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« To your Tents Oh Nigeria! | Main | Nigerian Governments can Achieve Most Things Now if it Really Tries »

March 09, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #14 of 52: Our Addictions to Mood Altering Agents

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- Addiction is a human issue. Unfortunately, many Africans tend to see addiction as a Western issue. It is not only a Western issue, it is our African issue. Many of us, Africans, are addicted to mood altering substances but we just do not know it. I doubt that there is a human being out there who does not have some sort of addiction?

In this essay, I will review the nature of addictions and what is to be done about it. This review is introductory and basic and is not meant as detailed information on the subject. My goal is to make folks aware of the nature of addiction and if they believe that they have an addiction, they ought to go seek help from Professional Chemical Dependency Counselors.

One is addicted to any activity that one finds ones self doing compulsively, doing it as if one no longer has the freedom not to do it; and if one tried not to do it one felt anxious and to reduce that anxiety do it.

Given this definition, it follows that some addictions are positive and others negative. If you are a runner, as I am, you find that you must run. If you do not run every other day, as I do, for five miles, you feel unhappy, and go run. When you run you feel good about yourself. Running is a mood altering mechanism for you. You are addicted to running. This is positive addiction; it is good for you, although it might have some negative aspect: damage the cartilages of your knees etc.

The compulsion to do something and obedience to that compulsion, unfortunately, is not reserved for positive activities like exercising, hard working and reading books only. The individual tends to be addicted to activities that are positively correlated with harm to his life.

Human beings tend to be addicted to over eating food, over drinking alcohol, sex, doing drugs like Cigarettes, Coffee, Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroine, Amphetamines, LSD, Valium, Librium, Xanax, Morphine, Pocadan and many other drugs, legal and illegal.


PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL ADDICTIONS

There are essentially two types of addictions, psychological and physiological. In psychological addiction the individual has an over powering mental desire to do something and finds himself unable to resist doing so. A sex addict, for example, may experience an over powering desire to go to a whore house or pick up a street worker, and have sex with her. He finds himself unable to concentrate on doing any other thing unless he goes and has sex with a hooker. Once he does so, he feels relaxed and is now able to concentrate on other activities. His craving for indiscriminate sex with any woman is psychological; it is in his head, not in his body. (Homosexual men have similar cravings; some of them cruise city parks trying to have sex with other men, men they do not know; lesbians, daggers, generally go to bars and pick up total strangers, queens, and have sex with them. It is a strange, strange world we live in. If you are a therapist, like I was, you get to hear the amazing things that human beings do while pretending to be saints, like the pastor driving around city streets looking for a girl under age twelve to have sex with while talking rubbish about his god, Jesus Christ.)

In psychological addiction the desire is in the mind. In physiological addiction, on the other hand, the desire is not only in the mind but now also in the body. The person is not only mentally addicted but physically addicted.

Consider the alcoholic. He may have begun his drinking vocation through social drinking and becomes psychologically addicted to alcohol, and finally graduates to physiological addiction. When he is physiologically addicted his addiction is now not only in his mind but in his body; his body craves alcohol and he must have it or else he cannot function. He now needs his drug of choice to be able to functional normally.

The physiologically addicted alcoholic gets up in the morning and must have his beer or wine or gin or whisky (whichever is his drug of choice) or else he cannot function on the job. If he does not have alcohol in his body, his body shakes rather uncontrollably (DTs, Delirium Tremens it is called), his nerves are raw and he cannot concentrate on thinking; he feels anxious and restless. No kidding, this person cannot do anything unless he downs some alcohol.

There are many stages of alcoholism, from mild to high. We shall not concern ourselves with such detailed knowledge here. All that we need to know is that the physiologically addicted alcoholic now lives to drink. He must drink to seem alive, to function in society. Without his alcohol he is unable to do anything. Of course, that alcohol is taking a toll on him: destroying his liver (cirrhosis), his kidney, his brain. In late stage alcoholism these folks memories are gone, literally gone; their short term memories are kaput: “What did you do yesterday?”, “I do not know,” No kidding; this is the real world, man. Yet this man will spend his last penny on booze.


