Recently, I’ve turned my attention to addiction. This is a subject that I have yet to fully take apart. Because I know people who are struggling with addictions of various kinds, and because I sometimes get just a little hooked on sugar and carbohydrates (especially in the form of chocolaty goodness) and find it difficult to turn off those urges, I’m very curious about addiction and the behaviors that support it.
Since I’ve only just begun my examination, I don’t have much to go on just yet. But I wanted to share some of my thoughts of what I think addiction is all about. Later, when I’ve had more time to pick it apart, I’ll find out how close or how far off I was.
Pieces of the Addiction Puzzle
All behaviors serve a function. Therefore, if addictive behavior serve a function, the question is, what is the function of the behavior?
At its simplest level, I know that getting a “fix”, or experiencing the habit behind the addiction once more, causes feel-good chemicals to be released in the brain which cascades throughout the body. Take smoking, for example. When a smoker gets a fix, that means he’s just smoked a cigarette and, for a brief period after smoking, his mood might rise a little and his stress level drops. It’s literally like taking a drug.
So if you’re used to feeling good at regular intervals throughout the day, as a result of smoking, then you’re likely going to get the “urge” to start feeling good again and de-stress (smoke a cigarette) again if it’s been a little while since you last fulfilled the urge. The more you “practice” this behavior, the more it becomes a habit. As I see it, if you reach a point where it becomes a compulsion, that’s when it becomes an addiction.
So if you want to break an addiction, I’m guessing that there are a few “tools” that might help. Again, I’m just guessing right now. I’m going to try to confirm this and report back. But here are 6 tools that I think would help.
- Intention: If you want to change a behavior that makes you feel good but has lasting negative consequences that you don’t want, you have to make a conscious decision that you intend to quit. But you’ve got to mean it! You need to put honest-to-goodness conviction behind your decision.
- Replacement: For most people, I’m guessing that the “cold-turkey” (meaning instantly quitting forever) method is not a long-term solution because you haven’t addressed the behaviors that support the addiction, even though it may work for short durations. We depend on our routines. So learning how to replace bad habits with better ones seems like an important part of beating addiction.
- Feel-good chemicals: Whether it’s food, cigarettes, gambling, or a million other things, take away your “drug” and suddenly you’re not getting your regular dose of feel-good chemicals rushing through your body. So it seems to me that you’re going to need to find a new source of feel-good chemicals. Obviously, you want the new source to be healthy, moral, and legal.
- Support/Reminders: It’s too easy to get distracted and “fall off the wagon” when trying to beat an addiction. So it can be helpful if you associate with people who can encourage you or will participate in a new behavior with you, such as an exercise buddy. Some addictions are incredibly hard, so it’s nice to have caring, patient, understanding, and non-judgmental people around you for support.
- A clearly-defined plan: Some habits might require a lot of planning ahead. Such as, you usually eat lunch at work in the break room, right by the window. The problem is, the picnic table is just outside the window and that’s where all the smokers hang out during lunch. If you’re trying to quit smoking, it might not be a good idea to sit by the window. If you’re trying to quit eating junk food, you may also want to avoid sitting near the vending machines. If you’re trying to quit gambling, you may want to sit in a bathroom stall that doesn’t have a slot machine in it. Okay, I have no idea if there are actually slot machines in bathroom stalls, but if there are, don’t go there.
- Reinforcing thoughts: Beating an addiction is a battle that’s won day-by-day and moment-by-moment. Your thoughts matter. Strong, positive, and supportive thoughts will prop up your weakness and give you the right kind of fuel to help you stay determined. Meek, self-deprecating, and pessimistic thoughts will punch holes in your determination and create openings where a relapse can occur.
Addiction is not a simple issue to sort out. I think it’s very complex and has a lot of moving parts. You can’t just take out any piece and still expect everything to be okay. I’ve started putting labels on a few parts, but there are many more. But I’m just getting started.
What would you add to these 6 tools? Share in the comments. Thanks for reading.