SWISS MEDICAL EXPERTISE: ZURICH, MALLORCA, LONDON, NEW YORK

6 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Affluence offers many privileges, but immunity from addiction is not one of them. The lifestyle and high-stakes environment of the wealthy can sometimes serve as a catalyst for substance abuse and other forms of addiction. While everyone struggles with mental health throughout their life, not everyone has grown up or lives their life in the public eye. Oftentimes, this pressure makes addiction develop – to cope with the lifestyle.

The key to recovery is finding a place that priorities privacy – so that an individual can heal on their own time with people that understand not only what they are going through, but what their life looks like on a day to day basis. To navigate this sensitive topic, we sat down with our expert Addiction Therapist, Enrique Torres, a recovered addict himself, to discuss the underlying causes of an addiction, what happens in the brain of an addict, misconceptions around the condition, and tips for helping a loved get to the other side of what they are suffering from.

Understanding Addiction & Treatment

It is important to know that an addiction develops from an underlying issue, it is not the issue itself. Our expert addiction therapist, Enrique Torres, explains the root cause: “All addicts are highly sensitive individuals with insecurities – it comes from childhood. They become extremely emotionally dependent and do not have the skills to manage the pain and suffering and anxieties that life brings forward. Then what happens is the moment they try their first drink or drug or whatever it is – all those years of suffering disappear. It wipes it. It feels like taking all the weight out of your body.” They are not going back to the substance, they are going back to the feeling the substance gives them or blurs out. The three cycles of an addiction are use, abuse and dependence. When it becomes a dependence, it becomes an addiction.

The second part of an addiction is the physiological affects. Once an addiction takes hold, the brain changes. Torres explains: “The capability to make decisions sits in the prefrontal cortex – we need the front of the brain on to analyse things, be rational, and make choices. The problem with addiction is that this part of the brain goes offline. It’s a survival mechanism. When the brain is craving, it shuts down this. They act upon needs, not beliefs. This is soul breaking.” When an addict becomes aware of what’s happening, they take the first step in overcoming it. When you know what’s happening, you can change it.

It is important to know that addiction is not measured by the quality or quantity of the substance. It is measured by the negative consequences of it. To showcase this, Torres uses the following story: “I had a male client many years ago who was destroyed – his wife was leaving him, his kids did not speak to him, and he was losing his job. He was pushed to rehab and we found out he only drank beers on the weekend. That doesn’t sound like a lot. But what was happening? He had no desire for anything else – he navigated the week waiting for the weekend. His life was about those beers. He had no satisfaction, he didn’t want to be part of the world. That is an addiction, even though the quantity is low. If it’s taking over your life – it needs to be stopped. And if you can’t stop it? Then you know you have an addiction.”

The second misconception is that an addiction is a disease. Torres does not agree. “A disease happens to you, it’s out of your control.  If you have cancer, you don’t know when it might come back. If I don’t engage with what I’m addicted to, it doesn’t come back. If it’s induced, it’s a condition, and conditions can be influenced.” This is a vital mindset shift that aids in helping a patient not see themselves as permanently broken, but give them back to the power to change, and overcome the condition.

Addicts will often convince you that they will become better. This is because in that moment – they mean it. Their prefrontal cortex is on – they are able to speak rationally and see the situation for what it is. But at this point, the person is not choosing . Torres says, “This comes from a very internal, emotional need that pulls you in a direction and you can’t stop it. I was an addict, I remember the thoughts. I used to tell myself don’t go there, you want to make a change – don’t go there. But I was going.” An addict does not want to admit the problem because of fear. They believe what they tell themselves, because the alternative is too painful. So they deny, deny, deny.

When it comes to taking steps to help a loved one change their life – you have to use tough love. Only 5% of addicts willing go to treatment on their own, the other 95% will go because of friends, family, and loved ones stepping in. Torres recommends involving a lot of people when you want to stage an intervention. He explains: “If one person says they need help, they can manipulate it and convince themselves that they are wrong. But if you do an intervention with four, five, or six people – it can be extremely effective.” He goes on: “It is very hard. You have to put your foot down. You have to say that we are ready to stop helping, to forget about you. But you do that with the door to treatment. If you want us as a family to be with you, this is the option. Then you open the door of treatment, and they go. If the addict sees weakness in your eyes, they will run right over you. You have to mean it. You have to be ready to shut the door. It’s very difficult, extremely but then they go to rehab and they take the step to fix their life.”

The first step in recovery is removing triggers. You have to remove the people, places and things that trigger the behaviour. Then he practices pre-frontal cortex, executive function all day. “I put everyone on a schedule, a tough one. Monday to Sunday you wake up at the same time, you go to bed at the same time. You program the day into thirty minute slots,” says Torres. To explain why this is necessary he uses the following metaphor: “Take a metal bar that is centred, straight and in balance. When you have an addiction, you’ve bent it all the way to one side. If you want to balance it, you need to bend all the way in the other direction. Then when you sit in that other direction for a while, eventually you can let it go and find yourself back in balance. If you only push it to the centre, it will go right back to where it was.” This process is intensified mindfulness, it’s bringing the brain back to every moment. Eventually the brain changes itself, this is called neuroplasticity.

In therapy, Torres focuses on the fear that an addict feels. The anxiety of not knowing what life looks like on the other side of addiction. He focuses there, and helps them develop a new vision. Torres is a recovered addict himself, he serves as a symbol of what can be achieved when an addict commits to changing. Addiction recovery is a spiritual process – because it has to do with human experience. He bridges that connection between a person and their life. It is difficult and challenging. But Torres has done it himself – now he passes along his expertise and experience to help others set themselves free.

The most important thing to know about addiction is that the issue is not with the substance, but with the emotional wound or need that’s causing the substance to be used. It is not about the quantity, but the quality – an addiction is measured by the consequences of an individual depending on said substance. Once an addiction has taken root, the brain changes itself. When a craving comes, the prefrontal cortex turns off. The process of treatment is identifying that underlying issue, using mindfulness techniques to bring the prefrontal cortex back into the day to day, and facing the fear of what life looks like after addiction. It is important to know that help is out there. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, please reach out to us today.

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