TOLERANCE AND WITHDRAWAL

Folks begin drugs gradually and their bodies build up tolerance. Consider smoking cigarettes. The first time a twelve year old child (twelve is the typical age kids begin to experiment with drugs) smokes a cigarette he probably chokes on it and coughs a lot. As he persists in smoking, however, he tolerates a cigarette and soon many cigarettes. He may get to a point where he smokes three packs of cigarettes a day. His body is building tolerance. The level of nicotine in his body that used to give him a feeling of stimulation, or whatever else he believes that he gets from smoking, no longer does so, and now he needs more and more cigarettes to get the same feeling.

The same goes for alcohol and other drugs. A beer may have given one the “rush” but in time one may need six or more beers to feel that rush. The cocaine taker may have felt high with a snort of cocaine but, in time, may need a noseful (and burns holes in his nose) to feel the same sense of high his first cocaine gave him. His body has built tolerance for that drug.

As ones body builds more and more tolerance one spends enormous time trying to acquire the high quantity of the drug one needs to have to feel some effect from it. One becomes hopelessly addicted to ones drug of choice.

One is addicted to a drug if when one tries to stop taking it one feels intense withdrawal symptoms. Those who are addicted to alcohol talk about having hallucinations, heart palpitations, shaking of their muscles, mental confusion, and preoccupation with the drug. When they finally get that drug into their system the withdrawal symptoms go away.

That is to say that one is now a slave to ones drug of choice; one must have it to avoid the painful feeling of withdrawal. The circle is closed and the addict is now totally in the hands of the demon, drugs, and his master. He is no longer a free person; he is a person in bondage to his master the drug.


If you are addicted to Valium, it has the same effects as alcohol addiction. If you try to quit it you may, in fact, experience visual hallucinations, heart palpitations etc just as alcoholics do. Alcohol and drugs that mimic it slow down the addicts heart beatings so that a sudden withdrawal from alcohol and or the Benzodiazepams could lead to heart attack.

The withdrawal symptoms are so bad that often an addict needs to be in a hospital for a month or so, so that physicians monitor changes in his heart and body to make sure that he does not go into cardiac arrest and die. (Alcoholics may be given Librium as transition drug, for sudden cessation of alcohol in their body could bring about a shock to their entire bodies and they die.)

Those who are hooked to street drugs like heroine often have to be given replacement drugs like methadone otherwise they seem unable to cope with the powerful withdrawal symptoms of their drug of choice (muscle itching and twitching, restlessness, mental confusion, agitation etc.).

Drug addicts so fear withdrawal symptoms that some of them can turn tricks (prostitution) to get money to buy their drugs; some of them steal from stores and resale the goods for the price of their fix…say, steal a leather jacket that costs three hundred dollars and give it to the drug pusher for a fix that costs twenty five dollars.

Some drug addicted fellows, in fact, abandon their children and devote their lives to the career of seeking and getting drugs into their bodies.

Some intravenous addicts, like Heroine addicts, literally inject every part of their bodies with needles and have ugly scare marks all over their bodies and yet must do it to feel good from their drugs.

Folks who are addicted to cocaine and amphetamine sometimes experience all the classic symptoms of paranoia; in cocaine high, they believe that some one, say the police, is after them, is trying to get them and they run from him; some of them may hear a knock on their doors and erroneously think that it is the police knocking and jump out of the upstairs window and hurt themselves, even kill themselves.

A fellow on cocaine run for days is often not different from a certified delusionally disordered person. (This would seem to suggest that there is biochemical causation of mental disorders…that too much dopamine may cause schizophrenia… cocaine initially leads to out pouring of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which makes the drug addict feel fine for a while; but in time he builds tolerance and needs more and more drugs to feel fine. His paranoid reactions tend to be part of his late stage reaction to drug addiction. These days, schizophrenics say that they have brain chemical imbalance disease, but that is not yet demonstrated as a fact.)

LSD has hallucinogenic effects: seeing what is not there as there. It also produces flashbacks, that is, re-experiencing the effect of the drug years later. Marijuana has some hallucinogenic effect.

My goal here is not to provide technical information on drugs and their effects, but to talk about them at a basic level.

