At this point most of us know that addiction is a brain disease. Most of us also know that addiction affects all type of people. What most of us don’t know is why addiction happens. What happens with a person that brings the possibility of addiction? I am not talking about just substance use or alcohol use disorders, I am talking about all addictions. Everything from substances to food, to work to pornography. How does our brain get so obsessed with food or pornography?
Here are a few things that can help explain this. First, it is highly likely that the person who is struggling with the addiction is dealing with something that has affected them for a while. Maybe they have suffered a loss in their family, maybe they were abused as a child, maybe they were in a car accident, or bullied at school. There is so many events that we all go through in our life span and all of these events affect us in one way or another. Many times the events have affected the way we see our self, or the way we see the world. This can cause unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings which can be avoided if we pick up a glass of wine, or eat three helpings of dinner, or watch pornography online. This sets us up for the addiction. This food, substance, or activity made us feel better in that moment so we do it again and again until we can’t stop it.
The next thing that may have happened is this. Emotions can become overwhelming and thoughts can get negative and racing. But when we drink, use, or watch porn this all goes away for a moment. We don’t have to feel the emotion or deal with the thoughts. However, once the eating has subsided or the high is gone the thoughts and emotions tend to come back with a vengeance so in order to get rid of the noise, we use, drink, eat, or watch porn again. This becomes the coping skill and our brain literally implements this into the way it thinks. So now when you try to stop the thoughts about using, drinking, eating; the brain throws a little tantrum until the brain gets its way and the cycle starts all over again.
The next consideration is the physical dependence. Many do not believe there are withdrawals from marijuana, food, or pornography but there is you just have to pay attention. Once you try to stop the brain sends out messages to the body. These messages can be subtle and they can be loud. If you are smoking a lot of marijuana you may start feeling more nervous and anxious. You may have racing thoughts and depressed moods, heart palpitations, feeling of panic, and shakiness. You may find yourself dreaming of smoking or not being able to sleep if you can’t smoke before you go to bed. You may find yourself smoking more cigarettes or e-cigs. You may drink more alcohol to try to settle things down. If you are dealing with food you may find some of the same symptoms, trouble sleeping, anxiousness, depressed moods, obsessive thoughts about a certain food or chocolate, shakiness, heart palpitations, and sweating. You may drink more soda or coffee products to try to help. If you are dealing with pornography you may be dealing with inability to sleep, trouble focusing or concentrating. You may find yourself being irritable and distracted. You may feel unease. You may start eating or drinking more to try to feel better. You may turn to online gaming to take the edge off.
All of these mental and physical symptoms lead to addiction. Now everyone may experience addiction in this way but the majority of those who deal with some type of addiction have had some type of adverse experience. In a study by Felitti and the Department of Preventative Medicine (2004) findings show that addiction can be understood by, an unconscious attempt to gain relief from a well-concealed life trauma or experience by using psychoactive materials, and since it is difficult to get enough of something that almost works, the attempt is ultimately unsuccessful apart from it’s risks. In other words we just keep the cycle going by continuing to avoid adverse experiences. The drug, food, sex, or alcohol we tried almost worked so we keep relying on what almost made us feel better. There is another way to deal with adverse life experiences. It is possible to feel better without using something that will eventually make things worse.
In part 2 of this blog I will explain some strategies that help decrease the negative thoughts and emotions. If you would like more information send me a question or comment on the contact page.