Alcohol Depression
The Chicken or the Egg?

My new friend, Bill, dedicated a web page to my son entitled "Alcohol Depression".  It brought tears to my eyes to know that in so many ways my son is living on through my efforts and the dedication of people like Bill, to provide awareness to others.

Bill, like many experts, believes depression and addictions begin with patterns introduced early in life.  Alcohol depression and addiction, seem to run in families; but why?  

In my son's case, I believe it was two fold:

  1. A bio-chemical profile indicating an imbalance to the prefrontal cortex; and
  2. An ever increasing low self image resulting from criticism by self and others; and exacerbated by the eventual use of alcohol/drugs

Ultimately, Chad's ADD was not mitigated with the pharmaceutical drugs commonly prescribed for the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder.  Chad, finally diagnosed with Attention Deficit at the age of twelve, was put on a non-time-release type of Ritalin. His reaction became progressively worse and I stopped giving him Ritalin after a couple of months.  Chad's bad experience with Ritalin made more sense years later when I learned that of the six types of ADD, four are made worse with these amphetamine prescription drugs, according to Dr. Daniel Amen. 

On Ritalin, purportedly as potent as Cocaine, Chad lost interest in eating and sleeping.  When he should have been sleeping, he occupied himself with destructive behaviors in his room such as cutting things, including himself.  His anger outbursts became destructive and he became involved in fights at school taking up periodical residence in the Principals office. Unfortunately, twenty years ago there was very little information on holistic approaches for much of anything. 

The Self Medication Roller Coaster

Beginning at a very young age, Chad went through life doing the best he could without any of us understanding how his behaviors were compensating for his low Dopamine and his resulting "blah" type depression. In order to feel more normal or focused, albeit in negative and destructive ways, he learned the art of drama and risk taking.  Chad compensated for his perceived weaknesses in school by lying, causing trouble in class, flying under the radar to avoid embarrassment, manipulation, and developing a great sense of humor and charisma to pull it all off. 

The above behaviors not only further destroyed Chad's self image along with his delicate bio-chemistry, but they became his first line of defense; self-medication.  Always in trouble, his body compensated with a bio-chemical cocktail whipped up by his adrenals for fight or flight, adrenaline! This began a long relationship with stimulants compensating for low Catecholamines in his bio-chemical profile.

In his early teens, perhaps as early as twelve and thirteen, Chad began using coffee and cigarettes, which acted as a stimulant causing an untypical opposite response from that of most people.  I remember in sixth grade when taking Chad to school he asked for a drink of my cappuccino.  I responded by saying that coffee was the last thing that he needed.  To that he replied, "to tell you the truth, Mom, it helps me focus."  I thought he was up to his usual fabrications until years later when I saw him lay down at the airport and take a nap after barely finishing an espresso.  

By the time Chad was fifteen he began experimenting, as most teenagers do, with alcohol and most likely marijuana.  Before long he became a binge drinker and weekend warrior, experiencing occasional black outs.  He lost his drivers license to a DUI at sixteen.  Again, not only alcohol, a depressant for most people, but Marijuana interacted with his chemistry as a stimulant.  Perhaps using alcohol provided focus, more likely it was a coping mechanism for his empathic nature;  but it most certainly didn't help with his low grade depression and clarity of mind.

When Chad stopped drinking -cold turkey- for a year at the age of eighteen, he turned to Red Bull as his new stimulant of choice in order to continue socializing with his friends. He was proud of his new role as rescuer for transporting his friends home safely, declaring himself the "designated decoy".  This was a time in Chad's life when he was able to see that the fog caused by his alcohol addiction (allergies) lifted and as his self esteem improved, so did the ADD and alcohol depression that filtered the events of each day of his life.  It was the happiest I've ever seen Chad. He had matured a lot in one year and was very proud of himself for graduating, being accepted into another school and being able to abstain from alcohol, especially in a resort party town.  

On his Graduation picture he wrote me the following note:  "Mom, thank you for alwaze putting up with my shit.  I know I am not the most perfect son but I don't think you could ask for much more as a person.  I think I turned out alright.  Love Alwaze, Chad

Chad had life by the tail and big plans to live it!  AND, I have no doubt that all the while, he struggled deep down with the uncertainty of being able to sustain an addiction free lifetime on pure will power alone.  Certain situations were extremely challenging for him to overcome and tugged at him, beckoning him back to a familiar way of coping, by desensitizing and detaching with alcohol made worse by his addiction to histamines caused by allergies to alcohol. 

It was ultimately crack, a fluke introduction while he was on a pain killer (gateway drug) during several surgeries, that would become his demise.  In the end, his demons would have the last say. Crack was portrayed in Men's Health as an "Indi-Car" as compared to its Cocaine derivative, which was described as a "tricycle".  This amphetamine, was the most potent form of cocaine because it was inhaled, versus digested, and went straight to the brain through the sinuses.  If an amphetamine happens to be the drug of choice, i.e. the drug that most closely subsidizes someone's bio-chemical deficiencies, that individual will most likely become hooked almost instantaneously! 

As a user goes further down the rabbit hole, they begin to experiment with altering and combining drugs in an effort to chase that first high.  They have entered a place where their will power, integrity and even their care for themselves or their loved ones becomes secondary to their demons and physical cravings that now own them body, mind and soul. They would give up everything just so that they can once more feel that "more powerful than God" high.

 What's Self Esteem Got to Do With It?

Self Esteem has everything to do with a successful and happy life!  I think Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D., co authors of Answers to Distraction and Driven to Distraction, said it best: 

"There is a corrosive effect of ongoing humiliation on a (ADD) child's psyche.  The worse consequence of having undiagnosed ADD throughout one's school years is not attributable to the ADD directly, but to the indirect emotional damage that occurs.  The child takes in all the bad things that are said about him and, over time, begins to believe them."

