What is an addiction?
Addiction recovery is a difficult process and for it, we first have to understand what addictions are and how they are formed. Addiction is a physical or psychological craving of a substance or a habit.
Most people have a limited understanding of addictions. When they think of addicts they either think of people drunk on alcohol or high on drugs however addictions can go much deeper than that.
An addiction is a disorder of the brain’s reward system that occurs due to behavioral patterns developed over time from high levels of exposure to an addictive stimulus. This may include the food you eat, the use of drugs, engagement in sexual activity, participation in betting, etc.
In the present world, most of us have some type of addiction. Can you think of anything in your life that might fit this description? Following are some of the things that most people are addicted to other than alcohol or drugs
How to identify our addictions
It takes 21 days to form a habit and anything that you do routinely for 20 days becomes a habit on the 21st day. If something provides you with a dopamine rush and you do it consistently, it becomes an addiction.
Two categories of classification-
- Addictions based on substance
- Addictions based on habit
Knowing that the five things above might not seem that surprising anymore. You might be wondering then how can we identify what our addictions are.
However, our addictions are not caused by a substance or a habit. They are more about us. At first glance, that might seem counter-intuitive. We just described addictions as cravings for a substance or a habit so how can they not cause addictions.
Everyone is different. For you, shopping might be very addictive, for your friend it might not be. Similarly even the things that are considered most addictive might not be addictive at all in certain circumstances.
For example, if someone had a terrible accident and went into intensive care for a month under the influence of morphine (heroin is processed from morphine) do you think he will come out of the hospital as a morphine addict? Of course not.
An easy way to know what you are addicted to is to stop doing something for a week. If you begin to experience cravings, it means you are addicted to it. I know what you all are thinking; you are seriously addicted to your phone. : P
Cause of addiction
So if substances and habits do not cause addiction, what does? What is the root cause of addiction? The first answer to the problem of why we have addiction points to our need for instant satisfaction. We are all living our life with a lens of short-term gains and rarely have the patience to practice delayed gratification in our choices.
So then, we ask why we have such a need for instant satisfaction. The answer lies in the way we live our life without a long term philosophy.
Most people have their entire way of life that is based on quick fixes to their problems and applying Band-Aids anywhere they can so they can continue the things, as they are for just a little bit longer
So then, the question becomes, why are we relying on these quick fixes for deep and chronic problems? The answer lies in our deep-rooted reflex that tries to avoid and distract from the pain.
Pain and its relationship to addiction
The cause of all addiction is ultimately rooted in our tendency to avoid pain and trying to have a short respite from reality.
“The priority of any addict is to anesthetize the pain of living to ease the passage of day with some purchased relief.”― Russell Brand
Research goes as far as to show us that the suffering that one experiences, be it physical or emotional, is experienced in the same part of the brain. When a person feels hurt either emotionally or physically the same parts of the brain light up.
In most cases of drug-abusing addicts, the pain driving up their addiction is a deep-rooted emotional loss or trauma. The more they try to run away from the pain, the stronger it becomes.
The previous assumptions on the effects of addicting substances were made by experiments done on rats in cages. A rat was placed in a cage with two bottles. One filled with clean water and one filled with a mixture of water and an addictive substance.
The rat in this case usually prefers the bottle that is drugged and eventually dies due to poisoning. However, this study had a flaw, highlighted by a Canadian psychologist Dr. Bruce K. Alexander.
He said that in these cases the rat is alone and isolated in a cage. He recreated the experiment only this time the rat cage had cheese, other rats to mate. When in such an environment the rats stopped using the drugged bottle compulsively.
“The intense appetite of isolated experimental animals for heroin in self-injection experiments tells us nothing about the responsiveness of normal animals and people to these drugs. Normal people can ignore heroin … even when it is plentiful in their environment, and they can use these drugs with little likelihood of addiction … Rats from Rat Park seem to be no less discriminating.”― Dr. Bruce K. Alexander
Thus, Dr. Alexander believed that drug-induced addiction is a myth. The environment causes the addiction, not the drug itself.
Systematic approach to solving addiction
You might argue that Rats are different from humans and obviously, they are. However, as Johann Hari explains in his Ted talk, this is something that has precedent in human civilization as well.
During the Vietnam War, 20% of the troops were using heroin in large quantities and this caused panic in the country that feared a massive heroin addiction problem was heading its way when those troops return home.
However, when the troops returned extensive studies done on them showed that they never went into rehab or faced withdrawal. The problem just solved itself for more than 90% of the troops.
So if drugs do not cause addiction maybe we should not criminalize drug use? Portugal thinks so. The following Bloomberg segment gives a summary of Portugal’s approach.
By spending funds on healthcare rather than drug-enforcement policies, Portugal decreased its Heroin addicts by 50%. This was because they treated the addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal offense. I highly recommend that you watch the video.
It shows how the drug war has been a failure and changing the way we look at a problem and applying effective policies can lead to incredible results as shown by Portugal’s example of addiction recovery.
“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.”― Alan Watts
Addiction and it’s interrelation to thought patterns
“…most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking.”― David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
Now that we know that addictions are more about us than the substances we consume or the activities that we do it is no surprise that the addictions we have are a function of the programming we live with.
Either we are aware of the programming we live with or we live unconsciously on the subconscious programming that gets built up in us due to society. Since our mind and it’s nature to avoid and distract from pain is what is to blame for the cause of addiction it is obvious to assume that the solution lies with the same.
