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Having and living with an addiction is very common in our society. Literally, anyone on this planet has some sort of addiction, may it be an obvious addiction such as drugs, cigarets, alcohol or a more subtle one such as food, fame or excessive cleaning.
What an addiction is, why it’s so hard to overcome addiction and how to actually do it, will be discussed in this article.
Addiction- what it is
An addiction is an impulsive, trained behavior that comes in the form of a strong longing for a substance, for an activity or for a state of being. The acting out of this longing usually involves a physical movement or activity such as taking a substance in, moving your body in a certain way or chasing something. While there are more obvious and more subtle addictions, all of them are harmful on any if not on all levels that include the mental, the emotional, the physical and the spiritual level.
Different kinds of addictions
An obvious addition is an addiction that everyone agrees that it is an addiction and that it is causing a certain harm to either the body, the mind or the emotional well-being. Examples of obvious addictions are drug addiction, alcohol addiction, sex addiction, masturbation addiction, smartphone addiction, food addiction and porn addiction. While these addictions are obviously harmful and everyone agrees on that, some of these addictions tend to be accepted and even demanded in certain social groups. For example:
- It’s totally accepted and even demanded to drink alcohol on a party and when you go out.
- In some spiritual circles weed is totally accepted and considered to be a spiritual tool.
- Having sex with a lot of different girls may be totally accepted in a circle of guys.
- It’s more accepted to say that you are a party smoker in non-smoking groups that saying that you are a daily smoker
What is fascinating is that what addiction is accepted and what not completely varies depending on what social circle you are in. For example: In a health circle it’s completely not acceptable to be addicted to cigarets and alcohol, but it’s very acceptable to be addicted to exercise and looking a certain way. But in a partying circle, it’s totally acceptable to be addicted to cigarets and alcohol (people push you to drink more, offer you cigarets) and it’s totally strange if you say “I have to leave the party early today because I have to exercise in the morning”.
Even more fascinating is that in all circles, the evil, not acceptable addiction is labeled an addiction and the accepted addiction that is considered to be good, is not labeled an addiction. So there is always this dynamic of good vs. bad addiction in social groups. And that is also what most of the addictions have in common: they always have a mental justification of the individual or the group that is addicted to the substance or activity that makes the addiction ok to have.
So how come that even though there is so much scientific evidence and education on addictions, there are still so many people being addicted to any kind of substance or activity and that there are even social circles where it is completely acceptable and even demanded? To answer this question, we will have to look deeply into the human mind and what it needs. But before we do that, we are going to look at the other types of addictions.
Addiction to a state of being or to an outcome
It is possible and very common to be addicted to a certain emotional state or outcome. For example you can be addicted to fame, recognition, approval from others, love, attention or spotlight. While these addictions are very subtle and often not recognizable from the outside, the people acting on these addictions are usually excessively either consciously or subconsciously chasing these states of being. What these addictions have in common is that they all make the person acting on that addiction feel worthy or more valuable when they achieved the emotional state or outcome.
A positive addiction is basically an addiction that looks positive from the outside such as excessive cleaning, over exercising and overworking for money, but the person having that addiction is actually in a huge amount of pain. So from the outside, it may look like the person is doing something good, but actually, they are harming themselves in the long run because they are using the positive addiction to cope with a certain pain they feel. Interesting about these addictions is that usually people who are totally careful and aware of their self-image and self-identity tend to gravitate towards addictions, that look good from the outside.
The root cause of addiction
Every person who is addicted to any kind of substance, activity or emotional state is in pain. And the addiction serves as a kind of coping mechanism for that pain.
You can easily test yourself or another person by answering the following questions:
- What am I trying to run away from when I act on my addiction?
- What emotions did I feel right before acting on my addiction?
- What emotions do I feel during and after the addiction?
Most of the time the answers for No.1&2 are bad and uncomfortable emotions such as sadness, pain, anger, loneliness or not belonging. And the answers for No.3 are most of the time answers like relief, no mind, peace, relaxation, free of thoughts, free of emotions or losing oneself.
