What are Addictions
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Addiction is the continued use of a person, activity or substance in order to escape from negative feelings, despite experiencing negative consequences as a result of use. These behaviors develop as a last-ditch effort to survive unbearable misery or physical pain. All of your other coping skills have been overwhelmed, yet, somewhere, deep inside, you do not want to die. You just have to make the pain stop. What causes this pain is different for everyone. What seems to be the same is that, over time, you have come to believe that the addiction is your best friend. It stops the pain when nothing else can. It never abandons you. It never judges you or adds to your stress. (Or, at least it seems that way.)
Addictions are a solution to a problem, a bad solution, but a solution. For that reason, you probably have substitute or “back up” addictions. When you cannot access your addiction of choice, you probably use something else to help you escape, or lash out at anyone or anything that stands between you and your addiction. You can be addicted to just about anything that produces pleasure or distracts you. While it is easy to see the connection between using drugs or alcohol and feeling better, other addictive behaviors like obsessing over a person, exercise, shopping or gambling can also not only distract your mind, but also usually has a pleasurable result.
Addictions (even behavioral ones) also mess with your brain chemistry. Whatever it is that you are doing to get the rush/relief/escape causes your brain to rapidly burn through happy chemicals. While it feels great at the moment, you are using up your reserves. At a certain point, your happy chemicals run out and the only way to get the rush is through the addiction. But wait…at a certain point that does not even work anymore, so you start doing riskier things or using harder drugs, or both—sometimes just to feel normal. While this is a very oversimplified explanation of what is happening during the addiction process, you can see that a large part of recovery is allowing your brain to rest, recover and rebalance. This process takes anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years depending on the amount of damage. The great news is that your brain (and body) can recover.
Addiction and mental health issues are virtually inseparable from each other. As you will see, there are many symptoms common to a variety of disorders. Unlike depression, anxiety or anger which have a strong emotional component, addiction is a behavioral reaction to extreme distress. Identifying which symptoms are causing you the greatest amount of distress is far more important than trying to figure out what your diagnoses are.
If you have been anxious, depressed or angry for a long time, it is likely you have developed some behaviors to help you escape from the distress. Those were creative survival tools. Unfortunately they also came with their own set of negative consequences. The awesome news is that you survived and you realize that to have the life you want requires a change.
Take Away Points:
- Addiction helps people survive emotional and/or physical pain.
- Addictive behaviors will alter the balance of brain chemicals causing feelings of depression and/or anxiety.
- Depression is basically a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and exhaustion.
- Anxiety is half of the fight or flight reaction
- Anxiety and Anger are the emotions associated with the body’s threat detection system.
- When you are anxious, stressed, or angry for too long, you start to get exhausted. Since there seems to be no resolution to the threat, the brain turns down the sensitivity of the threat detection system to protect resources. This means that what used to get you excited does very little for you now.(Depression)
- Recovery (Change) is very POSSIBLE.
- Effectively changing behavior involves:
- Enhancing all the reasons you want to change AND all the reasons you DON’T want to stay the same.
- Minimizing the benefits or rewards of the current behavior AND the drawbacks to the new behavior.
- Your life did not become unmanageable overnight. Once you figure out what a manageable (happy) life looks like, then identify the first thing you need to do to start achieving those goals.
- Lasting recovery means addressing BOTH addiction and mental health issues.
- You cannot do it alone. Everyone needs social support and someone to call us out on our own B.S. This can be a person of your choosing, a sponsor, coach, counselor, pastor or even a friend. However, nobody likes having their B.S. called. Therefore, I caution you from initially choosing a friend or spouse, because there will be times when you get very angry at that person and vice versa. Plus, your addictive behavior may have already caused some resentments which could negatively impact their ability to help you.