Addiction recovery needs compassion

How sympathetic are you to another person’s suffering? Do you ever find yourself wanting to help someone with their troubles because maybe you have had troubles and someone was there for you? Or maybe you hate to see someone suffering if there is something you can do to make things at least a little better for them. It seems that compassion is one thing of which there just isn’t enough. Compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”

At greatergood.berkeley.edu, an online source, compassion literally means ‘to suffer together.’ It’s not the same, but is related to empathy and altruism. Empathy is the ‘ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person.” Altruism is “selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion.”

“[R]esearch has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the ‘bonding hormone’ oxytocia, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.”

The human species is “a profoundly caretaking species,” said Dacher Keltner, in The Science of a Meaningful Life, a video at greatergood.berkeley.edu. He quoted Charles Darwin who said sympathy is the strongest human instinct, stronger than self-interest.

So, if there is so much compassion and support for someone fighting a catastrophic illness like cancer, why is there so little understanding, compassion and support for someone fighting addiction or obesity? Many people complain about the cost of Narcan to save the lives of people who overdose on drugs. They sound like they are writing off addicted individuals. You, reader, may be one of them. But do you understand what addiction is, what it does to the brain, and the overwhelming odds of recovery?

Constance Scharff, Ph.D., writes about Compassion in Addiction Recovery at Psychology Today. She says that “Using mindfulness to cultivate compassion allows addicts to lean on recovery.” It’s important to understand how the brain works, how mental health problems get started and how mindfulness can help heal.

Scharff herself has been in recovery from alcoholism for a number of years. She writes that addicts considering recovery are afraid and uncertain how they will overcome the challenges that face them. She recommends “mindfulness,” explaining that the human brain works with whatever we are focused on. If we are focused on our problems, we are miserable. If we are focused on something positive and good, what we can change, we are hopeful. Mindfulness is making a choice to be in the moment. It takes time and practice to develop mindfulness. But there is a sort of process. The addict comes to see that they have a lot of thoughts running through their minds. They see how worry develops and learn to focus on the moment. When they feel safe and cared for, they begin to work on the harder issues in their lives. That’s about the time that self-compassion starts and they can work on their deeper issues.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse advises that the effects of drugs remain long after the drug is no longer abused. Comparing brain scans of people who abuse drugs and people struggling with obesity, both release dopamine, the chemical that regulates the pleasure centers of the brain. Addiction to drugs, alcohol, food, or any other addiction is a brain disease. However, the stigma of addiction says that addiction is a choice or a moral failing. But it is not.

“All addiction is an escape from pain,” said Dr. Gabor Maté in a CBS News interview. “All addictions come from emotional loss, and exist to soothe the pain resulting from that loss.” But compassion can lead to healing.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded, in part, by United Way of Northern Columbiana County

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