For the love of charlie…

Raconteur considers the range of treatments available for psychological dependency


Cocaine addict

Charlie Rigby spent five years binging on drink and drugs until his wife divorced him and kept their four teenage children well away for over a year.

“People who are addicted have a hole in their heart,” he says. “The hole gets bigger, so they fill it with s*** until they explode.” Charlie should know.

Cocaine was his main drug. Having sold his business for a small fortune, he was able to blow £500 a week on it. “Experts said I was three months short of death,” he recalls. It took 700 hours of psychotherapy and a month in a rehab centre in South Africa to get him to the positive and clean state he’s in today.

Now he is the founder of the Icarus Trust, which helps families affected by addiction find the help they need. He is a big believer in the “root-cause” school of addiction, which says it is the consequence of underlying trauma. “If you don’t address the causes, you can’t manage the disease,” he says. “Addiction is just a symptom.”

Charlie suggests there are three usual suspects fuelling addiction. Neurological defects in the frontal lobe of the brain, which he says affect one in ten adults. Genetic predisposition to addiction is a second cause, usually identifiable by observing the parents and grandparents. And circumstantial causes, often a trauma caused at a young age. “I was 14 when something happened to me,” he says. “You stop maturing.”

These root causes provoke addictive behaviour and, until they are recognised, their influence will continue to wreak havoc. Even then, a full cure may not be possible. “With addiction you can never cure it,” Charlie says. “You can teach the individual to learn what makes up their symptoms and manage it.”

COGNITIVE

This root-cause approach to addiction, however, is not the only one. A rival theory is what could be termed the “cognitive” school of addiction. Cognitive behavioural therapists minimise the role played by root causes. Instead, they point to the poor thinking skills behind addiction. When these are modified, the addiction can be terminated.

“We can get someone free of their addiction in one session,” Chris Hay, of the Allen Carr Clinic, claims. Allen Carr was the stop-smoking guru whose work has, his organisation says, helped 30 million puffers to quit. An individual session by an Allen Carr practitioner costs £1,600 or £265 for a group session. If the individual relapses within three months, they get their money back. The success rate? The organisation says nine in ten stay cured in that time period.

The Allen Carr method relies on a simple “trick”. Individuals, runs the logic, suffer addictive behaviour in order to achieve a certain state of mind. The problem is, however, the vice will not deliver what the addict wants. Heroin uses don’t stay high. Gamblers don’t get rich. Smokers inhale tobacco to alleviate the craving which later returns.

“We liken it to an e-mail scam. You are told you’ll get a huge return on an investment. But you get reduced to poverty,” says Mr Hay. “There are three approaches to helping. The will power approach is to resist investing in scams. That’s hard. The spiritual approach used by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous is to form a club to rise above the desire to invest. The Allen Carr method is to see that it’s a con. When you can see right through it, you can beat the addiction.”

Mr Hay says the rival root-cause psychology is often a distraction. “If you haven’t got a spiritual malaise before you are an alcoholic, you will afterwards.” The same with drugs. “They cause a spiritual malaise, not the other way around,” he says.

Glib? Well, Mr Hay has first-hand experience of addiction. “Drugs, heroin, booze,” he says, “I was p***ing my life up the wall. I got off them with the 12-step approach. Then I came to see Allen Carr to get off smoking. Took a few hours to get off nicotine. I thought, ‘Why would one set of rules apply to one drug, but not the other?’” He went on to become an Allen Carr consultant, now with 15 years’ experience.

When you can see right through it, you can beat the addiction

The dichotomy of approaches illustrates just how diverse the rehab industry can be. It may be that individuals gravitate towards the treatment which best addresses their own unique needs. The Icarus Trust is admirably varied in the range of support which it can offer families affected by all sorts of addiction, from eating disorders to substance abuse.

And both agree that rehabilitation is a life-enhancing step. Charlie thinks we could all do with a little therapy. “Everyone should do it – 100 per cent. Even people who aren’t ill. Everyone should go,” he says. “Then we could all stop being so horrible to each other.”