Habits and Addictions
We don't get addicted to what we think we do.
Perhaps a strange premise to start a conversation about addiction with, so let me back up a bit.
One definition describes addiction as follows. A continued use of a “mood altering” (my quotation marks) substance, or behaviour, despite adverse consequences. This manifests in the following ways.
Impaired control over the substance(s) or behaviour
A predominant preoccupation with said substance(s) or behaviour
Continued use despite the obvious adverse consequences
Regular denial by the person, to others and to themselves, that they are addicted
Physiological dependence due to physical and mental tolerance (over time) and withdrawal symptoms
One could say that someone has a recurring compulsion to recreate that “altered mood”, either to produce pleasure, or to escape internal/external discomfort. This is the pleasure-pain concept first attributed to Freud (although one could argue that Aristotle first came up with the idea).
Evolution and Neuroscience have taught us that we have a reward and punishment system residing in our brains that has developed over years for the purpose of learning and survival. We tend to associate pleasure with reward and pain with punishment. Actions that result in pleasure (or the neurotransmitters that induce pleasure, such as dopamine) work towards restoring homeostasis (self-regulated equilibrium of the body). Likewise, the ability to perceive (and remember) pain enables us to develop avoidance or defence systems of behaviour.
If I’m hungry or thirsty, then the pleasure of eating and drinking replenishes me. If I bang my finger whilst hammering, I learn to be more careful next time; modifying my behaviour.
Likewise, if I encounter emotional, physical or mental pain from a situation with my environment, usually by interacting with other humans, I modify my behaviour accordingly or, if I can’t find a way to deal with and cope with the situation, I try to escape and self-heal by artificially rewarding myself.
We all do this as babies by sucking our thumbs. We know we aren’t getting any nourishment from our thumb, but it reminds us of feeding from our Mothers and the associated positive emotions of security, comfort and love.
This all relates to the three states of being that we constantly move in and out of. From a state of routine or relaxation we can, depending on what stimuli from our environment we detect, move towards, what I cheekily like to refer to as, the Four F’s; Fight or Flight or Feed and Breed.
So, Dopamine is a motivational neurotransmitter associated with reward anticipation and anticipatory desire (“I want”) as opposed to opioid receptors (such as Endorphins) which are associated with the actual pleasurable experience (“I like/enjoy”).
What we actually get addicted to then, is the positive emotions our behaviour, or the artificial substance we ingest, elicits.
This is the common attribute of addictions and habits. The release (or attempted release) of these “pleasure” chemicals in the brain, either for the pleasure itself (false reward) or for the escape of emotional/physical/mental pain.
In Therapy we start by mapping out what triggers are needed for a client to feel the need to escape pain or give themselves a jolt of pleasure, or false reward. We also separate the behaviour from the sub-conscious positive intention behind that behaviour. I do this so as to find that positive intention in another, more benevolent context in the client’s life.
On a deeper level, we go in search for maladaptive thoughts, developed from the client’s past, that affect behaviour and emotions.
These negative thoughts (or cognitive distortions) and core beliefs (our viewpoint of our world and how we relate to it) are gently brought into question and reframed, so as to become positive and more based in actual reality.
We also explore better choices and how to make and sustain them.
Through daily Meditation and/or Mindfulness exercises, the client starts to get a clearer picture, not only of themselves, but also of life itself. And once they start to realise that these “pleasure” chemicals can be released any time they want, without any negative repercussions, they start to develop more control over their lives and strengthen their autonomy, confidence and wellbeing.
At Steve Smith Hypnotherapy you will:-
gain the life skills needed to not only recreate the “pleasure” chemicals through daily Meditation and Mindfulness, but to also be more resilient to life in general.
find many answers surrounding your need for your addiction or habit and why you may have found it hard to quit in the past.
more importantly, you will save your health.
discover (and appreciate!) deeper aspects of yourself.
live more authentically with your true self and, as a result…
have, keep and nurture, better relationships.
Regain control of your life!
Imagine a better you!