Monday, March 26, 2007

The Reward Deficiency Syndrome

RDS- The Reward Deficiency Syndrome

Your brain's chemical factory produces serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, endorphins and many other "feel good" chemicals. These often work together in a domino like system, triggering each other to produce feelings of well being.

When neurotransmitter levels are abnormal or blocked from the brain's receptors, discomfort anxiety and pain are the result. This "reward deficiency" is associated with difficulty focusing, heightened anxiety, hypersensitivity and irritability.

Addicts, their offspring and those with ADHD and ADD may be born with an impairment to feeling good naturally. In 1990, a defect in the D2 (dopamine) receptor gene was found to be associated with alcoholism and ADHD. This lack of dopamine receptors interferes with the "neurochemical reward cascade" of the brain, creating Reward Deficiency Syndrome. RDS may be THE main factor in the cause of alcoholism, addiction and ADHD.

Self medicating helps those with RDS feel "normal". It helps them feel good and function with less anxiety. The medication of choice may be an illicit substance, food or an activity such as gambling, thrill seeking or sexual escapades. Risk taking behaviors as well as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, marijuana and even carbohydrates cause a release of additional dopamine in the brain and provide temporary relief.

Many people enjoy the positive effects of mood altering substances. But people with ADHD experience an even more intense and powerful payoff. And a higher vulnerability to addiction. Once addicted, abstinence alone usually doesn't work as the symptoms of RDS quickly return.

"The difficulty concentrating, remembering, tolerating noise and managing stress in recovery causes some people to feel they may be going crazy. They are not. It is the return of their ADHD symptoms intensified by the changes in the brain brought about by the use of mood altering substances."- from the book Overload by Blum and Miller

ADHD symptoms and the increase in anxiety due to the changes of recovery and not understanding what is happening increase the chance of relapse. One may require treatment for both addiction and ADHD to lead a successful life in sobriety.

Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The ACA ADD Connection Pt. 4

It’s often said that people classified as ADD are prone to be sugar and caffeine junkies. Actually, it’s so prevalent it has become a bit of a joke. Research has shown that people have natural variations in their dopamine system, the neurotransmitter system in the brain that is most often implicated in ADD.

A “risk taking gene” that may be related to the dopamine system was even identified and found to be more common in people with ADD, although many people not classified as ADD also have the gene. Such people theoretically spend much of their lives looking for a “dopamine” fix to clear their heads and feel alive. They might do this via novelty or thrill seeking, exercise, intellectual pursuits, or through artificial chemical means such as caffeine, nicotine or alcohol.

One study of nearly 2,000 twins suggested that heavy caffeine consumption is 80 percent genetic, while physical dependence on caffeine (resulting in withdrawal symptoms) was 40 percent inherited.

Marjorie Roth Leon, PhD, of National-Louis University, performed an aggregate analysis of 19 empirical studies examining the effects of caffeine on aspects of cognitive, psychomotor, and emotional functioning among children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Traditional treatments, such as the stimulant drugs methylphenidate and amphetamine, outperformed caffeine in improving functioning and reducing levels of hyperactivity. However, says Leon, "compared to giving children with ADHD no treatment whatsoever, caffeine appears to have potential to improve their functioning in the areas of improved parent and teacher perceptions of their behavior, reduced levels of aggression, impulsiveness and hyperactivity, and improved levels of executive functioning and planning."

Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children

Monday, March 12, 2007

The ACA ADD Connection Pt. 3

The parallels between ACA/ACOA and Attention Deficit are startling. Consider how closely these ACA "Common Characteristics" also describe symptoms of ADD:

ACAs over-react to changes over which they have no control.

*Many ADHD people have an inability to tolerate change, especially an unexpected change of plans. For such people, even a minor change in routine can he highly disruptive.

ACAs lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternate behaviors or possible consequences.

*Children and adults with ADHD may be impatient and impulsive, often disregarding the long term consequences of their behavior.

ACAs have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.

*Life for people with attention deficit may consist of a series of uncompleted tasks.

Low self esteem often plagues both ACAers and those with ADHD.

