Today’s world offers a smorgasbord of enticing gateway drugs that can appeal to virtually anyone. That’s right, no longer does a person have to be a full-blown heroin addict to struggle with substance abuse. Addictions and dependencies can be connected to virtually anything – not only addictive chemicals such as nicotine. Consider that things such as ice-cream, coffee, TV, internet, shopping, music, Netflix and exercise are generally not considered to be inherently harmful, yet, when they are used in a maladaptive or compulsive manner, they can develop into full-blown addictions.
The reason for this is because addictions are rooted deep within a void that exists in the mind of the addict. Often, it is a disturbing or traumatic early experience in childhood which created an insecurity. Maybe it was a bad experience with a parent, teacher or friend, but it left a void that never healed. Later on, as an adult, when a person hits a wall, he or she will subconsciously confront those same uncomfortable feelings. As a coping mechanism, the brain begins to crave something soothing, an escape of sorts, which allows the addict to fill the emptiness that lies deep with in them.
For some, the escape can be alcohol or drugs, for others it could be withdrawing to the couch to eat an entire pie of pizza. Interestingly, most people assume that the object of addiction – such as the cigarette or whiskey, is the primary attachment, as if to suggest that the alcoholic is drawn to alcohol. However, in most cases, the attachment is not to the object, but actually, to the act of self-soothing. For the alcoholic, they happen to have chosen whiskey; but it just as well could have been video games, sex, work or chewing tobacco. The common thread is that they are all being used as instruments of escape and ultimately, become the single most important relationship in the addict’s life.
As the brain is the most complicated organ in the body, it can be difficult to understand addictions. However, keep in mind that the brain is perpetually producing and balancing chemicals that help maintain emotional equilibrium. However, when one finds an addictive substance or routine (such as binge eating or watching Netflix all day and night) to serve as their primary form of soothing and escape – it replaces the brains need to regulate itself chemically. Thus, whenever a person feels a “low”, instead of the brain producing the needed chemical regulations, the addict’s brain flags that feelings as a “craving”. It is at that point that the addict starts looking; searching for a fix to regulate their equilibrium and pick themselves up artificially.
While it provides a temporary relief, the problem with this solution, is that it is maladaptive. Ultimately, it will deteriorate a person’s health, wellbeing or relationships. Addictions are certainly enjoyable as they provide a temporary escape from reality, pain, loneliness or suffering. However, what happens afterwards?
Often, a person is left in a state of shame, depression, lack of funds, or perhaps, deeper emptiness – which for the addict only has one solution – further indulgence in their drug of choice. It is in this context, that a mere “innocent” indulgence, such an extra piece of desert (or two) can start to get out of control, and like the flip of a switch, turn into an addiction.
It is this uncontrollable spiraling, which requires intense support from friends and family and the help of a properly trained therapist to teach the addict new coping mechanisms which are healthy. On a positive note, over time and through recovery, the inner void can be filled with new and more productive habits. The brain itself can be slowly weaned from the addiction and can be “recalibrated” to once again regulate itself in a healthy manner, without the need to seek the soothing of an addiction in order to cope with the stress of everyday life. While anyone can be susceptible to developing an addiction, the good news is that they are also capable of recovery!
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