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WHEN TOO MUCH ISN'T ENOUGHENDING THE DESTRUCTIVE CYCLE OF AD/HD AND ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOR
By WENDY RICHARDSON
PIÑON PRESSCopyright © 2005 Wendy Willis Richardson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCUT TO THE CHASE
how this book will help you
HAVE YOU SPENT GOOD portions of your life unsuccessfully trying to control your eating, drinking, or drug use? Do you struggle to manage overspending, gambling, excessive Internet use, or your sexual behavior?
Is it hard for you to focus your attention? Are you easily bored? Do you have problems organizing your life? Do you have a body or brain that's always on the go, or on the other hand, is it difficult for you to get going and keep going? If these questions strike a chord with you, untreated Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) may be contributing to your overindulging or addiction.
The purpose of this book is to help you understand how and why people with AD/HD overindulge and become addicted, and how to get out of the vicious cycle of self-medicating your symptoms with drugs, food, alcohol, and compulsive behaviors. We'll look at the ways AD/HD intersects and overlaps with substance misuse, and you'll learn about similarities and shared characteristics of AD/HD and addiction. For example, you will understand how a woman with AD/HD, clean and sober for years and with no alcohol or drugs in her system, flunks a field sobriety test.
Let's start with a brief overview of how some AD/HD symptoms are similar to those of overindulging and addiction, as well as how they can contribute to each other.
We are self-medicating when we use substances and behaviors to help us feel better. There is a big difference between enjoying a glass of wine after a hectic day and needing a drink to cope with the day and be able to sleep. Our bodies and minds develop cravings. We become obsessed with thinking about when we can smoke pot or binge on junk food. We can't get enough. But there comes a point when self-medicating stops working. No matter how much we eat, purge, drink, or drug, we don't feel better. Instead, we feel worse. We can't eat another bite, drink another drink, or use another drug. Yet we do, because even too much isn't enough.
LOSS OF CONTROL
AD/HD, overindulging in substances, and compulsive behaviors all have one thing in common: loss of control. You can't manage your eating, drinking, drug use, or behavior. Loss of control over parts of your life, combined with the pain and frustration of AD/HD symptoms, can lead to self-medicating with substances and behaviors. If you have AD/HD, you may be living in a vicious cycle. Here's a brief overview of how AD/HD contributes to loss of control.
AD/HD makes it difficult to focus and keep your attention where you want it. You may be easily distracted, and/or your attention may be captured and you can't pull yourself away from the computer, TV, or project you are working on. It's also hard to be present and pay attention to the task at hand if you're obsessed with thoughts of bingeing, getting drunk, smoking pot, or having sex.
AD/HD hinders the control of impulses. It may be hard or impossible for you to control an impulse to overeat, binge on sweets, use alcohol or other drugs, spend money, gamble, or engage in high-risk behavior. Words may fly from your mouth before your mind has the chance to censor them. Taking drugs and drinking alcohol can decrease anyone's ability to control their impulses, but when drugs and alcohol are mixed with AD/HD, just about anything can happen.
You don't have to be hyperactive to have AD/HD. You may have an average activity level or you may even have a very low activity level. It may be difficult for you to get up in the morning and maintain enough energy to get through the day. You might have a hyperactive brain that constantly demands novel and stimulating input or never stops yakking at you. Your body could be restless and desire constant motion from your head to your toes. Because AD/HD contributes to problems with energy level, it is common for people to use substances to either stimulate or relax themselves. Ironically, people who are hyperactive are sometimes accused of being on cocaine or "speed," while some with low-energy AD/HD are accused of smoking pot or taking "downers," even though they're not.
Self-Activating and Organizing
Self-activating is the process of getting yourself going and moving in the direction you need to be moving in. It may be difficult for you to organize yourself so you can get to work or school and follow through with the demands of your day. You may be a great fifty-yard dasher but not be able to complete two miles, let alone a marathon. Life is filled with marathons, such as finishing school, maintaining your career and relationships, and parenting. If you have AD/HD or an alcohol, food, or drug problem, self-activating and organizing may be impossible, and you may live in chaos.
Memory is frequently a problem for the AD/HD brain. You may remember specific details from years ago but not remember why you walked into a room or where you put your keys. It may be difficult for you to remember what you read or what you learned in a class or workshop. The same is true for those who misuse substances. They may have memory retrieval problems, blackouts, or in more serious cases, permanent brain damage.
You may be irritated by sights or sounds that others barely notice. The tags in your clothing or seams in your socks can drive you nuts. You live in a world that feels as though the lighting and sound have been turned up. You may have a heightened response to feedback from others, and you may take on the feelings of others without even knowing it. This enhanced sensitivity is common for some with AD/HD, and these characteristics are also reported by some people who misuse substances. As with other characteristics of AD/HD, you can have enhanced sensitivity without having AD/HD or abusing substances.
As we learn more about AD/HD, many professionals are agreeing that sleep disturbances are a key component. You may be a "night owl" and have difficulty shutting your brain off so you can get to sleep, or you may wake frequently during the night and have difficulties falling back to sleep. For some with AD/HD, getting up in the morning is torture. Many who abuse substances also report chronic sleeping problems that can persist years into recovery or until treated.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you think you have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) and you also struggle to control your eating, drinking, or problematic behaviors, this book will help you.
HOW WILL THIS BOOK HELP?
This book was not written to make you feel worse than you already do. I wrote this book to help you find answers. What I offer is information, encouragement, and practical suggestions to help you cope effectively. Take what works for you. Allow yourself to start reading anywhere you like and skip parts if they're not helpful.
The stories people have volunteered to share with you are powerful and enlightening, but if you're not a story person, feel free to skip them. It's not important that you digest every word and concept in this book. I rarely read a book from cover to cover.
I wrote this book to help you accept who you are, including your AD/HD, overindulging, and addiction. It isn't until we accept that we have problems that we can get help for them. My number one suggestion is this: Give yourself permission to read at your own pace, in your own style. You may want to read the last chapter first. Underline, highlight, fold pages (unless you borrowed the book from a friend or the library), or use sticky notes to mark places.
This book is for those of you who are overindulging or addicted. It's also for those of you who have tried, and continue to try, to control your behavior and substance use, and for those of you who are in recovery. Oftentimes people need a period of recovery to realize that they have co-occurring conditions. AD/HD is one of many co-occurring conditions that may keep you from attaining your goals.
Perhaps you don't suffer from untreated AD/HD, overindulging, or addictions, but you work with or love someone who does. This book is for you too. With this information, you will be better able to understand and offer support and encouragement to your loved one, coworker, or friend.
This book is based on the research and opinions of many experts in the AD/HD, eating disorder, and addiction fields who provide new information almost on a daily basis. By the time you read this book there will be more exciting new information. This book is also based on my personal and professional experience, and the experiences of other people who have AD/HD and addictions. Together we provide you with knowledge, tools, experience, strength, and hope for a better life. While addictions and AD/HD may never be cured, you can learn to treat these problems and find serenity and fulfillment in your life.
In the next chapter, people with AD/HD who also overindulge or are addicted tell you their stories. You may relate to some of these stories and find them painfully familiar. By reading them, I hope you'll better understand how AD/HD contributes to overindulging in substances and behaviors, and be able to look at your own life with compassion, acceptance, and a willingness to get help.
Excerpted from WHEN TOO MUCH ISN'T ENOUGH by WENDY RICHARDSON Copyright © 2005 by Wendy Willis Richardson. Excerpted by permission.
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