Understanding Addiction: how they work
I share here all that I believe is fundamental to the understanding and treatment of addictions. It reflects my training in Human Givens in the early years of this century and my practice as a busy Human Givens practitioner since then.
How Addiction works and what to do
By understanding addictions, you know they can be destroyers of lives by striking at the heart of self-confidence. The variety is enormous – gambling, cocaine, pornography, smoking, bingeing and so on. And all will be affecting your capacity to live a life that works. Or perhaps for you right now, it is not quite at that stage.
Are you ready to quit? Or are you at the stage where you now realise that there is a problem? And have you discovered that your willpower is not enough on its own?
Addictions can be awful and overwhelming, such as cocaine addiction or heroin or alcohol. Or they are subtle, shameful and secret, such as gambling addiction, pornography addiction or bingeing.
But the similarities are much more important
Addictions are primarily psychological which can be overcome by sticking with tried and tested principles.
Addictions also have similarities to obsessive behaviours. At their core, there is a desperate holding on against the fear of the vacuum if they were to let go. Lives can become increasingly unbalanced where needs are not being met and stress and low self-esteem are spiralling out of control. This further feeds the addiction
There is an important distinction between dependencies that are shameful and /or illegal (drugs, such as cocaine and cannabis, gambling, sex) and those that are socially acceptable (alcohol and smoking), which require something a little different. Eating and diet based addictions are also somewhat different, if only because we must all eat.
UNDERSTANDING ADDICTIONS: WHAT YOU WILL LEARN
How addiction works – the cuckoo in the nest metaphor
Why addictions can be so hard to beat?
The Three Steps of my Moving Beyond Addiction method
Understanding Addictions: The questions to ask
What is the nature of the psychology of your addiction?
How can it unravel out of control?
What is the way back to mental health, control and a satisfying life and where there is no need for dependence?
Consider a baby cuckoo in a sparrow’s nest
The baby cuckoo begins its life there as an egg – a bit different from the others but harmless and inert. And then the egg hatches and very quickly the young cuckoo chick begins to pull its weight – and disposes of the other eggs or chicks. Those that have the right to be there. And the cuckoo grows bigger and bigger fed by the incessant activity of the cuckoo chick’s surrogate parents. And as their activity grows and grows and the chick grows and grows – well in time there is nothing else. That chick has taken over everything and left – nothing – no space and no time – no anything.
And that is how addiction works
In the beginning, it is fairly small and there other parts of your life. But as the addiction grows (if it does), then it begins to take over. This can reach the stage that a large part of one’s time is spent thinking about it, preparing for it and indulging it. And if the addictive activity is illegal and/or expensive and/or shameful, then some of that time is spent in concealment.
Does this hint at why a dependence can take over?
Concealment separates you from people who can meet your essential needs appropriately for connection and intimacy and shared experiences.
And so, like the cuckoo, the addiction is taking over and pushing out from the nest something that is actually much more important. And then when this happens it can become really scary of course, even to contemplate letting the lifestyle dependence go – because what else will you have?
The scariness as well as the compulsion to prepare and indulge and feed the addiction shows that crude emotion is in control. This applies for gambling addiction, pornography addiction, cocaine addiction, bingeing and much else.
The Cuckoo in the nest
Why are addictions so hard to beat
The stages of quitting
Recovery path in outline
Your addiction Time Line
Why do addictions seem so hard to beat?
The answer lies in the chemical reward mechanisms that the human brain uses to motivate itself to act and learn.
The excitement we get when we are keen to do something is produced by dopamine, a natural brain chemical, very like cocaine in its effect. This raises our emotional level so we want to take action.
And the warm feelings of satisfaction we get after doing something — eating, laughing, having sex, or achieving some new understanding or skill — are produced by endorphin, another natural substance (which is similar to heroin). Working together these chemicals keep us interested in doing the biological functions that preserve the species and stretch each one of us to learn and achieve.
In a well-balanced life, a reasonable amount of natural reward is felt by the human every day. But in a life where essential emotional needs are not met and abilities are not stretched, the rewards do not come and life feels flat and meaningless.
This kind of life is rich territory for addictions to target, as every addictive substance or behaviour either stimulates a reward mechanism or provides a chemical reward directly. Dangerous activities stimulate the production of dopamine, generating a feeling of exhilaration; injecting heroin gives a warm, cosy feeling like the natural feelings of satisfaction you might get after fulfilling any biologically necessary function.
Understanding addiction emotions
There is the dopamine surge – anticipating the pleasure and the endorphins which is warm after the pleasure of satisfaction. Both dopamine (cocaine) and endorphin (heroin) are of course essential for humans to keep active, engaged and stretched. But when addicted, the balance has gone. More and more of the activity/consumption is required as a life of balance goes and this psychological dependency is often then fuelled by a physical dependence as well
Habits then become harder to break as trance states become stronger and stronger
Underlying it all is the anxiety, fear or sense of hopelessness – and always collapsing self-esteem and confidence. These are never too far away – fuelled by the simple fact and experience – that all of this secret and heavy activity simply does not work.
Your intelligent, rational and far-seeing brain knows that there is a better way for you. Gambling addiction, pornography addiction, cocaine addiction, bingeing all damage you. Don’t they?
You know that the addiction is doing far more damage than good. There are much better ways to live and to begin to live. You forget that from small beginnings massive change and progress toward a balanced life is not just possible but inevitable.
THE THREE STEPS OF MY MOVING BEYOND ADDICTION METHOD
- You need to Understand addictions – to build hope and to see a clear path. There is a lot of ignorance to dispel and wisdom to acquire that will make so much sense to you.
- You need Emotions Shifted – the triggers, the motivations and how you feel about yourself.
- You need to practice in your every day life – setting new pathways in your brain and getting your life on track.
The Path of Addiction Busting
- Understand that the emotions and emotional triggers have to be shifted and not even to pretend that your rational brain or your will alone can do it on its own.
- Take your time – and don’t even begin to face the addictive habits directly until you have begun to take tiny steps that show you the possibility of a more fulfilling life and bring you a measure of control.
- Change your relationship to dependence. Be less friendly toward it and separate yourself from it but don’t necessarily begin to hate it. It is after all doing its best to keep you safe.
- Know that when the time comes you will be ready to get rid of it – to loosen the power of the addiction trance state.
I can help you to get to this stage:
You will have learnt and understood the psychology of your addiction (the cuckoo again) and know the needs in your life that are not being well met.
You will know the difference between:
Substance abuse – cocaine addiction, cannabis, heroin etc.
Shameful addictions – gambling addiction, pornography addiction, sex and retail etc.
Bingeing – alcohol and eating disorders, including bulimia
Weight Loss – overeating and lifestyle balance
Smoking cessation – legal, not shameful but where physical addiction is typically stronger than the psychological addiction
OCD – Obsessive behaviours and Eating disorders – addiction like and can be difficult to shift
Compulsions, moods, and behaviours – that can be impossible to understand or explain.
You will have begun to understand the need to build motivation – either primarily positively in favour of a better future or mainly negatively against the future you will have if you persist with the addiction. That out of this the trance addictive state is weakened.
Identified any trauma in your past that needs to be cleared – using Rewind
Identified the habits and patterns that need to change, the stories you delude yourself into believing that keep you hooked and the way in which your brain fuels the anticipation of pleasure – but always lets you down afterwards.