The factors in addiction
Addictions can be either substance addictions (e.g. ice) or behavioural (e.g. gambling). However, the way that the brain responds is the same.
Studies have shown that some people appear to be naturally more prone to addictions than others. This is attributable to the unique makeup of each individual – biological hereditary factors as well as psychological developmental factors (such as childhood experiences of trauma or rejection). The addiction can provide an escape from the pain of associated anxiety, depression or stress.
With substance addictions, social factors often play a role. A person’s first experience of a drug may be through an invitation to try it at a party or with friends. Quitting is made so much more difficult when friends or casual acquaintances are using or dealing – the temptation is close at hand.
Choice and habit also play a role. Addiction generally does not set in the first time a person uses (however, occasionally it does). Through repetition addiction can set in, with emotional and physical dependence. Normal relating, exercise, eating and work all start to fall away, in favour of the addiction.
Long term addiction “rewires” the brain, creating and reinforcing neural pathways that make it harder and harder for the addict to quit. Hence, the current widely accepted view of addiction as a disease.
Recovery is a long hard road. An addict who wants to recover must firstly stop and secondly create the personal strength and have the tools to stay clean. Key elements in recovery are:
- Retraining the brain with healthy habits, whilst breaking the unhealthy ones. This includes recognising that I do have a choice, however limited it may have become, to fight the addiction.
- Replacing unhealthy rewards of the addiction with healthy rewards (e.g. new experiences, social connectedness, fun, achievement, etc).
- Motivation – a reason to stick to it when it gets tough. (e.g. children that depend on me, or perhaps I’ve seen a friend die from the addiction).
- Uncovering and addressing the emotional issues that addiction was helping suppress.
- Learning how to be happier and more peaceful and what I can do to stabilise myself when challenging emotions arise.
- A social environment that is understanding and supportive of both recovery and of the person as a human being – feeling accepted “just as I am,”.
- Understanding what is going on inside me, and especially, inside my brain, and learning tools and techniques that I can apply when I feel the temptation to relapse.
- An environment that is free of temptation. There will be times when the desire for the addiction is strong. So, the less readily available the object of addiction is, the greater the opportunity for me to make a conscious choice to apply one of the techniques I have learnt and beat the addiction at this time.
- Finding something worth living for. Rediscovering the adventure and possibility of life. Having a positive vision for my life. This includes recognizing that I have something unique to contribute and can make the world a better place, perhaps even through the wisdom and compassion I have gained through the painful experience of my addiction.
Also, whilst not standard “recovery factors”, research shows that nature, exercise and nutrition have powerful holistic therapeutic benefits that can, in many circumstances equal the benefits of other therapies.