Today I want to shed light on the motives behind complex addictions. I will explore the underlying paradigms that govern our dependency towards addictive behaviour. Then after this I want to tackle in more depth, how you can get rid of your addiction for good!
People tend to be aware of the negative effect drugs will have on their body, however the desire they have to fulfill short term pleasure far outweighs their need to be healthy. In my opinion, the reason substance misuse is popular is because hedonism is a cultural norm globally. Therefore, this underlying cultural norm drives people to engage in activities that bring the most short term pleasure; for example, drugs or alcohol. Therefore, the idea of living in balance can be perceived as boring by the majority. Hence, there is a level of social pressure on young people to follow the trend of chasing short term thrills at the cost of your own health and sometimes wellbeing.
So how does simply wanting to live life on the edge relate to having an addiction? Before I answer this question directly, I feel it is first necessary to define hedonism. Hedonism is the notion of maximising pleasure and minimising pain. An individual who is hedonistic is always on the hunt to find something new to fulfill their appetite. This relentless pursuit is what causes the person stress and therefore pain, however since the person devotes all his or her energy towards pursuing pleasure, they are actually too distracted from becoming aware of the subconscious pain they bury deep inside. Therefore, on the surface the person looks happy living life in an extravagant fashion, but below the surface they are constantly suffering. In this circumstance, the individual has two choices: either acknowledge and accept the pain without judgement or impulsively hurl himself or herself into a routine driven by addiction.
The reason pursuing pleasure causes suffering is because the act of pursuing implies you are coming from a place of lack. Real happiness comes from within first. Seeking happiness from the external world leads to frustration as the person finds that everything in life is temporary and therefore they feel their efforts are rendered futile.
People confuse happiness with pleasure and are not aware of the acute distinction. The fundamental levels of happiness have been discussed since the ancient greek era. In this time, they spoke of the distinction between hedonism and eudaimonia. Hedonism concerned with pleasure and eudaimonia with gratification. Eudaimonia places wellbeing, satisfaction and generally living well above the need for pleasure. In simple terms, they argued that prioritising your wellbeing and your life-long dreams or goals is what leads to longer lasting levels of happiness.
Nevertheless, is being aware of this truth enough to halt an individuals addiction? I would say that regardless of whether you believe this truth or not an addicted person’s brain has been rewired and conditioned differently. The addict’s brain’s reward system has been affected directly, leading to a lack of dopamine being produced which results in the person becoming reliant on external substances or stimulation to boost their mood. There are even cases where people want an escape from their suffering and therefore find the quickest release from the pain through drugs or alcohol. Hence, we need to find more practical solutions to addiction by empathising with an individual’s perspective more.
Many people who suffer from addiction also have a mental illness. Therefore, we need to consider the fact that people won’t have the mental capacity to remove their own addiction. For instance, the sheer gravity of depression causes an individual to feel a lack of vitality and motivation to change and therefore the substance abuse may be the only way they can feel more alive.
In cases like this, therapy is an important stepping stone for the person to feel valued and heard. Then progressive changes need to be introduced to build their mental resilience and mental capacity back. This is where meditation comes in. Meditation, when done regularly, can alter the physiology of your brain. More specifically, it promotes more activation in the pre-frontal cortex as opposed to the limbic system. This essentially means that your brain is reconditioning itself to respond to willpower and logic over impulsivity. It increases grey matter in the parts of your brain linked to self-awareness and introspection. This allows an addict to more easily choose to not act upon their impulsive thoughts, from gaining a greater understanding of the bigger picture.
Once the individual goes through meditation enough times and has fully processed their emotions, the next course of action is to start looking at practically ending the addictive behaviour. This can be done through making “SMART” goals or through going full “cold-turkey” mode.
The “SMART” goals acronym stands for: small, measurable, achievable and time-orientated in therapy terms. These goals must be directed towards replacing the old behaviour with a healthier alternative and must be decided by the person suffering from addiction. My recommendations would be to replace the addictive behaviour with something related to either fitness or creativity. For example: cycling or playing the guitar. The way this would work in a smart goal framework is the person would be set a small goal within a week to cut down their addictive behaviour and slowly replace it with the new behaviour. This is not an all or nothing approach but simply a way to slowly minimise your bad habits rather than stop it in one go. I.e. if you wanted to quit smoking the first week would be to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke to only 5 a day for “week 1” and invite a new hobby into the week. This number would gradually decrease as the weeks go by and the alternative behaviour would be slowly encouraged as a full replacement.
There is also an alternative method of going “cold turkey” fully in an instant. Which means totally abstaining from the addictive behaviour completely. In my opinion, I would say that the individual should always have the intention to go full cold turkey to see how much mental resilience and restrain they have; and if they relapse then they can practice self-forgiveness and self-love using support from a therapist combined with self-reflecting meditation to keep going and try again. For example, if you had an addiction to cigarrettes you would stop smoking and see how long you lasted until your addictive urges take over you. Then, you would visit your therapist to discuss and reflect on what caused you to relapse and assess how strongly reliant you feel towards smoking. Meditation would be further encouraged in this process in between sessions to retrain your mind to detach from this conditioned necessity. Eventually with each relapse, the individual will gradually build a tolerance for stopping and eventually they will rise above the addiction. It cannot be done alone this is why I know this topic is important to address because we all face addiction due to the temptation we face in life. We all need a friend that can motivate us to become better and rise above it.
Addiction is very difficult to escape for a lot of people who feel alone in this struggle. Often they get judged and this is unhelpful. I wanted to point out the flaw in addiction itself from a logical perspective and standpoint, this helps to ground a person so they are aware of what they do; my intention is never to judge people for what they do, just to be aware of the consequences and then work through them to find a better quality of life. Therefore, in this blog I had to first criticise addiction at its core and then return back to allowing it. This may seem contradictory, but this is the thought processes an individual who engages in self awareness. Often you will find an object truth at the surface and also a relative truth specific for that individual. I am relaying both levels of truths so that we can appreciate all sides of the coin and act accordingly. In summary, an individual needs to be motivated to overcome addiction by seeing it’s flaws in practicality; but when we engage in reform we need to build from the ground up with love and acceptance. Acceptance is not a passive action, as without acceptance we cannot know where we are in our journey. If we dont know were we are currently it is impossible to plan a route to our desired result (no addiction).
I wish you best of luck in this journey.
Peace and love.