The music must change! Obsesssion, compulsion, shame an guilt in addiction

Guest co-author: Jeff Brandler from

The nature of addiction is one of obsession and compulsion. Regardless of the substance, behavior, or process, the addicted person will continue to obsess (countless and endless thoughts) and have compulsions (repetitive actions). They will repeat this obsession-compulsion ritual over and over.

music-sheetImagine a radio station that plays the same song over and over. Imagine that song being a steady diet of thoughts, and feelings of guilt, shame, remorse and self-loathing (GSRSL). Imagine an endless supply of obsessive thinking and compulsive replays of the thing(s) that the addict did to start the song playing.

People get involved in all kinds of self-defeating/self destructive behaviors. There are numerous reasons for this. The top ones that I see are: addictive disorders, mood disorders, self-sabotaging behavioral and personality traits. The GSRSL is a constant loop. It never stops. The problem with it never stopping is that it creates more GSRSL. The more GSRSL, the greater the need for the behavior. The more behavior that happens, the more GSRSL that you need and so on and so on. Does your head feel like it wants to explode?

Obsession and Compulsion – An example

Let’s say I had a fight with my spouse. I decide to smoke a joint in order to relax, escape, or unwind. Afterwards, I feel a lot of GSRSL. I have guilty thoughts, feel embarrassed and shameful. I have remorse for what I did, and beat myself up unmercifully. So what do I do in order to stop this behavior? You got it, smoke another joint, or maybe have a drink, only to feel more GSRSL. In doing so I then have the trifecta GSRSL of before, during and after-The music must definitely change!!!!

Or, imagine an alcoholic who receive a 3rd DWI citation after finally getting his license back following a 2 year suspension for his previous offenses. That’s some serious GSRSL. I have the most recent driving incident plus the 2 years where I lost my license swirling around my head like a blender. Talk about a bad song!!!! Please change the music!!!!

How does a person change this music?

It’s easy to change a radio station, but something that is so ingrained, so obsessive & compulsive is going to be much harder to change. Part of stopping this music is recognizing: 1) this is going to be hard to do 2) that I have been doing this for a while, and 3) it’s going to take some time to stop it. The key word that describes this is permission – I have to give myself permission to take the time that it’s going to take to make this major change. I’m also going to need to use a variety of approaches to change these thoughts and feelings (i.e. thought stopping, disputing irrational beliefs, identifying affirmations, (and using them regularly), and finding gratitude despite the pain).

Using this total package will be a first step towards change. It begins a long process of turning down the GSRSL music . I may need to also speak to a therapist to examine why I do these behaviors and what they are “wired” to. If in fact there is something biologically based, there may be a need for medication to “tune” these thoughts/feelings into healthier ones. Yes the music can change– It can go from “Comfortably Numb” to “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. The process of change is possible, but it’s going to take time and hard work.

Drug use cravings, obsessions, and trying to get clean…

When I first got sober, everything I thought about had something to do with drugs. It wasn’t just that I always thought of getting high, but everything in my life was tied to drugs, especially crystal meth.

Adi Jaffe playing music now sober

My drug use centered life

I used to make music in my studio, but I was always smoking crystal meth while doing it; I had a few girls I was “seeing,” but I got high with almost all of them (if they weren’t into it, I’d sneak a smoke in the bathroom alone). Every one of my friends was on drugs. I paid my rent with cocaine, made my money from selling anything you could think of, and overall, was simply surrounded by the stuff.

The drug use to craving connection

If you haven’t heard about this yet, memories are reconstructions of the past. When you remember something, your brain doesn’t just pull it out of some secret drawer like you were told when you were a kid. Instead, the different areas of your brain involved in making the memory (like your visual cortex, your olfactory bulb, and your language areas) light up all over again, re-exposing you to those same old thoughts, feelings, and senses.

Knowing that, it’s not surprising that cravings are so difficult to handle. Who wants to re-experience getting high with their best friend, their girlfriend, or in their favorite place over and over while trying to get sober? It’s literally maddening, sometime to the point where you just say “screw it” and run out to do it all over again (as in relapse).

