I want to teach you what addiction is, what is considered to be an addiction, and, most importantly, I want to help you break free of your addiction. If you or anyone you know is battling an addiction of any kind, be it physical, emotional, mental, or any other type, I want you to stay tuned and listen to this show.
As a clinical psychologist of more than 20 years, I’ve witnessed my fair share of clients who suffer from addiction. But what I’ve also witnessed is that addiction can apply to just about anything which creates an over-dependency. When we think of addiction, we mostly think of a dependency on drugs or alcohol. But addiction can take many different shapes: sure, we can become addicted to cigarettes, but did you know we can become addicted to food, certain TV programs, or even a person? If this is true, then we must all be addicted to reality TV!
By definition, an addiction is: “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming to such an extent that stopping it causes severe trauma.” As a nation, we are undoubtedly addicted to food, especially the processed king. As individuals, we can become addicted to a love interest to the point that we suffer psychological trauma if we remove ourselves from that person. Unfortunately, we as individuals tend to mimic what we see being done on a larger scale (clothing trends are an example of this). If America as a whole is overly-dependent on something, the individual people are likely to follow suit in their own personal lives.
Addiction is the contradiction of moderation. Addiction removes our minds, bodies, and souls from complete balance and harmony and it indulges us completely into one dependency. When we are addicted, we fall out of alignment with the universe, with each other, and with ourselves. The worst part of addiction is that it has nothing to do with discipline: lack of will-power is not to be blamed for addiction. People who are alcoholics or cigarette smokers are often blamed for being too easily tempted or too weak to quit. But addiction transcends the power of our free will and begins to interfere with our brain function, causing us to literally “need” more and more of the substance because, our brain tells us, if we don’t receive what we need, we will suffer great harm.
How Addiction Works:
Especially in the case of drugs, addiction is the result of our brain functions. Drugs are chemicals. They work in the brain by tapping into the brain's communication system and interfering with the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter. This similarity in structure "fools" receptors and allows the drugs to lock onto and activate the nerve cells, leading to abnormal messages being transmitted through the network.
Other drugs, such as amphetamine or cocaine, can cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals. This disruption produces a greatly amplified message, ultimately disrupting communication channels. The difference in effect is similar to the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone.
Our brains categorize anything which brings us pleasure into the “reward” compartment. This means that our brains send messages to our bodies of wanting more and more of this pleasurable feeing. Hello, this is what we call food cravings! Someone who is addicted to sexual intercourse doesn’t just want to have sex, they need it or they will begin to feel horrible withdrawal symptoms.
But what leads to an addiction in the first place? Often, an addiction arises as the opportunity to fill a subconscious void. An addict has something, somewhere, missing. Take the example of a teenager growing up without a father who turns to smoking marijuana occasionally. Soon, she becomes addicted to it. Though she may not realize it and may not believe this is the cause of her problem, the missing father figure and its ill effects on her life have become the perfect breeding ground for an addiction to form. To some extent, we all have a void somewhere in the deeper levels of our minds and it’s caused by outside factors which are out of our control (like negative events in life). Very few people are completely whole. It is crucial that we each identify our voids, understand what effects these “empty spaces” within ourselves have had on us, and what the voids have been filled with.
So how do you distinguish between normal tendencies and addictions? At what point does something become an “addiction” and no longer a habit or feeling? A tendency has turned into an addiction when withdrawing from the tendency causes great pain and frustration. We should never become so tied to anything in life that having to live without it causes us to suffer. If your dependency on something is impairing your day-to-day life, such as affecting your job performance or your social skills, it may have turned into an addiction.
Types of Addiction: I’ve classified all forms of addiction into five general types:
Substance abuse: Substance abuse includes addiction to alcohol and drugs, including prescription drugs. This addiction affects the chemistry of the brain and easily causes dependence because the brain begins to crave the substance being ingested. Although thought to be the most common addiction in America, my theory is that substance abuse is second to emotional addictions.
Nicotine addiction: I put nicotine addiction into its own separate category because an addiction to this substance might just be the worst type of all addictions. It also hits close to home because my husband passed away of lung cancer after being addicted to cigarettes for more than 40 years.
