14/02/2012 05:34 GMT | Updated 07/04/2012 06:12 BST

What Is Addiction Anyway?

There's been a lot on the radar about addiction lately. Richard Branson snatched the limelight first, airing views on drugs being illegal in this day and age, and how it didn't really make sense. Then Alan McGee's talked candidly about growing up in Glasgow and how drugs enhanced his creativity. Lastly, there was Simon Napier Bell saying that addictions are stimulating, especially his to alcohol. It's good that people's views are so diverse, but it's even better that we have a press that allows for and encourages their expression.

Having won my 'freedom', from addictive addiction in 1990, I read for a Joint Honours BSc in psychology & sociology at the University of Bristol, simply because I was fascinated with what made me tick. I wanted to know what made me tick; and whether my addiction was about the way my family functioned (or didn't function), whether it was about the socially acceptable level of alcohol addiction in the west of Scotland? All these questions consumed my newly sober mind. I then conducted research at four of Britain's best addiction units of the time; Clouds House in Wiltshire, Castle Craig in Scotland, Broadreach, in Cornwall and The St Joes Centre for Addiction & Codependency in Surrey (now closed). Eventually I trained under British addiction specialist and maverick, Dr Robert Lefever, at his Promis clinic in South Kensington, London. First I trained as an addiction counsellor ( as a psychology/sociology graduate) and then as the Clinical Manager of the London operations (Which included, primary, secondary, and after-care, as well as the specialist Elite Unit, Number Eleven which catered to the uber wealthy).

These are my currently held beliefs, and not those of any organisations I have mentioned

Addiction, seen as a condition within the person (endogenous), is a broad notion. However, it's interesting to compare the first step of the Alcoholics Anonymous program of recovery to that of Narcotics Anonymous' program, in order to understand the difference. Further to that, It's important to see what the 'difference' points towards. In AA it states that: 

'We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol',

while in NA it states that

'We admitted we were powerless over our 'addiction'...' 

The latter locates the problem 'within' the person, while the former locates the problem (alcohol) outside the person. This involves the person's 'locus of control'. An internal locus of control indicates that the problem resides within, while the former indicates that the problem lies 'outside' the person. So rather than seeing alcohol as the problem, which it isn't, I see the problem as residing within me. I am in effect, the problem. I must take full responsibility for owning it, if I am to make a clean break with my addiction It's inadequate for me to admit that I'm powerless over alcohol, while having a little diazepam, or a joint when no-one's looking.

Dr Martin Scott Peck provides a great definition for what addiction is in his classic book entitled, The Road Less Travelled. He says that (addiction) it is a:

" ...pathological relationship with a mood altering substance (or behaviour) that has life threatening consequences."

I inserted the word 'behaviour' in parentheses due to the following: People recovering from 'substance' addiction', can pick up 'behaviours' that can become addictive processes' that will return them to their drug(s) of choice. This is due to the erosion of their sense of self efficacy and lowered self-esteem. Thus, seemingly benign behaviours' can be life-threatening for the addict when they serve to return them to the need to use, and simply because the hate themselves for falling into compulsivity. Gambling, sex, extreme forms of exercise and eating - are all well noted 'behaviours' implicated in addiction; they are hard-wired into the pleasure centres. People with addictive personalities want the brain's pleasure centres to be activated at all times; they suffer from pre-occupation with ways and means to get 'more' which is not a realistic expectation of one's self, and can only lead to negative consequences. So much so, that I have often said that my drug of choice was ...'more'.

Addiction robs us of almost all of our psychic energy to love, create and live full, complete lives in harmony with The Universe, God - whatever you choose to call this force, and others. God doesn't cease to exist simply because someone doesn't believe it's there. I'm no apologist for belief in a benevolent God. If you take one stick and try to break it, it's easy. If you take fifteen sticks in a bunch, it's harder if not impossible. Similarly, if you take 15 people - 15 'addicts' sitting in a circle in a church basement, whose choice is to unify their collective power to become ' a power greater than One', then you have your Power Greater than yourself. Millions upon millions of 12 Step Practitioners claim something works. In anybody's science that's proof. Now liberated, the individual - becomes open to the awe experienced when seeing the workings of the Universe for the first time; the serendipity, synchronicity like the eye of the watchmaker's apprentice, all working in concert.

Many of the people I know who have managed to arrest their core addiction, have embarked upon a spiritual, and metaphysical journey, a Voyage of Discovery, that even they say is beyond their wildest dreams. I can say, anecdotally, that in the 20 odd years that I've been around, the three relapses I've endured in that time, that the nature of some of the things that occur, when ones psychic energy has been freed up, when one is healthy and living on high energy foods, and good water - is totally Majickal.

One of the Indian Upanishads, written 10 centuries before the life of Jesus, says it perfectly:

"When all desires of the heart are surrendered, then a mortal becomes immortal." 

As for legality, it seems like a bit of a double standard to sell tobacco and alcohol products and nothing else. Either legalise all, or legalise none. It's as simple as that. Alcohol and tobacco put greater pressure on our society than everything else, especially in terms of health care, and to permit their sale, while huffing and puffing about heroin, for example is dumb! End of!!!