What Is Addiction? Part II
What Is Addiction? I attempted to answer this question in a recent blog. After posting, I quickly realised that I needed to write a Part II as some deeper structure was needed. Of course, it’s not going to be possible to fully answer this question in a blog. Addiction is an epidemic and issue that is constantly being researched, upon which new findings are coming out all the time. To fully answer this question, even from my own limited perspective, would probably mean writing a book. Now there’s an idea!
One of the main things I see in many of my clients is a consistent history of disturbance in early environment. This can be in the form of abuse, neglect, or an unloving family atmosphere. There may have been a traumatic event that devastated the family, and left its mark on a fragile, and still developing, brain and nervous system.
The quality of our environment is important throughout life. Many of my clients speak of working in stressful and harshly competitive environments. The side effects of this chronic stress are often balanced (all be it in an artificial way) with alcohol, drugs, binge eating, or other forms of addictive behaviour.
Our environment is extremely important to our ongoing wellbeing in life. If our early environment is emotionally toxic and unloving and our basic needs are not properly met, our brains simply cannot develop in the way nature intended. Around 90% of the human brain’s wiring happens outside of the womb, and our early environment is very influential in this process.
The Endorphin System
One of the main areas of the brain that can be impacted by disturbances in early environment is the endorphin system. Endorphins are not just about having a sense of wellbeing and happiness. They are also crucial in how we manage stress. If our brain’s endorphin system is not properly formed, our capacity to find healthy forms of self-regulation is greatly diminished. Thus a inefficiently formed endorphin system increases the chance of addictions developing later in life.
One thing I have had to learn as part of my own addiction recovery process, and still am learning, is self-regulation. It is not always easy, but it can be done with a little self-awareness, balance, and commitment.
3 Things You Can Do To Improve Self Regulation
Develop self awareness – As the great man C.G Jung once said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”.
Self awareness is not about becoming perfect. It is about simply being aware of the ways you habitually react in times of stress. If you struggle with addictions, these patterns of reactivity are from choices happening on an unconscious level. Once there is even a little more self awareness, there is the possibility to choose consciously so that you respond rather than react to stressful situations. A short and simple meditation practice, for just a few minutes each day, is a great way to begin developing self awareness
Slow down – So often in life we live in reactivity. When we live in reactivity, it seems that life dictates our pace. Actually, there’s only one thing that dictates our pace, and that’s our thinking. Because we are so caught up in the fast pace of life we are not even aware of the stress that our thinking is creating. We are not even aware that our thoughts are using us, when really it should be that we are using our thoughts. The mind is a great servant, but a terrible master. Taking time to consciously and deliberately slow down means that we can begin to find our own natural pace. As we find our natural pace, our thinking returns to its appreate level of authority, and we can use our thoughts to make better choices around how we regulate ourselves.
Make a habit of nourishing yourself – One thing I have seen again and again in myself, and those I work with is that, the burdened person without nourishment stands little chance. If we don’t nourish ourselves in good healthy ways that restore and rebalance us, our unconscious mind will find other ways. The ways that the unconscious mind finds will probably be based on old habitual patterns, which are addiction based quick fixes. These do the opposite of restoring in that they deplete and create further imbalances, thus making us less able to deal with life. If we don’t deal with life, life will deal with us. Finding good healthy forms of nourishment is essential if we are to get better at self regulation. If you are not sure where to start, look at the basics of eating, sleeping, and routine, and then build from there.
If you are struggling with an addiction, and need help to stop and change your life, please contact me for a free initial consultation.