At Risk for Addictions 1: Alcohol and Drugs

How Residual Shock Puts People at Risk for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

What puts people at risk for addictions? Is there such a thing as an "addictive personality?" And what prevents people from seeing, and using, the connection between their addiction and their suffering.

The answers to these questions, like the answers to all questions about human suffering, begin with a look at what prevents people from loving themselves and others: shock.

What does shock have to do with people and addictions? In a moment, we'll take a look, beginning with how shock puts people at risk to get one of the more common "addictions," alcoholism. Before I do, though, please know that in order to fully understand the life event diagrams used below, you need have read my basic articles on life event diagrams, especially the one titled, "Understanding the Five Elements" in the "Love and BLocks" section.

low risk for alcoholism

Understanding the Two Diagrams

The first thing to notice is that there are two diagrams, one above and one below, both of which focus on an imaginary first time wherein someone drinks alcohol. If you now look at the first event diagram, the upper one, you will see it is titled, "A Person Who is at Low Risk to Get Alcoholism," and if you look at the lower diagram, you will see it is titled, "A Person at High Risk to Get Alcoholism."

Two people. Two imaginary first times drinking. Two very different experiences. One, represented by the upper diagram, shows a person at low risk to get alcoholism. The other, lower diagram represents someone at high risk to get alcoholism.

What makes these two experiences different? Before explaining, please know, my choice to use people at risk for alcoholism does not imply these diagrams are specific to risk for alcoholism. They are not. In fact, these two diagrams could, with very little change, be used to represent people at risk for any and all addictions and in particular, any and all psychoactive substances, such as cocaine marijuana, and heroin. They could also be used to represent people at risk for compulsions, like over eating.

Why chose alcoholism? Because for most people, talking about alcoholism is easier than talking about the other addictions. Why? Simply because we have made more progress in seeing alcoholism as an illness, less prejudice so to speak. In other words, picturing alcoholism is simply easier for most people to tolerate. Hopefully, this will change soon, and all addicts will be seen as people needing help and love. The point, though, is that the risk factors represented in these two event diagrams, and the way these factors put some people at risk and others not at risk, apply to any and all psychoactive substances.

Am I saying the risks are the same for all psychoactive substances? No. Not at all. In fact, there are several other factors involved, in particular, the "abruptness" factor (see my article on this) which is very different for different substances. As for the risk factor these two diagrams represent though; peoples' degree of residual shock at the time they do the substance; the risk is pretty much the same regardless of the substance involved. More so, this particular risk factor is also the single greatest risk factor when it comes to addictions.

So what exactly do I mean by peoples' degree of residual shock at the time they do the substance? Let me begin by using yet another metaphor, this time, the "car radio" metaphor. Before telling you about the metaphor, though, let me first point out the single basic difference between the two diagrams. The green area is much bigger in the lower diagram. In fact, other than this difference between the sizes of the two green areas (and the variations in text which describe this difference), the two life event diagrams are identical in every way. Obviously, this means understanding the meaning of these two green areas is the diagrams represent?

In general, they represent a person's "levels residual of shock" at the time the life event occurred. In these two diagrams, then, the green areas represent each person's levels of residual shock at the time of an imaginary event, the time these two people each have their first drink. So what is "a person's levels of residual shock?"

High risk for alcoholism

The Car Radio Metaphor - Peoples' "Internal Levels of Background Noise"

In a sense, it is simply a part of a person's state of being, the part which is analogous to a person's internal level of background noise, you know, the "noise you hear in your head on a bad day" kind of thing? And if you want to get a good sense of what this experience is like, picture yourself on a summer day in a fast moving car, with the windows down and the radio on.

Now, while you're picturing this, notice how loud the wind noise is, the sound of the air moving around the car. Ever notice how the sound of the wind noise outside a fast moving car can obscure the music playing on the car's radio? If you have, you have a pretty good idea of what having a high level of residual shock is like.

Charting The Car Metaphor Using The Upper Diagram

To get an even better idea of what this state is like, look at the upper diagram. Now imagine you are the person in this life event and the event has begun. This event's progress would be indicated by the time line running across the bottom of this diagram from left to right. And if you were this person, the script of the event might begin wit and the windows open.

Now imagine the car radio is changing from a commercial to music. The red dashed line would represent the radio volume changing. Starting at the left, then, the volume gradually gets louder.

And the green area I've previously mentioned, the one at the bottom of the diagram? This green area would represent the level of background noise outside your car, not very high at this point in this event as the car is stopped.

