What REALLY Causes Addiction? The Answer May Be Simpler (Or Harder) Than You’d Expect
I’ve heard people say that it’s harder to love an addict than to be an addict. They obviously haven’t lived through addiction. It’s heartbreaking to see how addicts get looked at like they’re stupid or terrible people. But we know it’s not that simple. As a famous guy from history said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Addicts really don’t realize where they’re at or what they’re doing because they’re so caught up in the pain and drama of their life. We do terrible things sometimes, but that doesn’t make us evil. No one knowingly chooses to stoop so low. It just happens. And once events start to unfold, you’re caught up in a downward spiral and you feel like you’ve lost all control.
We can label someone as a “junkie” or diagnosis them with alcohol use disorder or addictive personality, but these words do nothing to describe what’s really going on. Addiction is complex, and it’s fed by a million different things that all interconnect and feed and support each other. A million things that we often aren’t even conscious of.
The subconscious mind is constantly at work, and it has us doing things when we don’t even know it. Have you ever “woke up” while driving a car, and wondered how long you’d been driving while you were out of it? That’s the subconscious mind at work. It puts things on autopilot because it makes it’s life easier and allows for the brain to focus on other things. These automatic responses can be enormously helpful — no doubt– but it can also be a huge problem because we’ll do things without any awareness of what we’re really doing or why.
Reading is a great example of the automatic brain at work. I experienced this myself a few years back when I was looking at a recipe for chai chia porridge. If you’re like me, you just read “chai-chai” and you stopped to ask why the heck chai was repeated twice. But take a second look and you’ll see that the second word is not chai, but chia. As in c-h-i-a. Now the difference is as clear as day, but upon first reading you probably read it over without thinking twice. Such an error comes pretty easy with the words being spelled with the exact same letters, but this oops is a little thing called “automaticity.” And the brain loves doing it.
The brain is processing a million things every second, so automatic responses are a way for the brain to lighten its workload (or to help survival like with the “fight or flight” response). This is a big help when it comes to dance or algebra, but this push for automaticity has it making assumptions and generalizations that can really mess up our psyche.
How does this happen? Betrayal by adults Children emotionally betrayed by their parents can grow up resistant to loving or trusting anyone, because their brain connects closeness with pain and disappointment. Many women from abusive relationship carry a fear or disdain for men, and it’s because of the same subconscious processing. A relationship with a man brought pain, thus equating men with pain allows the brain to save them from physical and emotional suffering. Whether we’re responding to physical pain or emotional pain, such automatic responses appeal to the primal need for survival that dwells within us all.
The brain serves us well by with its urge to promote survival, but sometimes it does us more damage than good. Recognizing this can be hard, but the neuroplasticity of the brain makes it possible to switch up it’s wiring. That’s where beliefs come in.
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, either way, you are right.” This same idea is what fuels addiction. The beliefs we have about ourselves and life drive everything that we do. Or, more importantly, the things that we don’t do.
I’ve dreamed of being a writer since I was twelve years old. It wasn’t just that I wanted it. I had this feeling that I was meant to write, and that feeling was rooted in my very soul. I had a love for words and spoken thoughts. Words allowed me to give form to my heart and soul, and I never felt more like me than when I wrote.
As much as I yearned to write, and as much as I loved it, I never pursued it. As I got older, I began to question this. After deep exploration, I realized that my childhood had infected me with the idea that I was incapable and not good enough. Naturally, I believed that it was a waste to go after the good stuff in life, because I didn’t think I had what it would take to pull it off. Because of this, I would find reasons to give up on something as soon as possible. Ideally, I’d find a reason to give up before I could even start.
I didn’t know I was doing it, but I was. And I was doing it every single day of my life. But once I saw my patterns and made the connections, I made a conscious choice to shift from discouragement and disbelief, to encouragement and belief. It took some practice (I was a big bully that talked a lot of crap), but I slowly replaced my negative programming with some deliberate and empowering mental software.
As my insecurities and fears waned, I found a writing job (and without a college degree). Now I pour my heart out 40 hours a week and I’m working on my first book. All because of a change in beliefs.
They’re the driving force behind everything we do. Whether we’re running or fighting in fear, or opening our arms to embrace pleasure, our emotions are the fire that fuels us. In the case of addiction, our brain relies on drugs and alcohol for dopamine, and it seems that it’s impossible to be “normal,” “happy,” or “calm” without it. Often times, we’re hungry to feel good because of other emotions… Emotions from the past. We believe that we need to suppress what we’re feeling and drink or drug it away, but that couldn’t be more wrong.
Really, our emotions are messages that tune us into life. When our emotions are light and pleasant, it’s a sign that something’s right. When we’re feeling dark and heavy — like with anger or depression– that’s our cue that something needs to be addressed. We may look for relief from dark feelings through drugs, alcohol, food, or sex, but the relief never lasts. That’s because we’re not listening to the message our emotions are sending us.
Rather than ignoring or suppressing our feelings, we should be embracing them. By allowing ourselves to sit with the feelings swirling within us, we can begin to understand what we’re really feeling and all the reasons why. Once we understand what the problem problem is, we can ponder how to solve it. Sometimes, the best solution may be to sit down and talk heart-to-heart. Other times, it may be to get advice from an expert. Then will be problems where the only real solution is to accept what’s happened and move on.
Every situation will require a different solution, and we’re the ones who have to figure that out. By tuning in to our emotions, we can understand the message life has for us. Whatever we’re feeling, we can be sure that we need to take action of the opposite. Feelings of fear require actions fueled by courage and peace. Anger requires taking steps that promote peace. Hurt pleads for a solution driven to heal and strengthen.
My trick to understanding a problem and coming up with a solution is AFEB; Ask, Focus, Envision, and Believe.
When I find myself plagued by dark feelings or a tornado of thoughts; that’s my cue to do some problem solving. So, if I’m feeling upset because my partner and I are in a fight, I start by tuning in to my feelings to identify what the real problem is (ie. not that my partner is “acting like a jerk,” but that I’m not feeling loved or accepted). When I’m upset, I get this feeling of tension, darkness, and heaviness that takes over my abdomen and chest. Sometimes the sensation captures my attention within moments, and other times it may take minutes, hours, or even days. But whenever I finally tune in my awareness, that feeling is my cue to step away from the drama and get to business.
First, I ask myself what I want. In the case of this example, I want peace and I want to feel loved and accepted. Now my job is to make that my focus. I’ll surely catch myself imagining possible situations or replaying old ones, but when I notice what I’m doing I automatically switch my thoughts to ones that align with feeling loved and accepted. I envision the outcome I desire and I deliberately choose thoughts, feelings, and actions that align with my desire. And now… Now I have to believe. I have to believe that’s it’s possible and that I can see it through by making that my focus. This has been a very powerful tool for me because it stops me from feeling butt-hurt and acting from emotion. Instead, I come from a very empowered place because my eyes are open to what I truly want and how my actions are contributing to that.
In conclusion; addiction is labeled as a problem. And while there’s no doubt that it definitely is a problem, it’s really just a problem that hides a thousand other problems. Fixing that is a hell of a project, but it can be done. It can be done; and — with the right mindset — it will be. If you want to learn more about holistic methods for sobriety and recovery, please contact Sober Identity so you have help with this lifelong journey.