Tag Archives: drugs

8 reasons why i give money to panhandlers

“don’t give a panhandler money! he’ll only buy drugs!” we’ve all heard this.

today i gave a hefty amount of money to the guy who always sits in front of my neighbourhood supermarket. the parking sign pole against which he was leaning was shaking because he was shivering so hard. i made him promise to leave for the night and watched him go.

while i completely believe that it’s everyone’s decision whether and what they give, i thought i’d tell you the reasons why i give money:

  1. it’s respectful. they don’t sit there to ask for food, they ask for money. most panhandlers are savvy; they know where the food banks and soup kitchens are. for one reason or another, they don’t want to go there. there’s something rude about someone asking for one thing and then giving her or him something else. when i ask to borrow your pen, you don’t give me a lighter either, do you?
  2. i don’t know whether the person is using it for drugs. having working with very poor people for a number of years, i’ve met numerous panhandlers who didn’t use it for drugs.
  3. even if they’re using it for drugs, they’re not going to stop using if i don’t give them money. even if nobody gave them money, they’d still not stop using. it’s like hoping that removing wine glasses will stop someone from being an alcoholic.
  4. even if they use it for alcohol or drugs – guess what, i (and you) support a lot of peoples’ bad habits. of the bankers, politicians and multinationals that make money from me, how many do you think spend money on cocaine? gas-guzzling SUVs? booze?
  5. panhandlers are micro entrepreneurs. i like the spirit of independence.
  6. panhandling is hard work. if you don’t think so, try it yourself. i respect hard work.
  7. there’s something honest about panhandling. the panhandler who just sits there quietly or asks politely for change doesn’t try to sell me a dream of a slimmer body, a happier child or better sex. it’s a straightforward kind of business. (btw, i can’t stand those frauds who try get money by telling me that they just arrived from calgary and all they need is a few bucks to call their ailing mother – i never give a cent to those scammers, only a growl)
  8. above all, agreeing to the exchange as it is proposed – the panhandler asks for money, i give it – gives the person and me a chance to interact as humans. the panhandler asks, i give, we both smile and exchange a few words.  we connect, and we feel good.

what do you do?

carnival of eating disorders, august 2008 edition

welcome to the august 2008 edition of the carnival of eating disorders! there is a lot of interesting material, so i’ll do the same that i do with the buddhist carnival and present the articles in two different posts. this first post will deal with anorexia. the second will deal with body image and overeating.

exorcism for anorexia?
good news – a religious cult which was curing anorexia with exorcism is in serious trouble. here are some of the strange goings-on at mercy ministries:

“the counsellor gave me a list of different demons – demon of anger, demon of unforgiveness, demon of pride, there were lots of them and i was told to go away and circle the demons i had in me or around me,” said smith.”i was really scared… they cast demons out of me, one by one, and they became quite excited and animated during the process, and spoke in tongues.

“it was the counsellors and myself and they put their hands on me and started praying one by one for each of the demons that were on the list to be cast out of me.

“after each demon was cast out i had to say ‘i confirm the demon of x has been cast out of me in the name of jesus and is unwelcome to return.’

“the whole time i was there, all i heard was that i’m demonic.

“even after the exorcism, when i had the next anxiety attack, i was told that they had already cast the demons out, so therefore i was obviously either faking it, or i had chosen to let the demons come back, in which case i was not serious about getting better.

anorexia and bulimia on social media
this post refers to an article that appeared last year but it’s probably even more important today than 12 months ago. eating disorders are rampant on social media, it says. that’s true. but so is the opposite. here on this blog, for example, we have the anorexia recovery forum where people speak actively against “the voice of ana”. for those of you unfamiliar with the term, “ana” is a sort of pet name for anorexia, as is “mia” for bulimia).

a drug for anorexia?
medusa reports on canadian research on a drug that might help some people with anorexia

a drug used to treat schizophrenia may be a new tool to help patients with anorexia gain weight and control their obsessive thoughts about food.