If this was you, at this point in the event, would you have any trouble hearing the car radio? Probably not. Why? Because for the most part, the radio volume (as represented by the dashed red line) would be a good bit louder than background noise around you (as represented by the green area at the bottom of the diagram). What, then, about the part of the dashed red line which falls down into the green area? What would this part of the event be like?

Here, your experience would be something like another car pulling up next to you to ask you for directions. In order to talk, you would probably have to turn your radio down. Temporarily, then, it would probably be below a normal listening level.

How much of your music would you hear now? At this point, probably not much, as the lower radio volume and the talking back and forth would probably drown out the music.

This experience, then, would be represented by the part of the red line which falls into the green area.

What about the part of the event in which the red dashed line begins to move back up out of the green area? Here, the other car would have pulled away from you, leaving you stopped at the light by yourself. If you then turned your radio volume back up to a normal volume, this par of the event would be represented by the red line again rising up out of the green area. Of course, if this were to happen, you would again be easily able to hear your car radio, clearly and with no effort.

Now notice, there is an oval shaped, beige area which highlights the amount of this life event in which you would have heard your car radio clearly. This beige area is very important in that it shows how much of the music in the event you would have experienced consciously. So how much of the music in the event would you have been not conscious of? Only the amount of time in which the dashed red line fell outside the beige area, the amount of the event which fell into the green area wherein the car was next to you and your radio volume was lowered.

Charting The Car Metaphor Using The Lower Diagram

Now what if you went through a similar life event, but this time, you were the person in the second, lower, life event diagram. What would your experience be like?

To begin with, the script would be somewhat different. It would have to be something like you were driving your car very fast with the windows down. Obviously, then, in this event, because you would be driving quite fast, the wind noise outside your car would be pretty loud. In fact, the faster you drove, the louder this noise would get. This loud noise is represented by the large green area.

So what would this event be like? To imagine it, picture yourself in this second car. More so, imagine the radio volume starts out the same as the radio in the first diagram. Obviously, the main difference between the two diagrams would be the higher level of background noise present, as represented by the significantly larger green area in the lower diagram. And the main difference between the two experiences would be that you would begin this event unable to hear the radio while it is on a commercial.

Would this be a big deal? Normally, not at all. Most people don't care much for the commercials anyway and so, not hearing the commercial might feel like a blessing. And when the commercial finished and the music returned? Here, the volume would probably be enough to again hear the music, although with the loud wind noise outside the car, certainly not as clearly as the person listening at a stop light.

Now imagine you are in this car and the good part of a song you love come on. Of course, at this point, you would probably turn up the radio volume. And if you did, this part of the event would be represented by the little part of the red dashed line which clearly rises above the green area.

Imagine your excitement. You love this part. But at this point, like the script in the first story, a car pulls up next to you to ask for directions.

Now, normally, if this was you, and if you wanted to give the person directions, you would lower your radio. In fact, you would probably tough. Here, the event would be represented by the red dashed line would not hear much of the radio if any at all.

Now imagine the car pulls away. You would probably simply turn up the radio volume, and again, you would be able to hear the radio, somewhat buried in the wind noise but you would hear it just the same.

What about the oval shaped, beige area which highlights the amount of this life event in which you would have heard your car radio clearly? Again, remember, this beige area is very important in that it shows how much of music in the event you would have experienced consciously. So how much of the music in this event would you have been conscious of? Not much. Most of the time, the loud noise outside the car would have drowned out much of the music. In fact, the only time you would have clearly heard the music would have been the amount of time in which the dashed red line rose above the large green area.

Comparing the Two Events

Now let's compare the two events. Basically, except for the levels of background noise, script wise, these two events are pretty similar. In both events, people are in cars with their radios on and their windows down. In both events, there is a commercial on the radio first, then music. In both events, a second car pulls up to ask for directions at which point, the car radio volume gets lowered. Finally, in both events, the second car pulls away and the radio volume gets raised back up.

So what is the main difference between these two events? Basically, amount of music the person could hear clearly. The first person would have heard far more music far more clearly than the second person.

Would it have been the second person's fault? Not really. Having loud noise outside a fast moving car is simply the way this works in our world.

So what would keep the second person from simply turning up the radio volume in order to compensate for the loud noise? A second fact about the way our world works; people have limits as to how much loud music they can tolerate and at some point, music gets too loud to tolerate comfortably. So, even if the radio volume could have been turned up more, music at this loud volume would be too loud to enjoy let alone listen to comfortably.

In real life, then, you would probably do something to affect this problem, like close the car windows. But what if the windows were broken? In fact, what if they were stuck in the down position? Could you do anything then?

Obviously, not. Further, let's say you were in a hurry to get somewhere and could not slow down and be there on time. Could you then do anything to hear the music clearly?

