Addictions are not a fun topic for anyone to discuss. Just the noun itself brings up all kinds of word pictures in our minds- each one different depending upon your individual experience.
For some of us, we are still struggling and battling within the chains of addictions right now. We are always making sure that our addiction of choice is nearby and not about to run out. It’s always on our mind, or at least right there in the “think about me next” category. We might still think we’ve got it under control, but deep down inside we desire it more than just about anything.
Others of us are deeply aware of watching a loved one allow an obsession to change who they are and steal them away. We instantly picture the numerous arguments and fights, as well as the sad progression of realizing that their “addiction” is much more important to them then we are. There’s a lot of pain and disappointment, and anger and frustration.
And then there’s those of us who are just entering the “courting” stages of addiction and we’re completely oblivious to how any of this can apply to us.
I guess I should also mention the category of people who have never experienced addictions, nor been affected by seeing others suffer from addictions. But I’m pretty certain that’s a very miniscule category of people.
What Causes Addictions?
So, with that being said… have you ever thought about what causes addictions, or what leaves some people more prone to become addicts than others?
It’s actually rather simple.
The brain is an addiction maker.
It’s incredibly focused on attachment.
The same part of your brain that is responsible for allowing you to attach to your mother even before you take your first breath is also responsible for addictions.
Ed Khouri, the author of Restarting, Belonging, and co-author of Joy Starts Here is my father. He has worked in the addictions field since I was in Jr. High. He came up with a new word to use instead of addictions that actually broadens our word picture to include a bunch of other things. He calls them BEEPS: Behaviors, Events, Experiences, People, or Substances that we attach to INSTEAD of attaching to people and God in joy.
You see, addictions, or BEEPS are simply our brain’s way of trying to get what it needs.
Our brain was designed to attach. The first thing we do as infants is bond with our caregivers. We develop attachments to mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, best friends, and eventually a spouse. When all is going as God planned, our brain releases dopamine on a regular basis as we relate to these people in healthy ways. We can breathe deeply and we know we are loved and valued.
For many of us, those relationships aren’t exactly helping us produce dopamine on a regular basis.
So, what’s a brain to do? It needs dopamine! It was created to experience pleasure and attachment!
That’s where BEEPS and addictions in general come to the “rescue”. I hate to even type that word…. Because I know it’s not actually a rescue, but to our brain, anything that will help it produce dopamine is a potential knight in shining armor.
Sometimes it discovers that certain chemicals and medications are helpful- things like the “Substances” in the word BEEPS. You know- your basic drugs, alcohol, sugar, carbs etc.
*yeah, I went there…. Food- especially sugar and carb based foods are great dopamine producers and are just as guilty of wearing the name “addictions” as things like cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, etc.
Other times it discovers that Behaviors like “being in control” or “performing” releases dopamine-
Or Experiences like sex.
I could go on and on couldn’t I?
The problem is- all of these things that our brain discovers as useful for helping it with it’s need for dopamine- are extremely short lived and temporary. The dopamine they produce is like diet coke for a sugar craver or decaf coffee for a caffeine junkie… they don’t really hit the spot for long.
But, we still develop an attachment to them. They do give us SOME dopamine- and that feels good, no matter how fleeting… so our brain starts rearranging life to provide us with more. And More. AND MORE.
As you can see, addictions really do make sense. Your brain NEEDS dopamine like it needs oxygen. There is no substitute or “mild” form of oxygen- without it we die. However, there are forms of substitute dopamine- actually, there’s many ways to get a substitute.
But the substitute is a deceiver. It tricks our brain into thinking that it’s getting what it needs and doesn’t realize that it’s been poisoned by the substitute until it’s done, it’s damaged.
Can you imagine if you were in outer space and given an oxygen tank that wasn’t really oxygen? It wouldn’t take long at all for your brain to say, “NO! I need the real thing!”
If our brain recognized pure joy produced dopamine and was as picky as it was with oxygen then I don’t think addictions would make sense.
It would know that it needed to attach to people who were glad to be with them, and it wouldn’t settle for anything less.
It might still get to enjoy some of those other things every now and then- but it wouldn’t attach to those things so greedily.
The Good News
The brain might have a weakness in the way that it “settles” and creates problems like addictions, but it is still an amazing thing. The brain is one of those brilliant creations that can change at any age! You can actually retrain your brain to attach to the “real joy” rather than “fake joy”.
Life Model Works has a lot of material that can assist you with that. I would recommend joining a Restarting group as your beginning place.
As a Life & Recovery Coach, I would also love to help you on your journey of teaching your brain what it really wants! Feel free to visit my website for more information www.theopenbench.com