

Our youngest (now 3 1/2) discovered "sweets" when she was about a year and a half.  C. has a SERIOUS sweet tooth and Tortuga has an incredibly adverse response to sugar so we have tended to keep sweets around in moderation except when they "sneak" into our lives--Halloween, Valentine's Day, etc.  Milagro quickly discovered that she loved candy and would literally "beg" for it if she knew it was in the house. So when she was just shy of age 2 we taught her to say "My name is Milagro and I have a problem. I am addicted to sugar. I love it. I want it. I crave it. I need it. Please give me sugar...sugar...sugar!" It has become a sort of "game" around here and she still engages in saying this whenever she wants us to indulge her. I think her body and mind really do "crave" sugar and if it is around she cannot stop thinking about it.

C. claims to be the same about chocolate and other sweets and describes the cravings as intense and overwhelming at times. Does this make them compulsions? As I understand it a compulsion is a powerful and  irresistible impulse to act in a certain way no matter how (ir)rational it is. People act compulsively usually to  reduce anxiety and/or worry. Sometimes I think Milagro's cravings for sugar are compulsions because they turn an incredibly pleasant, easy-going, and rational child into a tantruming "monster" and she will cry that she "needs" a piece of candy. Then there is dependence which I think of as a "compulsive" state of being in chronic need and/or reliance upon something in order to meet an overwhelming and perceived need. In essence that something is required in order for the person to "function" at whatever level they are used to functioning.

I have often viewed Corazon's need for having chaos around her (internal/emotional and external) as a dependence. She counts on it in order to function. I see Tortuga's need to be miserable in the same way. We often tell Tortuga that he is most comfortable when he is miserable (comfortable does not equal happy). Lately, I have been wondering if Corazon's constant need to be in "chaos" (physical, emotional, etc.) functions more like an addiction. It's not just about clutter and mess it's about chaos. I think her emotional state is so frequently in chaos that when it isn't for awhile it totally freaks her out and she spirals downward. In many ways she "hates" the chaos but she also "needs" the chaos because it is familiar. She knows how it feels, smells, looks, and plays out. When she isn't in chaos the world is a much more confusing place and it is very hard for her to find her place in it. She depends on it and she is driven to create it in order to restore "balance"  even if it means she is in a state of chaos. Clearly it doesn't make sense for a happy existence as I see it but I think for her it as necessary as other addictions are for others. I think this state of chaos helps to distract her from some of the more painful emotional problems she experiences and in a weird way it provides a way for her to "organize" her everyday experiences. In many ways, I think this helps meet the criteria for "addiction." Usually an "addiction" includes behavior that is motivated by cravings and/or compulsions, continued participation in the behavior despite negative consequences, and a loss of control over one's behaviors. In some ways I see her (and Tortuga) as addicted to these behaviors that maintain chaos and misery in their daily lives.

How does this help me help them? When I have tried to help them overcome these issues I tend to treat them as "bad" habits motivated by cravings much like Milagro's sugar cravings. I indulge them occasionally and I "preach" the virtues of not having these things. I also encourage them to resist the cravings and to replace them with more "positive" behaviors. Yet, if they are more like addictions, how would my strategies and support be different? One of the main reasons addictions are hard to break is that there is such as strong and powerful combination of positive and negative consequences. My children's "addictions" are no different. Their behaviors cause them great anxiety, anguish, pain, and frustration to say the least. Yet they are familiar, predictable, and in some ways provide protection and security from their other incredibly painful emotional problems. If I view their issues as "addictions" how will that change what I do to try and help them? I am not sure yet, but I am mulling this over.


matryoshka said...

Jupiter is totally a sugar addict. She sneaks it and hoards it too.

Lisa said...

Interesting...I've never thought of it like this. May have to change some game plans with this info. :)

J. said...

I have never thought about like that either, hmmm, intersting when I think about my 2.

Lindsay Mama to Nine said...

My Hubbie is a Therapist and a Sexual Addictions therapist.

I LOVED THIS post by the way, very thoughtful and insightful.

What a break down of a Nero-logical addiction does , is all about the chemicals released in the brain at the time of the action, or behavior.
The brain is releasing endorphins, when the action id considered, soothing, comforting or relaxing.

Those chemicals in the brain can be way MORE powerful to the brains receptors than actual chemicals that are being absorbed or taken externally. They are more addictive.

There are brain scans that show the activity level in the brain, one a Heroine Addict, and other a Sex addict. The findings the impact of the brain is way way MORE active, and more Nero-transmitters reacting in the brain for a Nero-addiction , compared to a chemical one.

Some of the best ways to work on the addiction is to work on what the actual triggers are for the need to self soothe.

It helps me not feel so angry/frustrated when my kids M.O.'s come to play...


Dia por Dia said...

Thank you all for your comments. Lindsay, I am learning more about this as I try this new way of thinking. I used to tell Tortuga he was "addicted" to his rages and as I have thought about this I actually think this might be partly true. I am trying to work on writing about this.

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