This situation is what some people live with every day of their lives. Thus, even if the music of their lives is exceptionally beautiful, they still hear very little of this music, certainly very little of the beauty in it. In fact, let me add a bit to the script and say you were in the car driving very fast and you were listening to a demo from a friend's band. Imagine he had asked you to give it a listen to get your opinion. Could you really evaluate his music?

And what if the music had mistakes in it? Could you hear these mistakes? Obviously, even if you were to listen carefully, and even if there were mistakes in the music, you would probably have trouble hearing them. Why? Because the background noise would cover them up. In fact, you might not even hear these mistakes and so, you might misjudge the quality of your friend's music. In fact, you might think it was great mistakes and all.

Of course, normally, if you were in this event, when you again came to a stop or slowed down, the level of background noise would go down, and you would then be able to hear the music normally once again. (And in real life, since most people compensate for the higher background noise by turning the volume of the radio up, you might now have to turn the radio volume down, as, without the background noise to drown the music out, the music would now be too loud for comfort.)

But now what if, when the car came to a stop, the level background noise around the car did not go down? What if the background noise stayed as loud as it was when you were going fast? Obviously, this would be a serious disability with regard to your ability to hear the quality of the music or anything else.

This condition, the permanently loud background noise, is what the green areas in life event diagrams represent. So, are there people who actually have this kind of condition, the permanently high level of internal background noise? Absolutely. In fact, one of the most common complaints people who are seriously addicted make is about the noise in their heads, the noise that never goes away.

So what does all this stuff about noise and "residual shock" have to do with people being at risk to get addicted?

Changing the Two Stories to The First Drink Stories

In order to explain this, let me now change the stories from cars and car radios to having first drinks. Let me start with the person who does not have the high level of residual shock condition, the person whose first drink experience is represented by the upper life event diagram.

First, notice again how low the level of background noise is as represented by the relatively small green area. More important, notice how much of the dashed red line is highlighted by the beige oval. This beige area represents the amount of the event the person takes in consciously, how much the person experiences during the event.

Now look at the lower life event diagram, paying particular attention to the size of the beige oval at the top center of the diagram. Again, this oval represents the amount of the event which the person will consciously take in, how much this person will experience consciously. Obviously, this area is quite a bit smaller here than the one in the first diagram.

OK. So these two people experience vastly different amounts of these life events. So what. What parts of the event does the person in the lower diagram not experience?

Begin with the fact that the shape of the two dashed red lines are identical. More important, know that the shapes of these two line actually closely mimic the inner experiences people have when they first drink alcohol, in that they closely represent the degree to which people's ability to visualize internally changes due to the alcohol. What' the point?

Begin at the lower left, where both dashed red lines begin. Notice how the lines slope up rather quickly; in fact, more quickly as time abruptly fall toward the green areas. Finally, notice how the lines both bottom out in the green areas and then eventually curve back up and return to the starting levels.

What does all this mean? Well, for one thing, the rapidly rising "up ramp" of these red lines is the beginning of part of the experience alcoholics and addict call the "high." And the upper portion of these two red lines, especially the part of the line just before and just after the line peaks, is actually the "high" addicts chase. And the part of the two lines which looks like they fall off the face of the planet? This part of these experiences, in fact, is very much like falling off the face of the planet in that people experience very little if any of this part of these experiences.

What about the overall shape? Did you notice how similar the shape of these lines is to the experience of a roller coaster? This, in fact, is very much the experience drinking and drugging causes. And the point?

Notice how many of these experiences the first person consciously witnesses. Almost all of them. This means the first person experiences the rapidly rising beginning, the high, the rapidly falling middle, and the slow return to normal similar to the experience of riding on a roller coaster ride. And the second person? This person would experience very little of the event. In fact, and this is the whole point here, the only part this second person experiences clearly is the what? Yes, exactly, the "high."

Can you now see how these two people would report their experiences as very different, even if they were to have physically experienced very similar events? The first might say something like they didn't like it. Why? They would probably say they didn't like the feeling of losing control. This is what a lot of people say in fact. And the other person? Well this person might mock the first person, calling them a sissy or something like that. Why? Because the second person parts of the experience, only the high.

And what if these two people kept talking about this event, in fact, what if these two people were both high school students who were friends and who tried drinking for the first time together? Honestly, what usually happens is that these two kids would probably end their friendship soon as the great differences between them and between how they experienced drinking alcohol would probably be irreconcilable.

So Can You See The Risk?

The risk, of course, is that despite the times wherein friends tell friends they were out of control, the second person usually does no believe them. Why? Because even with repeated episodes of problem drinking, the only parts of these events people with high levels of residual shock personally and consciously experience will be the "highs." And if this was you and if the only part of these events you could recall and believe were the good parts, would you see the problem let alone want to stop? Obviously not.

