You are an addict. You’re addicted because living things don’t like to be uncomfortable, and the things you’re addicted to are what help you avoid that. If you think you could be addicted to something then you’re probably a little scared right now. If you think someone you care about is an addict, then you’re definitely a little scared right now. While I have no idea about who you are or your circumstances, what I do know about are the things that make humans psychologically the same. One of those things is our universal desire to avoid things that make us uncomfortable. This is the root of addiction – what you’re addicted to helps you avoid being uncomfortable. The bad news? This makes virtually everyone an addict. The good news? It’s completely normal and if you want, you can do something about it.
The foundation of what I’m saying is that all organisms have evolved to avoid the things that hurt them – being too hot, too cold, too hungry and so on. Yes, there are a few exceptions (like dogs that eat grass to make themselves vomit), but in general, living things will avoid the things that will damage them. When it comes to this, humans are an interesting case. Not only do humans have the instincts of the animal world, we also have brains that give us complex emotional lives and the ability to reflect on our own existence. While our brains have allowed us to develop complex societies and technologies, this battle between instinctual drives, emotions and logic have meant we have also developed some really deep psychological issues – issues we have no idea how to resolve.
So, our natural instinct to avoid the things that hurt us kicks in. Our advanced brains and comfortable lifestyles now mean that the things we want to avoid are rarely environmental. The things we’re so desperate to avoid are psychological… Stress. Anxiety. Trauma. Fear. Self-loathing. Loneliness. At some level, the things we do compulsively are related to avoiding these types of feelings. Let’s reflect on that for a second…
Do you drink all the time because it makes things more fun? Or do you do it to avoid that uncomfortable boredom? Do you go on Facebook to see what interesting things are going on? Or do you do it because you can’t sit with your own thoughts/feelings? Do you go to the gym every day to keep fit? Or do you do it because you’re afraid you won’t be loved unless you look good? Do you take ice for that awesome high? Or do you do it because facing the pain of withdrawing is too hard (physically or psychologically)? Do you always date people who treat you badly because you have bad judgment skills? Or is it because you’re avoiding the feeling you don’t deserve better? Some of those things won’t apply to you – like I said – I don’t know your circumstances. The point, though, is to reflect on the things that you do compulsively and ask yourself whether doing it helps you avoid something.
When talking with people who have been addicted to drugs like meth for long periods, I ask about their pain. The problem with things like meth or alcohol is that it’s really good helping us avoid our pain… For a while… Then, we need more, then some more, and so on. People tend to have this view of addicts as having a lack of self-control or self-discipline like there’s something wrong with them. In my experience, though, drug addiction is the consequence of having issues their minds really want to avoid and drugs help them do that. Add in physical/biological dependence and you’ve got someone who’s stuck on a very dysfunctional merry-go-round.
Lastly, a warning: our minds do everything they can to convince themselves they’re not addicted to something because to admit this is to start to face the pain we’re desperately trying to avoid. Our minds think they’re doing us the favour by helping us avoid the pain, but unfortunately, it just keeps us on this warped merry-go-round. So when you say to yourself: “I can stop if I want” or “I don’t do it enough to be an addict” or “a real addict would do…”, then be careful. Be mindful. When was the last time you were able to just sit and bear those uncomfortable feelings and not do anything about them? My assertion is that nobody likes being uncomfortable, and so, we do things that avoid that. Whether it’s you that has a habit with negative consequences or it’s someone you care about, try to see beyond the habit. What is it that needs to be avoided so badly? For more information about breaking an addiction, read my article about it here.