Let me talk a bit about caffeine addiction and addiction to nicotine, popular addictions that many people can identify with.


Hi, my name is Thomas, I am an addict. I am addicted to caffeine. (I tried cigarettes when I was in college and gave it up; I sometimes, say, every few months, drink a beer or two, but no hard liquor.)

I am a heavy coffee drinker. I have been drinking coffee since I was 12 years old. So here we are at an AA (Alcohol Anonymous) meeting and I get up and tell the room full of addicts that my name is Thomas and that I am a caffeine addict.

I am serious; I am seriously addicted to caffeine, both psychologically and physiologically. I have read many books on caffeine and know that it is correlated with heart diseases and pancreatic cancer etc. I would like to quit but somehow I always come right back to drinking my java.

I guess that is why I live in Seattle, Java city. Starbucks, you owe me one, for if I calculate the $4 dollars a pop, that I spend every day at your joint, you have taken thousands from me…just as alcohol joints take money from alcohol addicts.


Caffeine has psychological and physiological addiction. If you try to quit it you feel serious withdrawal symptoms, such as agitation, muscle itching, dizziness in your head, even heart arrhythmia. Folks, this is serious addiction, do not minimize it. I know folks whose teeth have fallen off and their gums receded all from drinking coffee and they still drink it.

Didn’t I tell you that we are all addicts? No shame, man, I own up, I am a coffee addict.

What is your own addiction? Cigarette? Do you smoke a pack or two a day? Do you know what you are doing to yourself? You are courting lung cancer, heart attack, and all sorts of somatic disorders. Are you still in denial?

If you are a Nigerian, do you have that peculiar Nigerian pattern of denial, of believing that you do not have mental issues and that only white folks do?

(Just about every Nigerian I see has emotional and or mental health issues, but he does not always know it; he thinks that he is okay. Poor guy. If only he knows that I am taking the time to write this stuff and give it away, for free, because I see his issues and want to help him.)


So you do not have drug addiction, eh? How about addiction to food? Have you seen some Nigerian big men lately? Their tummies are so fat that they look like pregnant women. Actually, they are heart attack waiting to happen…and in their primitive superstitions they would attribute it to juju and other such rubbish.

How tall are you? The typical Nigeria is about five feet eight inches tall. That means that he should not weigh more than one hundred and sixty pounds. So what is your weight, wise guy? Two hundred and fifty pounds? Are you pregnant? “Big man afo shi” we used to say when we were kids.

Loose that ugly weight and loose it now. Find out your natural weight, as delineated by medical science and do not weigh more than that.

To not be over weighted you must eat right. I will not tell you what to eat. There are good nutritionists out there that can tell you what to eat.

Are you a food addict? Are you using food to deal with your frustrations in life? Did you not get that girl you want, that job you want etc and feel disappointed and sad and eat to make you feel good? Food is used to make us feel good when our lives are going to the pots.

Clearly many Nigerians are addicted to food and alcohol. Just look at their sizes, the women with fat tummies and thunder thighs, the men with grossly fat bellies that they hide in folds of agbada.

I do not think that these folks need any one to tell them that they are in a bad shape. Get up and go exercise; run, swim, buy a bicycle and ride it to work rather than drive to work, play tennis, play golf, do weight training etc, do everything to make you sweat and loose that ugly fat.

(There are three types of exercises: cardiovascular, like running; strength, like weight training; flexibility like calisthenics, yoga…you already know all these, now practice them.)

I would like to spend some time on addiction to sex. Nigerians, indeed Africans are unaware that there is such a thing as addiction to sex. Yet sex is the most addicting activity known to man. How so?

When folks have sex, the men ejaculate and the women have orgasm. This gives them a sense of wellbeing. It momentarily alters their mood, their brain chemical balance and makes them forget about their troubles.

Why do you think that folks take drugs? They do so to alter their chemical balance so as to feel good, albeit momentarily. You achieve the same end through sex.

So you are tense and all stressed out and have a little sex, eh? You feel relieved. You associate physical release with sex. So you desire sex and repeat the behavior until it becomes a habit, an addiction.