Here, then, is where the main problem in addictions lies and where the difference could be made, if addressed. Sadly, though, this difficulty is never addressed. Why? No one yet knows to pay any attention to how much shock people live in, that is, unless these people are just emerging from traumatic events like a car crash. Thus, ordinarily, even newly recovering alcoholics' states of being are evaluated with questions designed to measure these peoples' mental and emotional aptitudes, not their states of consciousness.

What's the point? For one thing, that education alone will never stop addiction, no matter how valuable the content nor dynamic the presentation. Why? The people who are at risk can not consciously experience the truth in these good ideas, as they have no conscious personal experience which bears it out as true. Then, too, the people who are trying to help here, the educators and counselors and therapists and so on, are mistaking their ability to experience this education as coming from the logic and common sense contained in the education, logic and co captions healthy experiences people have already had.

Let me say this idea again. People believe learning (and healing for that matter) happens from understanding. This is simply not true. Understanding comes from conscious personal experience and only from conscious personal experience. Only later, then, do these "understandings" get ourselves and others what we experienced.

The point is, people who can not experience something consciously can repeatedly hear great logic delivered in dynamic presentations tell you that. It is simply that we will deny as real what we have it could be real. In other words, until an alcoholic consciously experiences the difficult parts of their experiences, they will either deny them or compliantly give them lip service.

Finally, would it now surprise you to hear that in my many years of helping alcoholics and addicts, that whenever I ask family members who do not have the problem why they don't do it, the number one thing they all tell me is, they don't like the feeling of losing control. No surprise, as this is the part of these events they can, and the part addicts can not, consciously experience.

So can a person's level of residual shock be changed? Here, the answer is a definite maybe. Sorry, but there is a lot yet to discover. I can tell you this, though. Any time an alcoholic or addict is not under the influence, if someone who knows how to guide the process simply asks them to picture things from their lives, in these moments, they can, residual shock or not, access these experiences consciously. What does this mean?

It means that despite the many authorities who would deny this, alcoholics and addicts can heal things even in their first day sober. Do I have proof?

Actually, a lot. But let me just tell you one story.

I once lead an early recovery group as a guest therapist. During this group, I used a lot of the emergence techniques I describe on this site and in particular the one I call "visual dialogue." In a sense, all it is, is simply asking people to picture things interspliced with sharing what they see.

Before this particular group had started that night, as I was waiting myself to enter the group room, I noticed a little old man in an poorly fitting brown suit sitting in the corner all by himself. There he sat, reading the New York Times and I sensed, trying to be invisible to the rest of the still arriving group members.

Somehow, then, he needed up sitting next to me in the group circle when the group started, and toward the end of this group hour, I asked the group if anyone had lost someone close to them through death.

Now mind you, this man had been actively alcoholic for most of his life, and I found out later he was close to seventy at the time; a lot of years of drinking. So what kind of healing would you expect this man could do only a couple of weeks off alcohol? Not much, right? Wrong. Long story short, he did a visual dialogue with me in which he imagined his mother, at the time dead some thirty or forty odd years, sitting down next to him. And minutes later, when I asked him to imagine he was, silently to himself, asking her something he had never had the chance to ask her and then hearing her answer, I then watched as his eyes filled.

The group fell silent as if something very special was happening, this from a group of newly recovering alcoholics and addicts, not the most other centered group to say the least. And we all knew the man was experiencing something very deep and very healing, even though I never knew nor even asked him what he heard. Still, there wasn't a person in the room who didn't sense the depth of what had happened to this man.

Sometimes, these things can look important and yet be unfelt, again, the result of a high internal level of residual shock. Months later, though, the clinical director told me that for the man's whole stay, he had talked about that group and about what he had experienced in it.

Thus, even people with high levels of residual shock can consciously experience healing if and when they are helped to picture the good things being offered. More important, if this aspect, peoples' degree of residual shock at the time they do the substance, begins to be addressed, perhaps then, we could finally make the difference so many of us try so hard to make.

As for the older gentleman, I wonder at times if he is still sober. I honestly never knew, as confidentiality prevented me from asking. However, I know this. Residual shock was what put him at risk, regardless of his other life details. And my helping him to internally picture went right past this obstacle and helped him to grieve a mother dead more than thirty years. Was her death a factor in what pushed him to drink? Who knows .I only know his main risk came from his high internal level of residual shock. More so, lowering it in that few moments gave him a conscious experience of a loving mother and how could this not help.

How Residual Shock Affects Peoples' Risk for Other Things

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