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A Perspective on Addiction

Despite what you might have read, or even what you might believe, people struggling with addictions and compulsive behaviours are not diseased, weak-willed, self-indulgent or in denial.  

It is more accurate to say that addictions develop over time from a complex interplay of wide-ranging factors.  These include neurobiology, personal history, social expectations, accessibility and the person’s social context. As human beings, we all have internal contradictions, such as saying that we want one thing but then doing something different.  We also  often unhelpfully criticise ourselves when we give in to our urges.

Everyone looks for comfort when they're having a difficult time.  Maybe a glass of wine when we get home after a hard day at work……. or scrolling through videos on our phone instead of facing a difficult conversation. Knowingly or not, we all soothe our emotions one way or another. 

When this pattern works well, it can bring balance back into our inner system and we stop at one occasional glass of wine or only scroll videos for five minutes before getting on with dealing with whatever is challenging.

However, when the emotional discomfort is too great – either because of past experiences, a recent stressor, our self-esteem is challenged or because of the shame brought on by the behaviour itself -  our ability to moderate and limit the distracting behaviour can be overwhelmed.  Then we can develop more extreme or persistent versions of those behaviours.  Having lost our ability to moderate our behaviour, we move into repetitive and enduring habits that then cause the ongoing harm that we now want to prevent.  The original pleasure from alcohol, substances and other behaviours has often completely disappeared but the urge to use continues. 

When we try to limit or stop the unwanted behaviour, we are then faced with the emotions they were hiding from us or the intense urge that was disguising the emotion.

 

Our neural brain circuitry changes with all addictive behaviours - not just with chemical substances.  The circuitry most associated with 'desire' or 'wanting' also influences how we narrow our attention and look foward to things.

In this way, we become focussed on our compulsive behaviour and increasingly pay less attention to other things we value such as important people and activities.  It is the repetition - not disease - that leads to a change in the brain's wiring. 

In effect, we learn our compulsive behaviours - so with the right intervention, we can start to learn something new.  

You may feel that you carry out the behaviour because you just ‘like it too much’.  However, if even a small part of you has some interest in changing your behaviour, but you find it too difficult to just stop, that is a clear indication that there is more going on ‘behind the scenes’.

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