We live in a world of immediate gratification. We are bombarded with a media blitzkrieg every time we turn on the television. The take-home message is sometimes crystal clear, and sometimes a little less obvious. Regardless of the clarity of the message delivered, we are often left feeling as though something is missing in our lives. “I’m not driving the right kind of car or truck.” “I don’t have the perfect job, house, kids or even spouse.” “I don’t wear the right kind of clothes, cologne or perfume for that matter.” “I don’t eat the right kind of foods.” And perhaps the most angst provoking of all, “I don’t have that perfect body that I see on the commercials for gym membership or exercise equipment.”
Adding to the stress of all of these perceived shortcomings in ourselves is the realization that we will not likely reach these unreasonable goals. The pace of life is such that most of our energy is spent on working to support our family, taking our children to school, doctors, dentists, baseball practice, cheerleading practice or to the local park for a birthday party. The result of this conflict concerning what we “should” be in order to “look” successful and the reality of living in a real life and dealing with everyday challenges is all too often a sense of emptiness, which leaves us searching for something more, something to give us the illusion, even if for only a brief moment in time, that we “measure up.”
Unfortunately, this toxic combination of the need for immediate gratification and the yearning for that illusory feeling of being successful or “measuring up” is a perfect set-up. For persons who are genetically predisposed to addictive disorders or whose environment places them at an increased risk for addiction or compulsive behaviors, the lure of an easy, quick solution may become overpowering.
For some individuals, turning to alcohol, pills, street drugs, gambling, shopping, or even compulsive sexual activity, such as pornography or affairs, can offer a brief reprieve from the chronic daily stressors of life.
The progression of any of these behaviors, if destined to become an addiction, is usually predictable. Initially, a chemical or behavior is found to offer great relief; it takes on a certain quality of novelty. A lot of time is spent thinking about engaging in the behavior. The next stage is trying to limit one’s engagement in the activity, whether it be alcohol and drugs or compulsive behaviors, and repeatedly failing to live up to the self-imposed limitations which often take the form of promises to loved ones, co-workers or oneself. It is at this time that problems in life have begun to appear as a direct result of the addictive behaviors.
The final stage of this process is continued use of the substance despite serious, often dire, consequences in one’s life. The consequences are pervasive and involve problems with the law, work environment, marital/family setting, financial matters, as well as erosion of emotional and physical health. In fact, death, either by suicide, accident, or a wide variety of acute or chronic substance-induced diseases, is not an uncommon final result of addictive behaviors.
Now for the good news. Help is available and federal laws mandate strict confidentiality when individuals enter the healthcare system. Immediate inpatient stabilization is now common place in most hospital settings, and there are unlimited community support services to meet the needs of anyone recovering from an addiction. Help is just a telephone call away. If you feel that you or a loved one has a problem with addiction, call 1-800-832-0388 for confidential assistance in beginning the road to recovery.
(Dr. Karl is associated with Rolling Hills Hospital, Franklin, TN.)