While an addiction completely serves it’s purpose for you at the moment, in the long run it’s very harmful. Not only does the substance you take in or the activity you do affect the physical body, your mental and emotional health, but also it affects your whole life. Constantly running away from your feelings, will sooner or later manifest in form of a tragic event, physical illness or emotional breakdown.
The universe wants you to expand and it wants to help you to become the best version of yourself. In order to do that it shows you the pain by bringing you into certain situations or life events that trigger that pain inside of you so that you can heal it. That’s why you sometimes end up in these super painful situations and you don’t even know how you got there. In these situations you have two options: either face the pain and deal with it, or cope with it by acting on your addiction. The thing to remember is that you will never ever succeed with repression of or running away from an emotional pain especially when using any substance or activity. It will just make the pain persist and get even stronger over the time. And this creates a bad cycle of trying to repress the pain, the pain then get’s stronger so you try to repress it even more.
Another aspect of addictions is that a certain need is met when you go after the addiction. And that need usually stems from the pain you run away from. For example, a person might feel very lonely (that’s the pain) and the need they have is connection or a sense of belonging. So they smoke cigarets at parties to cope with that pain and find belonging at the party smoking cigarets with other people.
Overcome addiction- Why it’s so hard
One of the reasons there are so many addictions and people being addicted to certain things is that no one really taught us how to deal with our pain. We are all basically running around caring these repressed emotions with us and then trying to find relief in any substance or activity. And that’s why it’s so hard to quit an addiction. Because you are not only dealing with the physical withdrawal symptoms when choosing to quit a substance or activity but also with the emotional pain that has been repressed for so long. So whenever you quit an addiction, all the pain you tried to repress for years of smoking, drinking or overeating, come to the surface. And dealing with all that pain is challenging but necessary to stay free forever.
Overcome addiction- How to do it
The first thing is to really consciously decide to quit the addiction you have. To do that it is super important to not say “I quit for a couple of months” or “I quit for as long as I want to” but to rather say “I quit for the rest of my life”. Otherwise you keep yourself a backdoor open by just focusing on a time frame and the only way you will make it through the time frame is because you know deep within that you can do it after that time frame again. That’s why it’s important to be radical if you really want to overcome addictions.
After the commitment, you have to look at the emotions that were being suppressed with the addiction and the needs that you fulfilled yourself with the substance or activity. To do that, answer the following questions:
- What pain am I trying to run away from/suppress or cope with?
- What needs does this substance/activity fulfill?
- Can I get this need from somewhere else?
Now, you have to work yourself through the pain you are trying to run away from (No.1). To do that face it directly and don’t try to distract yourself from it. A good way to do that is to start a meditation practice that involves some kind of mindfulness around emotions. Also, I highly encourage you to read the article on How to Let go- The Only Technique You Will Ever Need.
Then it’s all about fulfilling the need (No.2) that you tried to fulfill with the substance. To do that come up with creative ways of how you can meet the need and maybe include other people as well. Here’s an example from my latest article on Habits- How to Form and Stick to new Habits.
Need you have from Answer No.2: The feeling of relief, having no mind/ no thoughts, being absorbed in one thing, having a clear focus
Q: How can I fulfill this need? What do people usually do to fulfill this need?
A: Relief: I can work on finding relief from my emotional pain, to do what I can find ways to resolve the pain I feel inside.
A: Having no mind/ no thoughts, Being absorbed in one thing, having a clear focus: I could start a meditation practice.
After you came up with a specific way of meeting that need, you just have to execute on that practice especially in times, where you feel the urge to go back to your addiction. And because acting on an addiction is a highly habitual process, I highly encourage you to read my article: Habits- How to Form and Stick to new Habits. On top of that I really encourage you to read the article on Self-Love and choose any of the self-love practices I am offering in this article.
If you have any questions, insights or ideas regarding the topic of addiction or you simply want to show that you are alive, feel free to leave a comment and share this article with your friends.