I told my sister the other day that when I think about smoking glass (another name for crystal meth), the thing I miss the most is the white puff of smoke that fills the room. We used to call it “Dragon’s Breath” and I was pretty talented at producing the biggest clouds. It freaked her out a little to know that I could possibly still miss something about meth after everything that happened.

Even though I felt that it was necessary to calm her, I know that the addicts reading these pages know what I’m talking about. Of course I still miss smoking  crystal meth sometimes; Given everything I now know about drugs, which is a lot given the fact that I’ve spent 8 years studying nothing but drugs, I’m surprised I don’t miss the stuff more.

Drug use, reward, and what’s next

Almost every drug I know of eventually gets down to activating your reward center. Meth does so in a way that’s so extreme (like I said in an old post, it literally floods your brain with DA), that I’m surprised I ever managed to come out of it. I definitely know why it felt like such hard work.

So when a craving comes, don’t think of it as a sign that your failing. If that were true, there would be no survivors of addiction. Instead, recognize what your brain is doing, allow it, then think about the changes you’re trying to make. As the memory gets reconstructed, those new aspects you’re thinking about, those that have to do with your recovery and the positive changes you are making, will incorporate themselves into those old memories.

This, along with everything else you’re doing, will make the cravings less and less threatening, allowing you to stay sober even when they come through.

80s style is back, cocaine use included!

Everyone knows that trends come back around, and with the resurgent popularity of gigantic sunglasses, eye-bleeding neon, electronic music and metallic spandex (or so we at A3 are told), it seems that the 1980’s have firmly replanted their flag in the public consciousness, down to a sequel to that seminal testament to 80’s excess, Wall Street, in theaters later this summer. Of course, as that film and many more were quick to point out, much of that characteristic 80’s exuberance was derived from an illicit, dangerous, source, and that too, it seems, is making something of a comeback.

Cocaine use is growing in Florida

A study of data collected at the University of Florida has shown that cocaine use in their area seems to have doubled since the beginning of 2000, according to a number of key measures used to assess drug use. The report notes that the number of cocaine deaths per capita in the first half of the decade almost doubled (from 150 per 100,000 in 2000 to nearly 300 in 2005). And the study is quick to point out that these cases are coming disproportionately from college-towns and opulent upper-class communities, evoking the very 80’s image of the white powder as an infamous vice of choice for the rich and privileged.  The phenomenon seems to be global, with law enforcement and public health officials from Sydney to Dublin sounding the alarm; here in the United States, a 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health said that approximately 36.8 million Americans, 14.7% of the population aged 12 and older, had tried cocaine at least once in their lifetimes.

Past effects of surges in cocaine use?

For many of these Americans, that “once” (or perhaps more) probably occurred in the early to mid 1980s, during the so-called “Cocaine Crisis.” During this period, rising rates of abuse (both of powder cocaine and crystallized/crack form), the subsequent surges in both crime and serious health complications and the related emerging research on real addictive and dangerous properties of the drug all combined to petrify the media, polarize the population and spur the government into aggressive, often misguided action to combat what was seen as a rapidly growing threat.

As several articles note, the cocaine-related deaths of high-profile celebrities such as John Belushi and basketball star Len Bias (whose death was of particular significance to the alarmists, as it was alleged that it was his very first time using the drug) shattered the previously widely held view of cocaine as a harmless and non-addictive substance. Despite the oft-repeated cliché that cocaine was once so commonplace that it was a Coca-Cola ingredient , it bears remembering that there were still grave misconceptions about its potency less than 30 years ago.

Cocaine use, cocaine treatment, and the future

Clearly, the drug problem as it relates to America in particular has much to do with the political and criminal elements that complicate our own mission, which aligns more closely to the assessment and treatment of addicts in the manner best for their own health and the overall benefit of society. Even in a vacuum, however, cocaine is a highly addictive, extremely dangerous drug, and even if a relatively small percentage of those who try drugs end up categorically addicted to them, a doubling of use is a potential doubling of people addicted, which might be the most disturbing 80’s comeback not involving Boy George.

