If you have read our previous posts on addiction, you are in the process of identifying both your biological and behavioral addictions. There are multitudes of studies and definitions out there that claim to have the answers for us, but as in weight loss trends and fads, there is no one-size-fits all. Understanding what it is that may have helped to form the addiction is the place to start. So what lies beneath addiction?
The Biological Causes
Addiction is easier to understand when we consider that our biology programs us to pursue and repeat pleasurable experiences. There is strong evidence to suggest a strong genetic component to addiction (40-60% of addicts have some form of genetic component). Clearly, addiction does not develop merely because someone is weak-willed. Addicted persons do not choose their genetics. Therefore, they do not control whether they are at risk for developing an addiction.
Although our biological make-up is a powerful influence, we are not slaves to our biology. In other words, our biology does not completely drive our behavior. People are certainly capable of choosing recovery over addiction. This makes addictive disorders very similar to other diseases and disorders. Many health problems require lifestyle changes to restore health. For instance, people with diabetes must regularly check blood sugar levels and count carbohydrates. People with heart disease must choose a healthier diet and an exercise program. Obviously, these folks did not choose to have these health challenges but they most certainly do choose how to handle them. The same is true for people with addiction.
The Psychological Causes
Even if addiction originates because of some biological process, recovery requires people to become motivated to make significant changes.
Most human behavior is learned behavior. This is true of addictive behavior as well. For example, if when you were a child, you were rewarded with food, you may even, as an adult today, equate food with love, acceptance or reward. That underlying pattern has been programmed into your thought processes. In order to ‘unlearn’ that pattern, you must call it into question and face it head-on. Perhaps you had a traumatic event in your life that you concluded was because you looked a certain way (i.e. sexual encounter against your will because you were pretty, thin, “sexy”) and so in order to prevent that from happening again, you overate in order to NOT be thin and pretty so no one would ever do that to you again. That pattern is also learned and set in your thought process, even if you aren’t conscious of it. There are other underlying reasons for addictive behavior and tracing back the origin of the learned behavior is often the golden key to conquering once and for all.
Another psychological cause of addiction is people’s thoughts and beliefs. This is because much of our behavior originates from our thoughts and beliefs. This includes addictive behaviors. For instance, if someone believes that recovery is not possible, it is highly unlikely they will put forth any effort to quit. Psychologists have developed techniques to help people change their thoughts and beliefs. I learned of a way to challenge my thinking many years ago when I was presented with a list of “Cognitive Distortions” in a book called Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns. Thoughts can make or break us. Challenge yourself to explore how your thoughts are controlling you…or not!
Sometimes re-interpretation is our only recourse. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet notes, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Or as Marcus Aurelius, the 2nd century Roman emperor stated, “The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”
A third psychological cause of addiction is a person’s developmental maturity. The capacity to align our actions with our beliefs and values is what separates mature human beings from immature ones. This capacity ultimately distinguishes human beings from other species. If we routinely act without thinking, and instead act according to every craving, whim, or impulse, we are operating at the developmental level of a two year-old child. Addictions like drug addiction can occur because someone lacks this developmental maturity. They may be very self-focused and intent on pursuing impulsive desires without regard to the consequences.
Sometimes people have difficulty understanding how devastating historical events can still affect a group of people today. The answer lies in the way we transmit culture from one generation to the next: families. For example, imagine a family history that includes the systematic oppression of the group to which that family belongs. Oppression can lead to feelings of hopelessness, loss, fear, distrust, and despair. Parents who directly experienced this oppression communicate this sense of loss and despair to their children. Someday those children will become parents and communicate these same things to their children and so on. Many generations later, we can observe the transmission of hopelessness and despair. Therefore, it will continue to affect family members today.
Each generation of children learns the world is an unsafe place. This occurs even though in present times, this may no longer be true. They may have learned that opportunities for a good life belong to other people with the “right” skin, eyes, or hair. If someone learned these beliefs as a child, that child eventually grows up to be an adult believing these same things.
If we haven’t gotten the untrue teachings from our families, Western Society is notorious for demanding a ridiculously impossible standard of life on magazine covers, on screens and in the media of what success, beauty or intelligence look like. Even alcohol use, drug use, sexual perversions and other addictions are seen as commonplace in Hollywood productions. Normal body shapes and sizes are seen as ‘fat’ and unattractive, while nearly skeletal shapes are seen as sexy and fit. All of these instances contribute to distorted thinking and in turn diminish self-esteem. Low Self-esteem = High Addiction Rate.
Spirituality means different things to different people. Ultimately, spirituality is a belief that life has a meaning and purpose. A disconnection from, or loss of, life’s meaning and purpose contributes to the development and progression of addiction. This disconnection causes a failure to live in harmony with the universal laws or principles that we hold to be important. It is possible to envision addiction as a loss of one’s humanity. Our true, authentic, and spiritual self has become disconnected from our physical being because of the addiction. Therefore, a change that reunites the authentic spiritual self, with the physical body, would be healing. As mentioned previously, it might be possible to understand addiction as a way of coping with a previous loss of our true authentic self. This kind of loss might occur from trauma such as abuse. These kinds of trauma often shatter our belief in a meaning and purpose to life.
When our actions don’t line up with our own values, we see ourselves as immoral. The decline into addiction nearly always involves a decline in one’s morality. This may include lying, stealing, cheating, deception, dishonesty, selfishness, etc. Therefore, recovery from addiction most always involves re-connecting to our former beliefs and value system. This means we learn to live in a way that honors our values.
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