Chad's extremely low self image began to form beginning with his underlying beliefs about divorce as a very young boy.  Shortly after first grade, he was already struggling to cover up for the holes forming in his educational foundation as a result of his lack of focus and short term memory issues, common with an ADD profile.  He was a perfect example of the boys that Leonard Sax, M.D., referred to in his book, Boys Adrift.  Dr. Sax believes our boys, unlike girls of the same age, are introduced to pre-school when they are biologically and evolutionally designed to learn through playing, running and jumping.  Instead, we ask them to sit still and focus in class, and again after school on homework.  These boys oftentimes begin to hate school, an attitude that may be perpetuated throughout their academic years. 

When Chad turned twelve, the teachers and counselors suggested he be held back in sixth grade, which turned out to be far more devastating than anyone could have anticipated.  I've since read that this is not a recommended solution or advisable for someone who is Attention Deficit!  Not being able to focus, and not understanding why he was different, shaped by poor grades, total misunderstanding and criticism, caused shame beyond comprehension. With so many negative behaviors for parents and teachers to try to manage, any positive traits, soliciting the positive reinforcement these kids so desperately need, become lost in the milieu.

Over the years, I have observed an emotional sensitivity in alcoholics and addicts.  I believe many of them are empaths; and oftentimes they  seem to be more comfortable isolating or socializing with a small, safe group of friends (their drinking buddies or perhaps their friends at AA). It becomes burdensome for an empath to defend their psyche from taking on the emotions of those who surround them.  For example, when we were in foreign countries, it seemed impossible for Chad to pass by a homeless person without offering them food, money or the shirt off his back.  Many empathic people have not developed a means for coping with their emotions.  In order to deaden their feelings, many will eventually find their way to drugs, alcohol and most likely both. This becomes the final blow to their self esteem.  Maybe they drink because of low self esteem in the first place, but I assure you that when they can't quit and they start hurting themselves and their loved ones through addiction, it's nearly impossible for them to find their way out. Deep inside, they believe they are losers and they can't seem to stop self defeating actions and behaviors that destroy all hope for a normal life, a normal job or a lasting, loving relationship with their family.  Their lives become a roller coaster!

I once read that a baby forming in utero becomes wired for survival of the fittest based on the emotional profile of their mother at the time of pregnancy and thereafter.  I would imagine that the wiring of a baby being carried by an emotionally unstable or drug using mother (causing the baby to become addicted) would be wired differently than a baby being born to a woman who knew joy, security and peacefulness in her life.

Babies are developing a phenomenal number (I believe I read three million) of neurons each day as they develop.  Because they have no significant language to form thoughts from the time that they are in utero to the age of five, they are learning emotion as their first language through mirror neurons corresponding with those of their caregivers.  This means that literally all of us were empathic at these early ages.  We were not just seeing emotion in others, we were truly FEELING first hand what our caregivers FELT. 

Some of us were better able to develop coping mechanisms, or armor, to handle the lower emotions shared by our caregivers, such as shame and anger. For example, some of us primarily intellectualize emotions and use perfectionism to avoid shame, some numb or detach using substance or addictive behaviors and still others use foreboding to prepare for when the "other shoe drops" or escape disappointment.  Most likely we use a combination of all three from time to time.

Whether it's similarities of bio chemical profiles, mental disorders, emotional pain and abuse passed along to off spring, or all of the above;  as Bill suggests, the "why" isn't as important as the "now what"?  I've tried my best to address both in this site.  Ultimately, I've come to believe that any way you look at it, successful recovery from alcohol depression, depression or any drug or alcohol addiction is surely, on some level, a Spiritual Intervention.

Sadly, teenagers sometimes just haven't lived life long enough to learn to solve problems of this magnitude or to ask for help.  Being compulsive, as many addicts and Attention Deficit people are, doesn't help.  Boys, in particular, tend to just take care of things their way.  I will always remember reading an interview of a man that jumped from a bridge and lived to tell about it.  He said that on his way "down" he realized that there were no problems so big that they could not be solved.  He was very lucky for that spiritual insight and that he got a second chance!

SEE ALCOHOL DEPRESSION  DEDICATED TO CHAD KESLER and to all the other wonderfully emotional, empathetic artists, athletes and rescuers such as Chad who were more of Universe than of the world.  I believe that they were born to remind the rest of us of a different way of being.  Perhaps it's time for the pendulum to swing.

I'd like to end this page by sharing one of my favorite analogies, which is being quoted from a great book, Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzales.  Maybe it's because I am an owner and lover of horses that this depiction rings so true in my heart.  Maybe it's because I have so much compassion for those who rely so heavily on their Emotional or Limbic Intelligence due to a low functioning Prefrontal Cortex.  Regardless, there is a delicate balance between our Emotional Intelligence and our Rational Intelligence. 

"Cognition is capable of making fine calculations and abstract distinctions.  Emotion is capable of producing powerful physical actions. The human organism, then, is like a jockey on a thoroughbred in the gate.  He's a small man and it's a big horse and if it decides to get excited in that small metal cage, the jockey is going to get mangled, possibly killed.  So he takes great care to be gentle.  The jockey is reason and the horse is emotion, a complex of systems bred over eons of evolution and shaped by experience, which exist for your survival.  They are so powerful, they can make you do things you'd never think to do, and they can allow you to do things you'd never believe yourself capable of doing.  The jockey can't win without the horse, and the horse can't race alone.  In the gate, they are two, and it's dangerous.  But when they run, they are one and it's positively godly."