*From the book Overload- Attention Deficit Disorder and the Addictive Brain

What's Wrong With Your Brain?

ADHD and alcoholism are associated with imbalances in brain chemistry with research suggesting defective genes as a reason. People with ADHD have at least one defective gene that makes it difficult for neurons to respond to dopamine, a key neurotransmitter regulating attention and feelings of pleasure. The University of Massachusetts has estimated that 40 percent of ADHD children have a parent with the condition.

Missing feelings of well being can be compensated for by taking mood altering substances like alcohol and drugs, eating, excessive sexual activity, spending and risk taking.

The Upside

On the positive side, people with ADHD often notice things in the environment that others do not readily perceive. Because of their inability to "tune out" external stimuli, they may be able to detect and circumvent danger or potential problems before others even notice them.

This "hyperawareness" also gives them the capacity to experience both awe and ecstasy in a way that is unknown to those who can only experience one thing at a time. Those with attention deficit often find heightened beauty in nature, art and music. They may detect nuances of color, sound and feeling others are unaware of.

Because of their ability to empathize, they can have a special affinity with animals. ADHDers often have a highly developed sense of humor.

Next time we'll take a closer look at neurochemical deficiencies that cause ADHD and can lead to addiction.

Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children

Monday, March 5, 2007

The ACA Program and How it Works

We find that a difference in identity and purpose distinguishes Adult Children of Alcoholics from other 12-Step Programs and underscores the need for our special focus.

The central problem for ACA's is a mistaken belief, formed in childhood, which affects every part of our lives. As children, we fought to survive the destructive effects of alcoholism, and began an endless struggle to change a troubled, dysfunctional family into a loving, supportive one. We reach adulthood believing we failed, unable to see that no one can stop the traumatic effects of family alcoholism.

Following naturally from this pervasive sense of failure are self-blames, shames and guilt. These self-accusations ultimately lead to self-hate. Accepting our basic powerlessness to control alcoholic behavior, and its effect on the family, is the key that unlocks the inner-child and lets reparenting begin. When the "First Step" is applied to the family alcoholism, a fundamental basis for self-hate no longer exists.

Two characteristics identify the ACA Program. The program is for adults raised in alcoholic homes, and although substance abuse may exist, the focus is on the self, specifically on reaching and freeing the inner-child, hidden behind a protective shield of denial.

The purpose of ACA is three-fold... to shelter and support "newcomers" in confronting "denial"; to comfort those mourning their early loss of security, trust and love; and to teach the skills for re-parenting ourselves with gentleness, humor, love and respect.

Moving from isolation is the first step an Adult Child makes in recovering the self. Isolation is both a prison and a sanctuary. Adult Children, suspended between need and fear, unable to choose between fight or flight, agonize in the middle and resolve the tension by explosive bursts of rebellion or silently enduring the despair. Isolation is our retreat from the pain of indecision. This retreat into denial blunts our awareness of the destructive reality of family alcoholism and is the first stage of mourning and grief. It allows us to cope with the loss of love and to survive in the face of neglect and abuse.

The return of feelings is the second stage of mourning and indicates a healing has begun. Initial feelings of anger, guilt, rage and despair resolve into a final acceptance of loss. Genuine grieving for our childhood ends our morbid fascination with the past and lets us return to the present, free to live as adults.

Confronting years of pain and loss at first seems overwhelming. Jim Goodwin, in describing the post-traumatic stress of Vietnam Veterans, writes that some veterans "actually believe that if they once again allow themselves to feel, that they may never stop crying or may completely lose control..."

Sharing the burden of grief that others feel gives us the courage and strength to face our own bereavement. The pain of mourning and grief is balanced by being able, once again, to fully love and care for someone and to freely experience joy in life.

The need to re-parent ourselves comes from our efforts to feel safe as children. The violent nature of alcoholism darkened our emotional world and left us wounded, hurt and unable to feel. This extreme alienation from our own internal direction kept us helplessly dependent on those we mistrusted and feared.

