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Knowledge Share #4:Understanding Addiction

Understanding Addiction

Rachel Ash, Hope House of Colorado Program Staff

Is addiction a choice, character flaw, weakness or brain disease?

I open every Understanding Addictions Workshop at Hope House with this question.  Most of our teen moms begin this workshop believing that addiction is a choice or a character flaw… by the end, they have developed an appreciation for the complexities of addiction, including an understanding that addiction is a disease of the physical brain.

The first step to understanding addiction is to normalize the behavior. Humans are wired to be addicted. Healthy behaviors, such as sleeping, drinking water, eating nutritious food and caring for your children are actually natural addictions that aid in our survival. We come to desire these healthy addictions because they ultimately bring us joy or, at the very least, satisfaction. Conversely, unhealthy addictions hijack the brain’s survival hierarchy. Unhealthy addictions are essentially desires run amuck.

Here is an example I share with our teen moms from my own personal experience… I am addicted to my phone. I get distracted thinking about whether or not I have a missed call. I compulsively check my phone for text messages. I am obsessed with making sure my phone is charged and working. For me, my phone represents being connected to other people; however, I will constantly check my phone when I am with people.

This is how addiction works: I want to connect to people in real life, but when I am with people, in real life, I am checking my phone to connect with people – which doesn’t make sense. My desire to connect with people is a good and healthy desire. My need to constantly check my phone represents my healthy desire run amuck.

Gerald May, author of Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions, explains it like this: “Addiction exists whenever persons are internally compelled to give energy to things that are not their true desires.” Therefore, to understand addiction, we must appreciate the purpose addiction serves in terms of survival and recognize the various desires attached to the addiction. 

No one wakes up one day and says, “I wish I were addicted.” Often times addictions emerge from good desires such as the desire to relax after a stressful day or the desire to not feel pain after experiencing trauma. Alcohol, drugs, porn, shopping, and many other substances and behaviors provide temporary relief and momentarily satisfy a desire. The key words here are “temporary” and “momentarily.” From the outside, it appears that the desire is the addiction, when in fact the desire goes deeper than the behavior. 

The goal in our Understanding Addictions Workshop is to help our teen moms understand how complicated addictions are and how addictions re-wire the brain and become a brain disease. After exploring what addiction is and how it works, we talk about what it takes to overcome addiction and how to support a loved one struggling with addiction.

Our girls learn about 12-Step Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery. We also discuss how recovery is different from sobriety and examine The Tools of Recovery from Addiction from

Lastly we talk about what it is like to love someone with an addiction, whether that person is a parent, family member, close friend or significant other.  The New Bridge Foundation provides good literature around supporting a loved one with an addiction, which we have adapted to fit our workshop.

I am happy to report our Understanding Addictions Workshop makes a difference. Take Michelle*, who attended because her dad was an addict. For years she had witnessed him trying to quit without success. Michelle would nag and guilt him into being sober -- only to see him relapse.

Michelle felt frustrated and helpless, and her dad felt even more ashamed of himself. Michelle learned through our workshop that heaping guilt on her dad was counterproductive to his recovery. Instead Michelle learned how to talk to her dad about his addiction and support him in his recovery. Michelle also learned about support networks for people like her who have loved ones struggling with addiction.

Stories like Michelle’s are why we continue to offer our addictions workshop – and why we are privileged to share with you what has worked and why.

* Name changed to protect the subject’s privacy.

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Blog Archives

January 2018

Organizational Growth Cycles: Stages that Lead to a Mature Nonprofit - 01/23/2018

November 2017

Knowledge Share #19: Creating Unity: The Power of Mealtime - 11/20/2017

October 2017

Knowledge Share #18: The Power of Networking - 10/12/2017

September 2017

Knowledge Share #18: Engaging the Millennial Generation - 09/19/2017

August 2017

Knowledge Share #17: When the Dream Seems Too Big - 08/17/2017

July 2017

Knowledge Share #16: Personalized Learning - The Cornerstone of our GED Program - 07/18/2017

June 2017

Knowledge Share #15: Special Needs and Special Moms - 06/08/2017

April 2017

Knowledge Share #14: Creating Connections through Children - 04/18/2017

March 2017

Knowledge Share #13: Managing Volunteers: Benjamin Franklin had it right! - 03/13/2017

February 2017

Knowledge Share #12: Advocacy and Self-Sufficiency: Finding the Balance - 02/14/2017

January 2017

Knowledge Share #11: Effective PR and Spot On Communications - 01/18/2017

November 2016

Knowledge Share #10: I Walk the Line: Creating Deep Connections While Maintaining Professional Boundaries - 11/15/2016

September 2016

Knowledge Share #9: "Fundraising for Non-Profits: An Insider's Perspective" - 09/22/2016

August 2016

Knowledge Share #8: Breaking Out of Poverty - 08/18/2016

July 2016

Knowledge Share #7: Creating a Home - 07/11/2016

June 2016

Knowledge Share #6: The Power of Mindset - 06/14/2016

May 2016

Knowledge Share #5: College or Bust! - 05/17/2016

April 2016

Knowledge Share #4:Understanding Addiction - 04/07/2016

March 2016

Knowledge Share #3:Mentoring Empowers Teen Moms - 03/21/2016

February 2016

Knowledge Share #2: Healthy Relationships - 02/11/2016

January 2016

Knowledge Share #1: Brain Development - 01/12/2016

December 2015

Teen Mom Barrier #8: Communicating the Barriers - 12/16/2015

October 2015

Teen Mom Barrier #7: Homelessness - 10/09/2015

July 2015


June 2015

Teen Mom Barrier Number #5: Domestic Violence - 06/03/2015

May 2015

Teen Mom Barrier # 4 The Challenges of College - 05/12/2015

April 2015

Teen Mom Barrier #3: The Unexpected Bill: Car Repair, Doctor's Visit, Broken Pipe - 04/03/2015

February 2015

Teen Mom Barrier #2: Childcare - 02/18/2015

January 2015

Teen Mom Barrier #1: Society's Negative Expectations - 01/26/2015

December 2014

Teen Mom Misconception #7: Teen Moms Are Completely Self-Absorbed - 12/29/2014

October 2014

Teen Mom Misconception #6: Teen moms drop out of school because they want to - 10/31/2014

September 2014

Teen Mom Misconceptions #5: Success is Impossible - 09/22/2014

July 2014

Misconception #4: Shaming Teen Moms is an Effective Approach - 07/22/2014

June 2014

Misconception #3: Mentoring Teen Moms is Complicated - 06/05/2014

May 2014

Because they want someone to love them? - 05/21/2014

April 2014

Teen Moms - A Persecuted Population? - 04/22/2014

March 2014

Connecting across the Continents: Teen Moms and the People Who Love Them - 03/18/2014

February 2014

Can you break out of poverty with a vocabulary of just 900 words? - 02/17/2014

January 2014

Community - 01/20/2014

December 2013

8 Pennies - 12/18/2013

November 2013

"The most courageous young women I know." - 11/14/2013

September 2013

Our Graduates: In their hands, they hold the future! - 09/30/2013

August 2013

The Cliff Effect and Other Perils on the Journey to Self-Sufficiency - 08/30/2013

July 2013

Breaking the Cycle: Do Poor Teens Have to Become Poor Adults? - 07/30/2013

June 2013

Measuring the Intangible - 06/15/2013

May 2013

Grown-Up Mom - 05/01/2013


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