A lot of us assume we are immune to addiction because we do not use illegal drugs.
“Addicts” are “those people”…not “normal” people like you and me. Right?
We see shows about interventions on TV, and we look at each other and say, “Whew…I’m so glad I’m not one of those screwed up people.”
If only it was that simple.
“Addiction” is far more widespread phenomenon than most people appreciate.
Just like most people assume they can never be “brainwashed” or manipulated, most people assume they are not vulnerable to addiction.
That is an unwise assumption.
At its most fundamental level, “addiction” refers not to substance use or abuse…but to self-defeating behaviors that we engage in over and over again, because those behaviors offer us either a “high” or some type of soothing that we desperately want.
Does substance use fit this description? Yup. People use substances because they like the way those substances make them feel, and their desire for those feelings lead them to indulge in self-defeating behaviors over and over again.
But what else fits that description?
Self harm behavior very often fits that description.
Most people who self-harm— who cut themselves, burn themselves, or otherwise physically hurt themselves— do so because self-harm either offers them a feeling they like (such as a high or an endorphin rush), or helps decrease feelings they dislike (most often anxiety). So they do it again and again and again, because they want those feelings.
Trying to quit self-harm is very much like trying to quit a drug. Ask anybody who has ever tried.
What else fits the definition of an addiction?
For many people, looking at pornography often fits that definition.
Pornography exerts a powerful tug on many peoples’ brains. It facilities a rush of feel-good hormones and neruotransmitters that people will effortfully, tirelessly chase…often to the detriment of their productivity, their relationships, their real world sexual functioning, and even their safety.
Addiction really isn’t just about alcohol or drugs.
It’s about the irrational, compulsive behavior that results when our brains decide that certain feelings MUST be chased, regardless of the consequences.
We are all vulnerable to addiction, because we are all wired to want to feel good and avoid feeling bad.
To think that we’re NOT vulnerable to addiction actually makes us MORE vulnerable to addiction…because, as any addict will tell you, the best way to overcome an addictive behavior is to simply not start in the first place.
The good news is, we know an awful lot about addiction from a behavioral science standpoint these days.
We know things about how the brain works when it’s chasing pleasure.
We know things about how human behavior works when it becomes compulsive and self-defeating.
And one of the things we know is that it usually takes a great deal of support and honesty in order to overcome addiction.
It rarely works when we try to “kick” a habit on our own.
Take a good look at your life…and be honest with yourself.
What are the behaviors that tend to sabotage you?
What are the feelings you’re chasing with certain behaviors?
What are the consequences of NOT realizing how dependent you are on certain behaviors?
We really can inoculate ourselves against the danger of addiction…but we have to be very, very real with ourselves first.
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