new canadian research has found that when anorexia patients take olanzapine, they gain weight, feel calmer and do not have the obsessive thoughts about weight and food that characterize the debilitating condition.

recovery milestones
angel has a beautiful post where she envisions recovery from eating disorders:

we have binged, starved, purged, and obsessed in an effort to manage unwelcome emotions. the solution to an eating disorder has to do with accepting our thoughts and feelings, and finding safe and responsible ways to express them. there is no magic about recovery. recovery means rebuilding trust with ourselves and others, taking careful risks to learn what is safe and good for us. when we can take responsibility for understanding our needs, and getting them met, then we will walk free.

from overeating to anorexia
in his article paul mckenna owes courtney love an apology, joshua seth says, “yes, it is possible to lose too much weight. there is such a thing as a healthy range. and unfortunately singer courtney love seems to have taken weight loss hypnosis a bit too far.” this is interesting because it brings up a host of misconceptions about eating disorders and specifically about anorexia. this is such an important topic that i’ll talk about that in a future article, some time before the next carnival of eating disorders.

i’ll post part 2 tomorrow, september 1. in the meantime, if you have an article you’d like to see here, please let me know, using this submission form.

raising children, raising parents

spaced-out drug userlin over at telling it like it is has an article on 10 ways to raise children to use drugs. examples:

  • encourage insecurity by telling them to keep secrets from other family members or family secrets from others
  • avoid touching, hugging, and taking time to interact with your children.
  • disregard their physical needs.
  • ignore their worthwhile and constructive habits

it’s a perfect prescription for unhappiness, period – a child who grows up in an environment like this may not necessarily get into drugs but will be guaranteed to have other problems.

it again reminds me of gabor maté’s book, in the realm of hungry ghosts – close encounters with addiction. as i’ve mentioned before, this canadian doctor makes the case that many problems with addiction stem from not only an unhappy childhood but also from pregnancy, where the brain undergoes its formation.

as a counsellor, i have worked with people with very, very serious addiction problems. there was not a one among them who did not grow up in a difficult environment.

conversely, people who grew up in an environment that would score well according to lin’s list: they’re not always angels, they may experiment with drugs for a while, they may have a bit of a brush with the law – but they always seem to be able to right themselves after a while, they seem to have a buffer that prevents them from reaching a bottom that isn’t really a bottom, it’s a neverending pit.

having said all this, we need to look at the parents. parents do not want to be angry all the time, give in to ridiculous demands, ignore the consequences of their children’s behaviour, show low self worth and all the other things on lin’s list. parents who behave like that are clearly unhappy people who need just as much support, encouragement, education and love as their children do.

it takes a village to raise a good parent.

(image by murplej@ane)

addiction, genetics and early brain development

image of a fetus.  what is its brain development?in a comment yesterday on my article on some research on adult children of alcoholics, CP stressed the importance of genetics in alcoholism.

i would like to contrast that with another point of view. gabor mate offers this theory in his book in the realm of hungry ghosts: close encounters with addiction

brain development in the uterus and during childhood is the single most important biological factor in determining whether or not a person will be predisposed to substance dependence and to addictive behaviours of any sort, whether drug-related or not.

this is shown, among others, by dr. vincent felitti, chief investigator in a landmark study of over 17,000 middle-class americans.

mate goes on to say that

to state that childhood brain development has the greatest impact on addiction is not to rule out genetic factors. however, the emphasis placed on genetic influences in addiction medicine … is an impediment to our understanding.

he makes the case that there are four important brain systems in addiction, and that they are all exquisitely fine-tuned and changed by the environment – and particularly by the environment that a human being experiences in the womb and in the first few years of life:

  • the opioid attachment-reward system (involving endorphins)
  • the dopamine-based incentive-motivation apparatus
  • the self-regulation areas of the prefrontal cortex
  • the stress-response mechanism (involving a decrease of opioid and dopamine receptors)

in other words, during pregnancy and the first years of life – and to some degree, on to teenage years – the brain grows and develops, sometimes at a dizzying rate (at times 250,000 neurons are added every minute!) the vast majority of brain development occurs during pregnancy, however. so what is often attributed to genetics can already have happened during pregnancy.

