Anxiety and Addiction


Anxiety. Anxiety is a normal feeling. Fear is a normal feeling. I’ll give you two examples. Supposing a young child is about to put his or her hand on the hot plate, what we say immediately is, “No! Hot! Hot! Hot!” We were trying to make the child anxious. Make the child fearful in order to protect the child from putting the hand on the hot plate and getting terrible burns. So normal anxiety, normal fear is protective.

I remember a time when I’d had lunch at Bertorelli’s restaurant in Charlotte Street, and I came out afterwards feeling happy and I went; “Whoa!” a taxi missed me by a split second. I forgotten Charlotte Street is one way. I looked the wrong way and the taxi just missed me. A split second difference and I’d had been an X Robert.

Well, you watch me cross the road now, and the green cross man’s nothing on me. It takes me half an hour to cross the road. I just do not want to be flattened. Because having had that experience, it reminds me always of just how precious life is and how easily I could throw it away if I don’t have the natural caution which is based upon my anxiety, fear of being flattened.

Now what happens beyond that is that as M. Scott Peck says in the Road Less Travelled, “Life is hard. Life is difficult.” We do have a lot of things in our plate. We’re worried about what the government legislation is. We’re wondering if we’re ever going to be able to square the demands of health and safety and normal behavior. We wonder what on earth our children will ever going to turn up like. We wonder whether we know enough. We wonder whether we’re getting old. We wonder whether, you know… you name it. We’re anxious.

We’ve got issues on our mind. With addicts what we then do, is to make it much worse by using alcohol, by using drugs, by using sugar, by using nicotine, by using gambling. We make it worse. We think we’re making it better because initially we do feel better. But the effect of any drug initially is to provide the beneficial effect and then the withdrawal.

If you look at just the nicotine addiction, nicotine addiction causes exactly that. You feel better with the cigarette and then crash. When you stay here you say, “I need a cigarette.” You need a cigarette like a whole in the head. Look what the cigarette caused you. This problem you got here was because you took the cigarette there. This anxiety was caused by that cigarette and what we say is, “I need a cigarette.” So we take another one and look what happens exactly the same before. That’s before. Here we say, “I need a cigarette.” We perpetuate our problem by using a short-term solution.

I haven’t smoked in thirty years. When I was the cardiology heart physician on the wards at the Middlesex Hospital, I was looking after for people who were dying of heart attacks. On the lung ward underneath they were dying of lung cancer and chronic bronchitis and emphysema and I was smoking thirty cigarettes a day. Why was I doing that? In order to change the anxiety that I had.

Well, I think it’s perfectly healthy for doctors to be frightened. I think it’s perfectly healthy for doctors to think we don’t have enough information on how to help our patients.  But I don’t think it was helpful for my patients to have their doctors smoking thirty cigarettes a day. I just don’t think that was very sensible either for them or for me. It was a bad choice.

So how do we treat anxiety? Well, diazepam or any of the other pams , the benzodiazepines. Well I have a battle with…well two battles, first of all with a consultant psychiatrist. A number of us have been invited to go over to the States to see a particular treatment center. They paid for our travel. They paid for our trip and they hoped that we would send them patients.

The consultant psychiatrist on the plane, there were about twenty of us, came up and down the aisle handing out sleeping tablets and tranquilizers. She thought she was being generous to us, giving a mood altering drug. It cannot be right.

Subsequently, I had a battle with the makers of… again it’s one of the other pams, I forget which it was temazepam, I think it was; which they were making as an ampoule. They said, “We’re not going to prescribe it as an ampoule anymore. We’re only going to give it as a tablet because the ampoules are addictive. I said, “It is not the ampoule that is addictive. It’s the drug.” It’s the drug itself. All the benzodiazepines are addictive.

I had a major battle with the pharmaceutical industry at that time. This was about fifteen years ago. I had a lot of hostility from other doctors saying, “But you’ve got to give people tablets when they’re anxious. You’ve got to help them. You’re not helping them. ” I said, “Oh, yes I am, but you are not. You’re giving them a short-term drug. You’re not actually dealing with the anxiety at all.” And I have exactly the same attitude towards anti-depressants.

Anyway, subsequently the battle was won. People did realize that benzodiazepines are addictive.  Nowadays, they’re much less prescribed than they were before. So, what have doctors done? What are the pharmaceutical industries has done? Gone, straight across into the anti-depressants, saying, “They also have a tranquilizing effect.”

So now we treat the fear, the anxiety with anti-depressants, with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, you know, Prozac and its friends. Again, it doesn’t work. Doctors does seem really get it into their minds because of the way we’re trained, that we shouldn’t use tablets for emotional problems.

We shouldn’t use drugs for emotional problems. Anxiety is a perfectly normal feeling and there are non-medicinal ways of treating it. Again, the twelve-step program is the basis of learning to let go of all the various problems that we may have and keep a clear mind. Work with others, ask people for their advise, for their help, for their support, for their understanding. Work with other people and you’re anxiety will be manageable.

The number of things I’ve got on my mind at the moment is far more than….and far more significant than problems like anxieties I’ve had in earlier years. I’ve had plenty but I’ve got a huge amount on my head at the moment but I can cope with it because I got the experience of working the twelve-step program. I got wonderful professional advice; I’ve got wonderful family, wonderful staff and friends. I got so much support I don’t know what to do with it and therefore all the anxiety becomes manageable.

Previously when I tried to do it all on my own, it was completely unmanageable. So the way though to treat anxiety is with other people. Do it on our own and we fail, do it with other people and any problem can be solved.