Top down + Music = Loving life – 3 steps for remembering what’s important

In my opinion, the purpose of all this stuff about recovery from addiction is about loving your life again. Let’s face it, if addictive behavior continued to be enjoyable, few of us would look to end it. But the reality is that what seemed like fun at first become the bane of our existence, driving us deeper and deeper into a black hole that, due to so many of the things I’ve talked about on this site, is seemingly impossible to escape.

Regaining your life after addiction

So you get help, and it makes things a little better, and you seek social support, and things improve even more, and then you hit a wall. Your life becomes an endless cycle of trying to control that part of you that gets you in trouble and destroys everything you’ve ever loved and worked for. But is that all there is?

I don’t think so – I believe there’s a way to actually love your life again. Not only because it’s no longer the mess it used to be, but simply because, well, it’s amazing!

My recommendations for getting your life back

  1. Find a purpose – It sounds simple, but if you’ve ever tried it, it’s anything but. For me, education was the general purpose, but within a few years it became clear that education that leads to improvement in knowledge about, and treatment of, addiction was to be my calling. But you need to find your own. It should make you happy to work even when the work itself sucks and it should make you feel like what you’re doing matters. Aside from that, it can be anything: Cooking, drawing, gardening, a law career, and on and on. Find your calling.
  2. Get rid of the stigma you yourself hold – I’ve talked before about how much I dislike the fact that others still view addiction as a moral failing. But you know what? Even though I now know for a fact that they’re simply wrong, I find myself doubting my own ability to be a great person. Fortunately I have a wife that reminds me that these doubts are in my head, but they can be hard to shake. Lose your doubt in your own ability. Just because you tend to be impulsive, a little rash, or well, even a little hard-headed and stupid sometimes, doesn’t mean you aren’t great. In fact, research with animals has shown that the exact same characteristics that make animals leaders also lead them to take risks that shorten their life expectancy. The take home? Recognize who you are but don’t discount your strengths.
  3. Have funOnce again, like the rest of these pearls, this one sounds easier than it is. In the middle of all our daily storms, with our own self-doubt, life’s challenges, and well, simple hardships, it can be hard to remember what’s important. Some self-support groups have you draw up a “gratitude list” and those can be helpful, but I’m talking about simpler things: Put the top down on your car (if you can, this works even without a convertible) and blast some music you love, go to a park and throw a ball around (or kick one), play with your dog like you’re 8 years old, or go to the beach and jump in the water no matter how cold it is. Life is to be enjoyed, and in the process of bettering ourselves, many of us seem to forget that. But  at the end, why live if you’re not enjoying it? My father’s been holed up in a hospital room for months and is understandably depressed. Last week, on a visit to NYC, where my parents live, I put music in his room and played some of his old favorites. It didn’t make his cancer go away, but it made him tap his feet and fingers and remember what living is about. Do that for yourself.

That’s it for this one. Nothing I said in this post is too difficult, but psychological research supports that little things that elevate mood can do wonders for people’s overall well being. So remember, improve your life, make yourself a better person, but at the end, remember that the reason you decided to get your act together was that life stopped being enjoyable and you wanted to be happy everyday when you woke up. Follow the three simple steps above and you’ll be a lot closer!

Addiction, exercise, recovery: A little less sweating, just as much addiction help!

contributing author: Katie McGrath

We’ve talked quite a bit about the benefits of active habits, especially early in recovery when addicts are looking for things to do instead of drugs and alcohol. If you want to look at another blogger who supports the idea that replacing addictive habits is essential to recovery, you should check out Spiritual River, written by Patrick Meninga. He has numerous blogs the specifically talk about what he calls the “creative theory of addiction.”

As we continue exploring what I call “positive addictions“, the important point to remember is to start small and to find things you enjoy doing. Any hobby that gives you enjoyment and that can take up a certain amount of time each day can serve as a “positive addiction”. In addition to the helpful exercise-recovery activities that we described in our earlier posts (like yoga and running), there are a number of less physically demanding ones that can be at least as helpful.

Other addiction help options!

