“Dysphoria”: The concept that helped one man overcome addiction

Dysphoria

An LPP client asked a question about something that he has been pondering:

 “Society seems to acknowledge the danger of prolonged depression and the link to addictive behavior. But what about this word dysphoria? Is it something at the root of addictions that we also need to watch out for?”

–  Hans Lagom, LPP member since 2020

We asked Mr. Lagom (a pseudonym) if he’d like to do some deeper reflections and to see if he could generate an answer to his own question.

We are cautious about involving clients in LPP work (we almost never do it) because of ethical concerns. Nonetheless, after due deliberation, we have asked Hans to expand on this topic he introduced, that we think is worthwhile, and that he has a handle on it. Indeed, Hans wrote the following. 

 “Is dysphoria really behind my binge-eating, drinking, gambling and drugging?

 Society seems to acknowledge the danger of prolonged depression and its link to addictive behavior. So, maybe it’s depression that’s behind my addiction.

But what about dysphoria? What is it and is my dysphoria actually more dangerous than my depression when it comes to the cycle of addiction in my life? What if I’ve been blaming some sort of clinical depression for my actions when there is really something else going on?  

 Dysphoria is defined as a ‘state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life.’ The french have a word for the experience: ennui.

After joining the Life Process Program, I learned to observe a clear pattern of dysphoria during my weekends.  I would teach at school all week, Monday-Friday, consistently focusing on my work and the needs of my students, living my values of service and responsibility.  I was deeply satisfied with my work. 

Then, Friday afternoon would roll around and I would start thinking about cocaine. Believe me, I didn’t want to think about cocaine: it was illegal, expensive, and it drained me.  After some reflection and after consulting with my LPP Coach, Zach Roads, I realized I wasn’t depressed every Friday afternoon.  But I was dysphoric, dissatisfied with my personal life in general.

My response to dysphoria

Cocaine was my addictive defense against this dysphoria. Cocaine offered a temporary numbness and a ‘high’ that neatly masked my dysphoria. Prior to joining the Life Process Program, I had trouble identifying that I didn’t have a satisfying life outside work and that this personal problem had a profound effect extending from my Friday afternoons and including the rest of the weekend.

When I reached out to the Life Process Program, I was taught to recognize my dysphoria and I was able to conceptualize it.  Then, my task became to build a life worth living on the weekends using the skill-building and support of the Life Process Program.  My LPP coach and I outlined a simple, actionable plan: I needed some people to spend time with on the weekends. I needed activities in line with my values for fun, adventure, and excitement. I had tried 12 steps, but I didn’t identify with the idea that I had a disease and, frankly, 12 step meetings eventually became boring with their focus on problems instead of solutions. 

12 step meetings eventually became boring with their focus on problems instead of solutions

Rather quickly, with LPP, through friendships, through experimenting with social activities, and by approaching my Friday afternoons proactively, I stopped procrastinating and began to look forward to my weekends. Thoughts and desires for cocaine or alcohol or binge-eating or gambling faded quickly.  I had hit on the true problem — dysphoria — and the Life Process Program helped me rally around a solution for my weekend dilemma.

The more I learn from Stanton Peele’s Life Process Program, the more obvious it is to me that my addictive behavior is triggered in large part by dysphoria, a general mood and life dysfunction, rather than some psychopathology like clinical depression. In my case, I didn’t need a pill or therapy to solve my problem.

Dysphoria is a word I hadn’t thought about until reading Dr. Peele’s writings. I encourage anyone with a use-disorder or addiction to see what the Life Process Program has to offer.  It’s affordable, online, and it helped me to design a solution to my problems directly, which the 12 steps never did.”

Our (LPP) Response 

We are grateful to “Hans” for his thoughtfulness and outreach. He has proactively cooperated with his coach, Zach Rhoads, to address a general issue in his life, “dysphoria.” What a good way of thinking about addiction! He didn’t have a disease, a psychopathology that needed to be labeled and medicated. He had a general deficiency in his life that he could take active steps to remedy, once he was able to identify the problem.

We don’t want to trivialize people’s addictions — or their life problems. But we also don’t want to emblazon in people’s minds that they have a lifetime disease called “addiction.” We don’t believe that. We don’t want to label people, which we feel is disrespectful and minimizes who they are and their capacity to deal with life.

Hans, by thinking through and tackling his life issues has not only changed his life, alleviating his various addictions. He has given all of us a new way of conceiving of the Life Process Program. And we are proud to see how proud Hans is, both about his own life, and for what he has contributed to the rest of us.

Thank you Hans!

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

Comments

  • Cory SS says:

    Thanks for the insightful post! Although I have never put a label on my own dysphoria before, I believe this concept is key to some of the issues I’ve had throughout my life. I believe conquering dysphoria was instrumental the first time around when I became sober 20 years ago. I also Believe that the people around me having negative attitudes was and continues to be the opposite of empowering. The idea of being proactive in restructuring a satisfying life is, in part, exactly what I believe is needed. Also, Toughlove is a crock – the opposite of empowering.

  • Liz says:

    This hits home. I think this is something that a lot of empty nesters deal with. You pour so much of yourself into being a parent. Then, boom, they’re on their own. Suddenly your primary purpose for the last 25 years or so is done and you have a ton of time on your hands. When you’re in the middle of work and raising a family you dream of the day when you don’t have all of the responsibility. Then it happens and the emptiness can be quite shocking. If retirement comes soon after it can be a double whammy! My husband and I got into a routine much like this in 2017 after our kids were grown and we moved 1100 miles from home. Wine with dinner after work turned into wine from Friday night till Sunday night. The void was undeniable. We’re still working on it. We try to not bring alcohol into the house and limit it to 2-3 glasses of wine (me) or 2-3 beers (him) in a restaurant. COVID has made that difficult. Hans solution is spot on! When we are engaged and satisfied that “void” is already filled so there is no need for outside substances/behaviors to compensate.

  • Wendy says:

    This would be me. I totally get it and am interested that my experiences can be described by such an uncommon word.

    I’ve recently been told by two people closest to me that they kind of thought I might be bi-polar without knowing it. I wasn’t surprised to hear that but I KNOW I am not bi-polar. I’m actually a pretty balanced person when I’m sober. It’s the alcohol that makes me act bi-polar. When I drink to get drunk – not to savor but to gulp it all down- I have an awareness that my consciousness is struggling to hold on tight while it succumbs to the alcohol taking over. That is where my personality changes, I get amnesia and alcohol runs me. Thus the bi-polar behavior.

    Since I have stepped away from drinking to work on becoming holistically healthy, I have thought long and hard about why I am compelled to drink to unconsciousness. I have a good life and so much potential! So why do I do this to myself?

    I realize there are many reasons but when I pin it down to one or two things, it’s isolation. Having empty spaces of time that I had not committed to filling with productive, fun activities to take the edge off of my perceived isolation and feelings of abandonment.

    Anyhow, I recognize this after MUCH reflection, along with honest, open and challenging discussion with my husband, who is completely supportive of my efforts to not drink so I can figure these things out.

    Dysphoria. Such an uncommon word. But one I can relate to.
    Thank you for the article. It was good for me.

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