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Addiction "Addictive" The Addictive Personality

Roots, Rituals, Recovery.

by Craig Nakken

Craig Nakken is a family therapist and additions counsellor at the Family Therapy Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota. He describes the addictive personality as “the most important idea expressed in this book”.

Before looking at his ideas concerning the addictive personality we must first look at his definition of addiction itself. Nakken states:–

Although there are many kinds of addictions, no matter what the addiction is, every addict engages in a relationship with an object or event in order to produce a desired mood change.

From this definition it follows that:–

The ability to produce a positive, pleasurable mood change is needed for an object or event to have an addictive potential. Availability of an object helps determine whether people will choose that form of addiction.

Nakken believes that some people are more prone to addiction than others. He examines various causes of this including influences in childhood. He does not rule out a genetic element saying that, “In all likelihood, it will be found to be a combination of the two” (environmental and genetic influences). An addictive personality may express itself in any addiction. This has important consequences for treatment. As Nakken observes:–

Recovery is not just about breaking off one’s relationship with an object or event, though this is of great importance. Recovery is primarily about coming to know one’s addictive personality and taking the necessary steps to rid oneself of addictive attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviours.

An example of the effect of this is given:–

People in a recovery program for alcohol addiction need to clearly understand that they are prone to form a possible addictive relationship with another object or event – food for example. For these people, sobriety acquires a new dimension; instead of only monitoring their relationship with alcohol, they also need to learn how to monitor the addictive part of themselves.

Pushing For Addiction?

Craig Nakken believes that Society “can push a person with addictive tendencies toward addiction”. In his book he outlines some values in modern society which are similar to addictive values. These include: Living for Outcomes: Looking out for No.1; A belief in the possibility of total control/perfection; Lack of genuine relationships and the worship of objects.

Whilst it was not possible for the author to examine the influence of these underlying values of our Capitalist society on addiction in very great detail, this section ought to provoke much thought amongst the politically aware. To give a flavour of the views of the author on these subjects, this is what he has to say concerning the lack of genuine relationship:–

We live in a fast-paced, temporary society; as a result, there is lack of emphasis on relationships; in a society where outcomes, not processes, are important, people tend to see others as objects.

Nakken does not shrink from the conclusion that “there are many similarities between the addictive process and what our society presently stands for.”

Rituals

There is also a very interesting analysis given in the book of the importance of rituals to an addict. Three functions of ritual are outlined: to bind us to our beliefs and values, and connect us to others with similar beliefs and values; to act as value statements; and to comfort through their nature of being consistent and predictable.

Nakken believes that the study of personal addictive rituals is essential to the formulation of a recovery programme. He gives an example of a sex-addict who toured a red-light area and chatted to street-prostitutes before visiting a “massage parlour”. His behaviour invariably followed this pattern.

As Nakken concludes, “defining abstinence will consist of defining addictive behaviours and rituals used in the process of acting out.”

Recovery

This section of the book devoted to the topic of recovery is perhaps the weakest section. This section would have benefited considerably from case studies and more detailed advice.

For further reading on this topic I would recommend :
How To Stop: A Do It Yourself Guide To Opiate Withdrawal available from the Blenheim Project, 7 Thorpe Close, London W10
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (£4) and Living Sober (£2.50) both from Alcoholics Anonymous, PO Box 1, Stonebrow House, Stonebrow, York, YO1 2NJ.

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