Behavioral addiction: Behavioral addictions include being addicted to risky behavior, compulsive and constant shopping, hoarding goods, hoarding animals, etc. Your external behavior becomes out of control, and addicted to something, because it’s trying to meet your chemical needs on the inside.
Emotional addiction: EMOTIONAL ADDICTION IS THE MOST UNNOTICED ADDICTION WE ALL HAVE. Emotional addiction most frequently means being addicted to another person. I have so many female clients who suffer endlessly if they are separated from their “love addiction.” They cannot live without their love interest, they cannot function, and they cannot stop thinking about the person. Emotional addictions can also range from wishing constant ill on others, self-pity, self-loathing, constantly criticizing others, and so on. Have you ever worked with someone who criticized you nonstop? I sure have, and I’ve recognized their behavior as an emotional addiction to critiquing. As a general rule of thumb: if you’re not in control of your emotional state, you’re addicted to it.
Mental addiction: A mental addiction can mean being addicted to a state of mind. People can be addicted to being depressed, addicted to a specific philosophy, or have “delusions of grandeur.” To a certain degree, all addictions are mental because they are driven primarily by a psychological need for something.
Do you or anyone you know fit into these categories of addiction? Feel free to call me and seek my opinion.
Breaking Free of Addiction:
In order to break free of addiction, we have to literally rewire the nerve cells in our brain. Addiction is caused essentially by a pattern in the brain: a group of nerve cells interacting with another group of nerve cells over and over again. When this happens, the two groups of nerve cells create a bond and are very likely to continue interacting. Over time, this pattern of the same interaction manifests itself in our repeated actions. Our behavior is created through this mental pattern. If you want to put an end to your addiction, you have to put an end to the pattern in your brain. By behaving differently, you will give these two groups of nerve cells less and less reason to interact together. It’s like causing them to lose interest in their conversation. Once these two nerve cell groups break away from each other and are no longer interacting, it will become so much easier to also break away of your addiction. Let’s take a look at how to control behavior and make this happen.
I’ve compiled five easy steps you or your loved one can begin today to gain control over an addiction:
1.) Acknowledge and Desire: The first step to breaking free of addiction is to acknowledge that an addiction is present in your life. Confess to yourself that addiction is harming your life in more ways than one, that it’s impairing you from living freely, and that you don’t deserve to live trapped in the debilitating state of addiction. You have to belittle the role of addiction: no longer call it by the title “addiction,” call it an “impediment,” and treat it like one. If you begin to see your addiction as a hindrance to your life, you will have the desire to break free of addiction. You have to want to leave that life behind you more than anything else.
2.) Regain Trust in Yourself: Often when someone is addicted to something, they lose trust in themselves and experience feelings of self-disappointment. They begin to believe that they are stuck in a perpetual cycle of dependency and lack the confidence to believe that they can overcome addiction. You must rediscover your trust in yourself. If needed, write out a contract between you and yourself in which you state that you WILL conquer your addiction and will be true to yourself every step of the way. Even sign it at the bottom!
3.) Replace and Rearrange: Replace your addiction with a new and healthy habit. Rearrange your life so that there is no place for the addiction! If your addiction is shopping, steer clear of shopping centers. If it’s alcohol, don’t attend gatherings where you know you’ll be pressured to drink. Create your own circumstances and make your life an addiction-free zone.
4.) Find Support: There is nothing wrong with joining a support group. Seek the comfort of your loved ones who will encourage you unconditionally and give you strength during this tough time. You should rely on them.
5.) Maintain and Balance: The most important part of breaking through addiction is maintenance. You have to be able to maintain your results over time—for the rest of your life. Every day that you can enjoy without giving in to your addiction is an amazing accomplishment. Remember, NOTHING HAS POWER OVER YOU UNLESS YOU ALLOW IT!
Addictions signal a body, mind, or spirit that is out of balance, out of touch with reality, and out of alignment with the universe. As the greatest teachers of all time including Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi believed: “everything in moderation.” This is one teaching we should adopt as our daily mantra.