In Nigeria, there are whorehouses just about everywhere you look. As kids growing up at Lagos we knew where the whores lived.
The whore houses usually contain the bottom of the barrel in the profession of harlotry. Those prostitutes who consider themselves a bit more sophisticated tend to walk the streets or hang around hotel lounges. I once lived at Victoria Island, right opposite Federal Palace Hotel. In the evenings, the hookers lined up the street leading to the Hotel. My friends and I used to go talk to these street women, most of them our age. There were fourteen year olds among them. When the police came, they scampered everywhere, vanished. These types of hookers considered themselves high class and preferred expatriates, whites. They used to tell us about their sexual exploits with white men. It was fascinating hearing the sisters talk about what they do. Interestingly, it never occurred to me to actually find out what they did.

Look, prostitution is everywhere in Nigeria and we do not need to play coy and pretend that reality is not reality. Indeed, some well to do Nigerians practically turn their junior staff and or students to sex slave status. Rich folks have arrangements for their mistresses, concubines and what not.

The Nigerian big man seems to believe that it is his right to have sex with as many women as he pleases. As a matter of fact, he does not even think that it is wrong to do so. If you ask him why he does what he does, he is likely to tell you that his fathers used to have many wives and that since the white man and his religion now limits him to one wife that he is somehow gratifying his polygamous tradition by having mistresses.

Is it really true that in traditional African society polygamy was the norm? Where is the evidence? Let me speak about my family. My father, my grandfather and my great grandfather…those that I knew…were all married, each to a woman. I have done a retrospective analysis of my ancestors to as far back as is possible, they were all in monogamous marriages. And least you think that they were monogamous because they could not afford many wives, let me quickly tell you that in our village, we are the first family, the Opara, and Ndi Ishi Muo.

So what is the point? People in my town, particularly, the well to do ones were monogamous. It is therefore a crock to say that polygamy was the norm in traditional Africa. In so far that there was some polygamy in my town it was always the riff raffs, the nothing trying to seem like they are something big by having many wives.

Generally, those fellows who married many wives were burned, quick, and returned to their senses and accepted that one wife is more than enough for a man to handle. In fact, the average man cannot even deal with the Wahalla of one woman how much more many women!

I am saying that it is not true that we should justify modern Africans polymorphous perverse sexuality with so-called African tradition of polygamy. Our traditions were very strict. In my area if you committed incest you were killed; if you engaged in adultery you were ran out of town. No sir, our African past was not morally loose, as decadent liberal cultural relativists would like to tell us.

Those Nigerians who have sex with many women have sex addiction, period. They must accept their addiction and deal with it and stop being in denial.

A human being is at his best if he limited his sexuality to one woman (and in his late fifties, avoided sex altogether and concentrated on spiritual matters).

Sex is best limited to monogamy, in marriage between a man and a woman. Within this context, sex is best if it is done out of love.
Do you love your partner? Do you care for her welfare? Do you see her as a total person, or do you see her only as a sex object? Is she a sex toy for you, a parlor trophy with which you decorate your house or do you see her as a life long partner with whom you go through the journey called life on earth?

Sex done in the context of marital love is proper sex. Sex with different women, persons one does not love, persons that one uses to obtain physical tension release is sex addiction.

If you pursue sex just to alter your mood, to feel good, you are not different from the chap addicted to heroine, you are an addict, a sex addict. Do you get it or do I need to stand on my head and say the obvious? Those Nigerians with several mistresses are sex addicts. They need to be healed of their addiction to a mood altering drug, the sex drug.

Like most addicts, however, these folks are probably in denial and need to accept their disease.

If you do have sex with more than one woman, please go to a sex addicts meeting and publicly declare yourself an addict. You must tell the world: Hello, I am James, I am a sex addict.

Accept your disease, for there is no healing until the addict stops being in denial and accept his disease in a public forum.

Just look at the price of sex addiction in Africa: folks contracting sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, and now the killer HIV AIDS. Africans are exposing themselves to unnecessary diseases and are dying from them and giving their children all sorts of deformities from these diseases.

