Our Q&A with 'Who Says I'm An Addict?' author David Smallwood

David, we like to describe AD as 'the gateway drug to self-help & spirituality.’ It is aimed very much at girls like ourselves, who are not necessarily far enough down the line for rehab but are living out toxic & unhealthy patterns. In short, we are all about addressing the issues before things really hit the fan. How would you define addictive behavior and can you explain its progressive nature?

David:

Addiction is dangerous because of its sneaky nature. It never comes in the guise of an enemy, always in the guise of a true friend, wanting to make you feel better, have a better time, feel sexier, be more attractive, pull hotter guys! Eventually it leaves us for someone else though.

“Addiction can be summed up by one word:

MORE! We are powerless to resist MORE food, MORE sex, MORE shopping, MORE Facebook, MORE booze or MORE drugs.”

We found it interesting in the book (as two closet highly-sensitive gals ourselves) that super-sensitive people are very susceptible to addictive behaviors. Can you expand a little on this?

David:

If you are more sensitive than the average person, then you will feel everything more acutely. This can feel very painful to say the least. Unless you are different from me, you don’t want to be in pain. You therefore look for a pain reliever (no surprises there). It’s just we don’t think to call them pain relievers. We call them FUN.

“The limitless connectivity that technology facilitates can become an addictive process in itself.”

On the subject of social media, you raise some interesting points about our online culture and how it can affect self-worth (you refer to women in particular here, as we often get our self-esteem from relationships.) How do you believe Facebook is adversely affecting us?

David:

Facebook in itself is not the issue. It’s why we are using it. If you are using it to just keep in touch with friends, relatives etc then great. But if it’s where you exist then it’s very sad. I think that we are social animals and only truly exist with others. (People go on retreats of silence for weeks and months and wonder why they go funny). To exist in a cyber-world is odd. We are teaching our children how not to live! We are starting to judge ourselves (especially women) by what others have and do on Facebook. It’s not real.

In the book, you state, 'If you’re single, it might be that you’re using sex as a way of boosting your emotional self-esteem… Sex can become a means of seeking affirmation.' Now, it’s not uncommon for us footloose & fancy-free fillies to experiment with booze, drugs & sexual adventurousness during our ‘quarter-life crisis’ years. What tips can you share to help keep our sexual habits healthy, and what are the warning signs that things are beginning to spiral out of control?

David:

I have no moral standpoint on sexual behavior. Whatever suits you (within the law) is OK with me. However, it’s what is OK with you that is very important. We all have an internal moral compass which contains some inherent instinctual and some learned boundaries. We need to examine all of these and find what we are comfortable with.

Having looked at these (sometimes with the help of a professional or within a fellowship), we will be aware when we are breaking our own boundaries. Lots of people (mostly co-dependent/ addictive are not even aware that there might need to be a boundary at all, and others have so many boundaries that it’s a miracle that sex ever takes place at all!

“Sugar – the crack cocaine of comfort eating. The world’s most addictive substance.”

From sex to sugar… We weren’t too surprised to read that laboratory studies done on rats suggest that sugar affects their brain chemistry in a similar way to cocaine. Sugar seems to be in almost every supermarket product. How much is too much and how can we begin to tackle the sugar addiction epidemic?

David:

Unfortunately there are too many health professionals who have made too many pronouncements about what makes people fat to take on the glaringly obvious facts that people like Dr Robert Lustig and Gary Taubes are pointing out. In fact Professor John Yudkin wrote a book called ‘Pure, White and Deadly’ back in 1972 – which was ignored by the medics and rubbished by the industry (surprise). I have no reason to suppose that this will not continue until the epidemic has reached the same proportions as any other epidemic.

You cover the topics of anorexia, bulimia & over-eating in the book and refer to all three as eating disorders that are ‘self-harming in their nature – usually resulting from fear, insecurity, low self-confidence and an inability to deal with emotional pain.’ What advice do you have for those struggling?

David:

Get help! Don’t sit in fear and ignorance - there are self-help groups that are free. LOOK THEM UP. I don’t believe anyone cannot access help in 2014.

In your book, you refer to the over-exuberant phrase we ladies proudly coin of being able to ‘shop till we drop.’ What does shopping have to do with the addictive process, and how can we keep our spending habits in check?

David:

Shopping can cause as much pain as any other addiction. Remember, it’s doing exactly the same thing as heroin, i.e. medicating feelings. And like heroin, it has the same result. We need more.

The medical profession is one of the biggest pushers of tranquilizers & anti-depressants… the UK’s National Health Service is institutionally biased towards tackling the symptoms of addiction, rather than the psychological and emotional factors that cause the condition.”

In the chapter, ‘Drugs: The Many Roads to Hell’, you explore the idea that regardless of one’s drug of choice (prescription or otherwise), people use drugs because essentially, they want to change the way they feel. Many girls we know use drugs recreationally and have been offered prescription ‘help’ for their mental-health struggles via their GP. What advice can you give to those turning to substances in order to improve their mental state?

David:

If you are going to a GP to get medication to help with your “mental state”, the first question to ask is what mental state? Is it stress? Depression? My guess in 95 % would be anxiety! The problem is, most girls (and boys, though social conditioning does not allow them to say so) cannot articulate how they feel (especially if everyone on Facebook is having a great time!) Thus, they feel isolated and don’t know what to do; they can’t go to mum (she is on Facebook trying to do the same thing) so instead go to a GP who has no time and simply gives them a pill for anxiety or depression etc. Once again, the symptoms may be temporarily relieved, whilst the root cause goes untreated and gets progressively worse – meaning even more numbers are needed. It’s a vicious cycle.

BuyWHO SAYS I'M AN ADDICT?here.

David Smallwood has a Masters degree in Addiction Counselling and Psychology, a post graduate diploma in Therapeutic Counselling, and a diploma in Counselling for Addictive Disorders. He has trained in EMDR (eye movement desensitising and re-processing), PIT training with Pia Mellody at the Meadows, in Arizona. He has worked as a treatment director in two rehabilitation clinics, and as manager of the addiction unit at the Priory hospital in London. David is currently the Treatment Director at One40 Ltd, Harley Street, London, and specialises in addiction issues and treating any childhood trauma that has led to anxiety and depression.www.davidsmallwoodtherapy.co.uk