attachment – how we bond with others – is intimately linked to our reward system. going for addictive substances or activities is a misplaced attempt to reward oneself.

motivation is what gets us going. most of the time, we need an incentive to motivate us. if the right connections weren’t made in the brain when we were small, we might find addictive behaviours or substances more motivating than anything else.

our mood, levels of motivation, energy levels, and ability to withstand adversity need to be in a certain, well-tuned balance in order for us to function well. this is related to homeostasis, a type of inner thermostat or self-regulator that keeps all of these elements on a relatively even keel. again, this homeostasis depends on the brain having “learned” about it. if it’s out of kilter, we can do things like self-medicating with drugs – a (usually unconscious) attempt at reaching homeostasis. this is also closely related to our stress response mechanism.

(image by hive)

the definition of addiction

in the last few weeks, a radio interview and two articles have encouraged me to again look at the nature of addiction. one of them is a discussion we are having on this blog here about alcohol use and art, with contributions by danish composer skovgaard danielsen and zen practitioner and painter eden maxwell. another was an article by trisha gura about chocolate addiction. the radio interview was with dr. gabor mate, well known for his work in our inner city, vancouver’s downtown eastside, as well as on stress and ADD.

so let’s look at some definitions of addiction.

cynthia jane collins in her book the recovery spiral has an interesting definition:

if we habitually or compulsively – with or without awareness or intention – use any activity, substance or person[s] to move us away from our true selves, we are practicing addictive behaviours.

gerald g. may proposes that

addiction is any compulsive, habitual behaviour that limits the freedom of human desire.

ben furman and tapani ahola, two scandinavian therapists known the world over for their imaginative work with therapeutic conversations once playfully gave addictions a name: “the muluttaja”. it derives from fascist times in finland and personifies the idea of “oppression and tyranny.”

virginia satir, one of north america’s foremost “elder” in family therapy, and another of my favourite models for therapy, talks of addiction as a coping mechanism for a rule that says, “i can’t feel what i feel.”

aviel goodman of the minnesota institute of psychiatry, who writes quite a bit about sexual addictions says that

addiction designates a process whereby a behavior, that can function both to produce pleasure and to provide escape from internal discomfort, is employed in a pattern characterized by (1) recurrent failure to control the behaviour (powerlessness) and (2) continuation of the behaviour despite significant negative consequences (unmanageability).

finally, gabor mate, whose absolutely fantastic book, in the realm of hungry ghosts: close encounters with addiction has this to say:

in the english language, addiction has two overlapping but distinct meanings. in our day, it most commonly refers to

a dysfunctional dependence on drugs or on behaviours such as gambling or sex or eating.

surprisingly, that meaning is only about a hundred years old. for centuries before then … addiction referred simply to an activity that one was passionate about …

in the words of a consensus statement by addiction experts in 2001, addiction is a “chronic neurobiological disease … characterized by behaviours that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving” …

the issue is not the quantity or even the frequency but the impact …

he then gives his own definition:

addiction involves:
1. compulsive engagement with the behaviour, a preoccupation with it;
2. impaired control over the behaviour;
3. persistence or relapse despite evidence of harm; and
4. dissatisfaction, irritability or intense craving when the object – be it a drug, activity or other goal – is not immediately available.

he concludes his chapter, “what is addiction?” by saying

we need to avoid the trap of believing that addiction can be reduced to the action of brain chemicals or nerve circuits or any other kind of neurobiological, psychological or sociological data … addiction is a complex condition … we need to view it simultaneously from many different angles … to get anywhere near a complete picture we must keep shaking the kaleidoscope to see what other patterns emerge.

now my question to you – those of you who have experience with addiction, either personally, through friends or family, or professionally: what do you think of these definitions? do they define addiction? or do you have another definition that works better for you?