To overcome addictions and create a strong mental character we need to understand how to have a greater grasp on our mind.
12 steps for addiction recovery
This is a recovery regimen wherein each step keeps getting harder and harder the further you go. Recovering from addictions is a hard process because, in essence, it is a fight against the identity you have built over the course of a long time.
Each step in recovery is faced with immense resistance. The following are based on the 12 step fellowships that are used for addiction recovery in severe cases of alcohol and drug addiction. I learned about them from the book Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions by Russell Brand.
1) Addiction recovery by acceptance
The first step is the acceptance of the problem we face. We need to acknowledge the fact that we are suffering from an addiction problem that is destroying our lives the stronger it becomes.
2) Believing that addiction recovery is possible
As mentioned before we are all living with programs unconsciously. Our life experiences act like a code embedded in us and when we aren’t living mindfully, those unconscious programs are running our life.
However, we have recognized that the cause of addiction is the mental patterns that we have then the solution will also have to come from a better program
3) Surrender to the better program for addiction recovery
Now that we have recognized that, our social programming and mental patterns have created the addiction we need to realize that we on our own way of life won’t be able to solve it. If we knew the answer to the problem, we would have already solved it.
4) Make a personal inventory of all the things that are causing those patterns
This will be hard to do. It is, in essence, you speaking the truth to yourself about how you really feel. The moment you start doing it you will feel immensely uncomfortable.
It is much easier to give up and stay in the way things are than to go deep and write down things troubling you. This is you figuring out your internal critic.
Write down everything that has been making you feel disconnected from the world or make you feel ashamed.
5) Tell someone trustworthy of the inventory of things causing you pain
Some things might be minor or silly and some might be really severe and painful things. Things that have happened to you or things that you might have done that you immensely regret.
It might be difficult to share those things however when you gather the courage to share those things a burden will be lifted off your shoulders.
We are social beings and we do not have to live in a shame-based identity by ourselves carrying burdens of our past.
6) Are you ready to remove the patterns that are holding you back from addiction recovery
The incredible thing you might realize if you have gone through all the other steps is that the patterns in our psyche keep repeating themselves.
The way you procrastinated on homework in your high school might be the way you are procrastinating on the assignments in your job.
The small things in your unconscious tend to repeat until you take responsibility and change them. That is the free will within you, the freedom of choice.
7) Living a life that isn’t self-centered for addiction recovery
We humans need purpose and meaning in our life. When we live a life that at its core has our own needs above everything else, the experiences in life start losing their glitter.
For our work to be meaningful, it has to in some way help the world and leave an impact. In our blog on Ikigai(reason to live) we mentioned that the work you do can’t be fulfilling unless it serves what the world needs.
There is a spiritual element to it as well. As social animals, we derive our self-worth in accordance with what we give back to the society. On a deeper level, it points to the interdependent relationships of our species with the universe we live in.
8) Be willing to apologize to the people you have harmed
Your addiction or the self-centeredness of your actions might have caused a lot of damage and hurt to the people around you. Now that you realize those patterns, it is important that you seek forgiveness.
This is not only because forgiveness eases the regret you feel but also to remind yourself that you aren’t a person you once were and the patterns that caused that harm aren’t something that you ever want to repeat in the future.
9) Make amends with the people you hurt unless doing so will cause them harm
There might have been some things that you might have done revealing which would cause more harm than good. Apart from those cases try to do everything you can to ask forgiveness and make up for your mistakes.
When you start making sincere efforts to make amends instead of only saying things, it will convey to them the change in your character.
In addition, it will help you exercise the power of free will to overrule past patterns that is crucial for addiction recovery.
10) We stay vigilant on the patterns that we had and if admit to ourselves when they come up
This is where having a healthy relationship with our thinking comes into play. It becomes important that we are self-aware and mindful of our thoughts and actions.
11) Stay connected to your new perspective for addiction recovery
Now that we recognize the harmful patterns, when they do reappear it is easier to notice them. If they ever resurface, be honest to yourself and admit your mistake so that you do not fall into the trap of repeating those behaviours.
Thus, you can stop yourself from giving into an emotional reaction to your external circumstance in this way.
12) Be kind and willing to help others whenever you can. Let go of the ego and selfishness.
This again points to the 7th step but if you have gone through all the above steps it becomes much easier to help others. The experiences of overcoming your addictions will guide you in helping others overcome theirs.
Acts of kindness and compassion are a source of genuine joy, the joy that has been overlooked for pleasure in the modern world. That will help you form fulfilling relationships with the people around you.
What we can conclude now is that addictions are ways of distraction from the pain we feel that are reinforced by constant repetition.
By regularly repeating an act or consuming a substance we are forming a pattern of behavior that when exceeds the 20 days, manifests itself as an addiction.
To cure addictions we have to sever the unhealthy bonds we have and instead move towards forming healthy bonds with the people around us as well as ourselves.
The unhealthy habits are like the self-isolating cage that is preventing the rat from being with everyone else.
By forming healthy bonds with the community around you and dealing with the things, that cause you pain and suffering you become a person that no longer needs the addiction and can lead a meaningful and fulfilling life.
We urge you to explore what your callings are. Do you possess the courage to chase them? We provide a free EBook called The perfect beginning that might help you in finding those callings.
Well, that’s all for this post. Have a good day and a good life.