Addictive behaviors: Necessary interventions

DVF-Geese-Delta-blogJanuary 9, 2014

By Charles Gardiner, Executive Director

This is the seventh installment of the Healing the Delta series.

Previous parts of the treatment plan for California water and ecosystem management have highlighted unhealthy behaviors that call for a leaner, healthier diet.  A closer examination reveals that these behaviors are more serious than just poor diet.  The patient is showing some classic signs of addiction.

Delta Diagnosis:

How many of the following signs of addiction do you see in the water community—water users controlling use or expanding demand; regulators pursuing more regulation; non-governmental organizations fanning the flames of crisis; landowners wanting more independence; and lawyers and consultants prolonging the problems and conflicts?  Addictions are destructive behavior, and they will ultimately kill the patient.

Dependence: More and more of the substance needs to be taken in order to achieve the same effect and/or withdrawal symptoms emerge when the substance is stopped.

Thinking About Substance or Activity: When someone has become addicted to a substance or behavior, it attains a level of emotional significance that keeps it in their thoughts almost constantly.

Inability To Control Use: Using more or for a longer period of time than intended is one of the hallmarks of addiction.

Time Spent On Substance Or Activity: The substance or behavior becomes the focus of the addict’s life, consuming more and more attention and time.

Ignoring Important Activities: As an addiction progresses, the areas of our lives that are usually of greatest importance to us – such as relationships, work, or recreation – are often sacrificed.  One of the tragedies of addiction is that the substance or behavior often attains greater importance in the mind of the addict than his or her friends and family.

Using Despite Consequences: At the beginning, the consequences may be insubstantial, but as the neurological changes become more profound, even one’s most deeply held values can become subordinate to the drive to continue using the substance or engaging in the behavior.

Inability To Quit: This is the truly pernicious aspect of addiction.  Virtually every addict eventually experiences enough pain and suffering as a result of the addiction that he or she wants to stop.  Unfortunately, by the time most individuals get to this point, the addiction has progressed so far that stopping without help is exceptionally difficult.

California’s water and ecosystem management systems are rife with these signs of addiction, which is one of the primary reasons that the problems and conflicts in the Delta have defied solution for the past 40 years.

Treatment Plan:

While addictions can be devastating disorders if left untreated, there are now many types of effective treatment, including group and individual therapy. The patient’s condition is urgent and intervention is needed.  However, care and compassion is also needed over the long-term to wean us of our addictions.

Rock Bottom: Many believe that an addict has to hit rock bottom before true change can occur.  In the past, we have lived through crises with the hope that next year will bring more rain or the signs of fish recovery in wet years bode well for the future.  However, 2014 may be the year that our water management system hits rock bottom.  Calendar year 2013 was the driest year on record in California; several reservoirs are at historic lows for January; fish are more imperiled than ever before; and there are more people depending on the state’s water system than 35 years ago during the 1976-77 drought.

Intervention: Compassionate intervention can set us on the road to recovery.  Several elements of an intervention are critical for success: care and compassion (no more finger pointing); honestly facing destructive behaviors and their consequences; a structured treatment plan; and ongoing support to see the treatment plan through.

Rehabilitation: Treatment and rehabilitation is not simple because addiction affects so many aspects of the patient’s system.  Rehabilitation and recovery requires long-term treatment to stop the addictive behavior along with counseling and support to develop a new lifestyle and monitoring to identify relapses.  A good 12-step program could help end the water conflict addictions we have, but that’s another blog topic.

In California water, we are all working hard to solve the water and ecosystem conflicts that affect our lives, but the patient is dying.  This may be the year that we hit rock bottom, face our addictions, and seek help.

Stay tuned for a future installment on adding more greens to the California water diet.

Healing the Delta series:
Part 6 – The insurance has run out: Funding the treatment plan
Part 5 – High cholesterol and diabetes: A leaner, healthier water diet
Part 4 – Indigestion: Water storage to feed fish, farms, factories, and families
Part 3 – IV fluids needed: Managing flows for the ecosystem and economy
Part 2 – The heart of California: Congestive heart failure in the Delta
Part 1 – Holiday hodgepodge won’t help the Delta