In an unstable, hostile, and often dangerous environment, we attempted to meet the impossible demands of living with family alcoholism and our lives were soon out of control. To make sense of the confusion, and to end our feelings of fear, we denied inconsistencies in what we were taught. We held rigidly to a few certain beliefs, or we rebelled and distrusted all outside interference.

Freedom begins with being open to love. The dilemma of abandonment is a choice between painful intimacy or isolation, but the consequence is the same, we protect ourselves by rejecting the vulnerable inner-child and are forced to live without warmth or love. Without love, intimacy and isolation are equally painful, empty and incomplete.

Love dissolves self-hate. We give ourselves the love we seek and embrace the lonely child inside. With a child's sensitivity we reach out to explore the world again and become aware of the need to love and trust others.

The warm affection we have for each other heals our inner hurt. ACA's loving acceptance and gentle support lessen our feelings of fear. We share our beliefs and distrust without judgment or criticism. We realize the insanity of alcoholism and become willing to replace the confusing beliefs of childhood with the clear, consistent direction of the 12-Steps and Traditions, and to accept the authority of the loving God they reflect.

ACA's relationship to other anonymous programs is shared dependence on the 12-Steps for a spiritual awakening. Each program's focus is different, but the solution remains the same.

In childhood, our identity is formed by the reflection we see in the eyes of the people around us. We fear losing that reflection... thinking the mirror makes us real and we disappear or have no self without it.

The distorted image of family alcoholism is not who we are. And we are not the unreal person trying to mask that distortion. In ACA we do not stop abusing a substance, or losing ourselves in another. We stop believing we have no worth and start to see our true identity, reflected in the eyes of other Adult Children, as the strong survivors and valuable people we actually are.

Marty S., Identity Committee
Identity, Purpose and Relationship Committee: Roger N., Chairman; Marne C., Claudia P. and Marty S., members.

1 The Etiology of Combat-Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, p.16, Goodwin, Jim, Psy D., DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS, Pub,. Cincinnati.
2 Post traumatic stress is the tension of unresolved grief following the loss of fundamental security.


Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The ACA ADD Connection Pt. 2

What if your senses were turned up so that a pin drop sounded like a clanging gong, a slight touch registered as an intrusive poke and a ray of light appeared as a blinding flash?

According to recent research, "stimulus augmentation" or magnified perceptual input, is a common theme among addicts and their offspring and is closely tied to Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).

Those who experience this have an inability to filter incoming stimuli that makes it difficult to focus attention in any one place. This can have a negative effect on memory and concentration, mood, anxiety, increase stress sensitivity and cause sleep disturbances.

Many people experience the perception that the world's volume is "turned up" without even realizing it. For them, drinking or taking drugs helps turn down the volume. Self medicating through alcohol consumption is one way of "quieting" an overactive mind.

When alcohol is consumed, it produces a substance called tetrahydropapaveroline (THP). This substance is also found in the poppy plant, from which morphine is derived. The reaction in the brain when alcohol is consumed is similar to the effect of opiates like morphine or heroin.

Here are some interesting findings:

Significantly more children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) develop problems with alcoholism or drug abuse than do children without ADHD.

People who become alcoholics show a much higher frequency of symptoms of ADHD as children than those who do not become alcoholics.

Children of alcoholics have been shown to perform poorly on tests measuring attention, memory, perceptual-motor coordination, motor speed, spatial sequencing and language capacity.

Alcoholics have impaired verbal learning and memory and exhibit various other deficits similar to what has been observed in children of alcoholics. This indicates that these impairments may have preceded drinking onset.

Many people with ADHD are children of alcoholics and ADHD is common in the relatives of ADHD children.

Sons of alcoholics have been found to magnify perceptual input (to amplify and be overstimulated by their own senses).

In alcoholics, stimulus augmentation has been demonstrated to be a strong motivation or craving to obtain alcoholic beverages.

Up to one third of alcoholics meet the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD.

Sensory information is often amplified in addicts before they start taking drugs.

Stimulus augmentation is common in children of alcoholics.

From the book: "Overload: Attention Deficit Disorder And The Addictive Brain" by David Miller and Kenneth Blum, Ph.D.

Check out the Orange County ACA website at: Orange County Adult Children