I remember when I was in secondary school and some of my friends would go to the various whore houses and a few days latter say that they are having difficulty urinating. Some one says: he has Clap. Some one would direct him to street vendors selling antibacterial and other snake oil remedies for clap. He bought them. I hate to tell you this fact; many of those boys are now dead. They would have been fifty one this year, but their reckless lifestyles shortened their lives.

Look, there is always a price to be paid for every behavior we engage in. We must restrict our sexuality to monogamous marriages if we want to live healthy lives.


ADDICTIONS AFFECT THE FAMILY

Addiction to drugs adversely affects the family. In fact, all members of the family are affected if one member is a drug addict. Whereas we are not talking about family counseling here, let me briefly observe that family therapist operate under what they call family system’s theory (See the writings of Healy and Virginia Satir). As they see it, the family is a system and whatever happens to disrupt any part of the system disturbs all parts of the system. All persons in a general system adjust to disturbances in any part of it.

If a father is an alcoholic the chances are that it would negatively affect his role as the primary bread winner of the family. Booz is expensive, you know. A pack of cigarette is half the minimum wage, you know. A cup of java is half the minimum wage. Simply stated, drug addiction affects family finances.

Moreover, drug addiction affects the psychological role of the addict. Have you seen a real alcoholic? Alcohol becomes the only important thing in his life, sometimes more important than his wife and children. As a matter of fact alcohol becomes more important than life itself, for now he lives to drink, not drink to live. He is hopelessly in the grip of alcohol addiction; he is now in the demon’s fangs.

The alcoholic and or the drug addict would rather spend his time at the bar or cruise the streets looking for drugs rather than go home and help his children do their home works. He may stay out till late at night and then stagger home and stagger to bed. In the morning he starts drinking, again, for now he needs his alcohol to steady his shaking hands. This man is lost to the human race; the devil has won him over, he is gone insane and now lives in the stupor of alcohol.

The alcoholic father or mother is unable to perform his or her family role. Some one else has to perform that role. If the man is the alcoholic or drug addict and is hopelessly dysfunctional all the other family members become dysfunctional too. The wife plays the role of the enabler, telling lies to cover up for his mistakes and thereby perpetuating his insanity. The children adopt certain roles: one the hero, or the rescuer, or the scapegoat, or the family rebel.

We covered these roles when we talked about children’s mental health issues. Find out about them. It might also help you if you know what role you tend to play in your social life, for it may be a carryover from your role in a dysfunctional family.

For example, my parents worked around the clock. Both father and mother got up at 5AM and by 6AM were out of the door, to work. They did not come home before 6PM for mother and 8PM for father. The five boys in the family were given material things but other than that were essentially left alone to fend for themselves.

I grew up with more material goods than the children of rich folks (my mother actually bought her first son a car, a motor cycle etc).

The children learned to take care of business for themselves. I developed the role of a family rescuer, helping the younger ones, rescuing them.

What do you think that I have been doing with my life? I went into the mental health field to save the mentally ill and learned that I could not. I went into teaching trying to make folks learn.

What am I doing here? I am compulsively giving out information to those I feel need it. I do not have to do any of these things, you know. I could be a typical Nigerian and parade around and be called Dr Osuji and find a sinecure job and leave it at that. But, instead, I am spending my Saturday afternoon in front of my computer typing this material for you.

And what do I get from you? Perhaps, headache from Igbos; they must find something to criticize in one, if only to show the world that they are better than one; they cannot stand any one else seeming good. Yet I must play my role, for I over learned it in my dysfunctional family.

All families have their own issues. All families are dysfunctional. Find out about your own family dysfunctions. Then try to heal it. These dysfunctions are multi-generational; that is, they are passed from one generation to another.

Nobody in my family drinks alcohol more than the occasional beer; no one that I know of in the kindred do drugs. But you know what? Everybody in my family tends to be a workaholic. My junior brother, Geoffrey, works eight hours for the government and does another eight hours private work, six days a week. That is who we are. I get up in the morning and work until I am tired and go to sleep at 11 PM. This type of lifestyle obviously affects our children. We must, therefore, be mindful of it and make time to take our children to the Zoo, Library, Museum, and Gym etc.