Research has shown that activities like gardening, painting, listening and playing music, and writing (journaling, poetry writing, literary writing) have all served as positive addictions. We’ll look at each one of these briefly:

– Gardening can increase self esteem by enabling you to care and nurture for a living thing. It can reinforce and evoke positive emotions through growing, harvesting, and experiencing the growth of plants (1). Gardening can allow for an escape into an activity that promotes life while combining creativity and hard work (if you think gardening is easy, you’ve obviously never tried it!).

– Music therapy has also been shown to have a number of positive effects on drug users. We’ve all felt the power of music we love, whether sober, or under the influence. Analyzing lyrics and sharing songs enables people to express their feelings and thoughts in a positive way. In one particular study, relaxing music shortened the time it took subjects to fall asleep and improved mood on the following day (2).


– Similarly, poetry and writing are pathways to feelings. Poetry therapy enables people to overcome obstacles and painful memories by writing and using words to express their feelings (3). The benefits of putting one’s thoughts on paper (by journaling for example) are also great because they allow one to reflect on internal processes that may be very important but just outside of one’s awareness.

– Lastly, painting is another leisurely activity that has been shown to improve depression and anxiety by inspiring creativity and individuality (4). People can clear an open space in their mind by focusing on their art. While few of us will ever reach the levels of artistic geniuses like Picasso, Van Gough, and Rodin, the physical and emotional benefits of creating the art itself are worth at least as much as the critical acclaim.

Obviously, there are a number of ways to fill the void left by drugs when trying to quit. Addiction help doesn’t come only in the form of exercise. The important thing is to find something that gives you pleasure, takes your focus away from the worries of early recovery, and perhaps, that you can get involved in along with other people to allow for the formation of new, drug-free, relationships.

Best of luck!


(1) Kavanagh, Hean. (1998). Outdoor space and adaptive gardening: Design, techniques, and tools. Food Products Press: Binghamton, NY.

(2) Abdollahnejad, Mohammad Reza. (2006). Music Therapy in the Tehran Therapeutic Community. Therapeutic Communities, Vol 27(1), pp. 147-158.

(3) Keith Van Vilet. (1977). Creativity and Self Image: An Odyssey in Poetry and Photography. Psychotherapy. Vol. 4 pp. 9-93.

(4) Gil Bar-Sela , Lily Atid, Sara Danos, Naomi Gabay, Ron Epelbaum. (2007) Art therapy improved depression and influenced fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy. Division of Oncology, Rambam-Health Care Campus, Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

Beyond my addiction: Allowing myself to be proud of my achievements

This is a more personal post than I’m used to writing, but I think the thoughts in it are shared by many addicts, so I’d like to share it. I originally posted it on my personal blog:

It’s sad, but for the most part, I focus on the things I haven’t yet done and not on what I’ve already accomplished.

When I think about it for a few seconds, it’s staggering just how much I’ve managed to do in my 32 years here:

  • I spent my first 14 years having a wonderful childhood
  • I only let my obsessions during those years take over sometimes
  • I moved to a new country and made myself at home again
  • I dug myself out of a severe depression episode
  • I made it through college somehow in a haze of drinking and drug use
  • I moved myself out to Los Angeles without knowing a soul and made a life there
  • I’ve run a recording studio, a record label, and made my own music
  • I’ve DJ’d and put out two records
  • I’ve broken my leg and learned how to walk again
  • I held my head high through a brutal court case
  • I made my way through rehab, overcoming my addiction to crystal meth
  • I made it through months in jail
  • I’ve managed to stay drug free since those two events
  • I’ve gotten myself back into school
  • I received two Master’s degrees with endless honors and awards
  • I’m steps away from finishing my PhD
  • I’ve secured a book deal to publish my memoir/lessons from addiction (still struggling with the writing of that one)
  • I’ve published more than 10 articles, 2 book chapters, and given dozens of presentations at national and international addiction conferences
  • I found the love of my life and am working hard to make my damaged ego last through a real relationship

I often take these things for granted, but it’s good to write them down. It lets me know just how grateful I should be for even being here, let alone standing upright and proud.

I’m lucky.