I know what my problem is and I am doing something about it. How about you? Do you even know that you have a problem? And if you do, are you doing something about it? I hope to God that you are dealing with your family dysfunction issues. You see, the Nigerian middle class, essentially abandon their children and they grow up with myriad of problems. Only God knows what kinds of problems our future children will have. I guarantee you that it will not be rosy.

We have the poor who cannot feed their children and these, like children from broken homes, all over the world, feel not cared for and do not care for any one. Some of them are so angry at society that they gravitate to street gangs and eventually make antisocial, criminal activity their lives career.

So will you do your part to make sure that our children are loved and nurtured so that they would grow up not messed up?
You will not say that nobody has told you about these problems. I am telling you about them. The ball is now in your court, so go do something about it and stop drowning your existential sorrows with alcohol, food, cigarette, coffee, sex and even the harder stuff like street drugs.

Go get help for your addiction issues. Do not be afraid to acknowledge that you have an addiction issue; I have not seen a human being who does not have one, negative or positive, but one nevertheless.

What is your own addiction? Identify it and treat it, for it is a serious problem, do not deny it, do not minimize it, do not blame other people for it, just accept it as your issue and deal with it. It really does not matter how you come about the problem; there is no use blaming others, accept responsibility and deal with it, now, not tomorrow.

But be warned that if you have a serious addiction issue, it might take several trials before you succeed. They say that the typical smoker of cigarettes often takes ten quitting episodes before he finally sticks to it. Alcoholics often under go ten treatments before they finally quit (or die).


POSITIVE ADDICTIONS

Addictions have always been part of the human condition. I doubt that we can ever eliminate all addictions. To be human is to be prone to addictions.

Some claim that we are on earth because we are addicted to the ego; that the allure of the separated, individuated self, the special, superior self created self, the ego is why we are here and that we are addicted to it. They claim that we must let go of our wish for separated self and return to the acceptance of our true self, unified self, before we can overcome all addiction. Indeed, there are those who claim that all addiction is a spiritual disease. The Founders of AA certainly believed that addiction is a spiritual disease. As the AA Big Book sees it, our primary problem is our swollen ego. We are addictable because we have big egos. To overcome addiction, the AA book says that we must let go of the ego and let in God.

Let go and let God. (As a matter of fact, that is the first of the twelve’s steps that addicts must go through to heal.)

I am in agreement with the AA movement that addiction is a spiritual disease; nevertheless, I want to focus on the here and now world.

If you are addicted to something please accept your addiction. Do not deny it. I urge you to try to replace your negative addiction with a positive addiction.

Reading books is addictive, working very hard is addictive, exercising is addictive, and serving other people is addictive. If you start doing any of those things you will find it difficult to quit doing it; that is, you are addicted to it. They are positive addictions. Your wife may not like it if you are an exercise addict, a reading addict, a workaholic who lives for work, but at least you are not killing your self with drugs.

Positive addictions have their draw backs but they are superior to negative addictions.

In the long run, however, you must find some sort of meaning and purpose for living here on earth. Here spirituality comes in. I do not believe that one can heal ones addiction if one has not solved the existential question: what the hell are we doing here on earth?

I have friends who are vegetarians, do not drink any kind of alcohol, no coffee, no cigarette, no drugs, folks who live clean wholesome life. If I examine their lives, I see folks who are less egotistical, folks who have surrendered to a higher power, whom they call God.

As for yours truly, I hover between heaven and earth, unable to give up my ego. I am still egotistical hence I drink coffee and it is killing me. When I finally let go of my belief in my own powers, my ego, and totally accept God as my only source and rely on him, I am sure that I will lick my coffee drinking habit.

If you have an addiction, please understand it and seek treatment, do not deny it. There are many chemical dependency counselors out there who are willing and are able to help you.


CONCLUSION
In this essay, I merely called your attention to the issue of addictions. I did not aim at a complete explication of the nature of addictions. I am not a Chemical Dependency counselor, I am a mental health professional (Psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers).
If addiction is your issue, please go seek the help that you deserve and stop making a mess of your life, and the lives of those around you.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at March 9, 2006 12:14 PM

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