How To Heal Addictions
A great deal of confusion exists about the subject of addictions, because a great deal of confusion exists about defining what an addiction is. For instance, here is a definition from a popular dictionary: "Addiction is the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity." That kind of leaves you hanging, doesn't it?
When people think of addictions, the most common type that comes to mind is an intense craving for a particular physical substance, like alcohol or one or more of many drugs. And a very popular theory is that it is in the nature of such substances to be addictive. In other words, the substance itself introduces chemical changes in the body that produce a chemically-based craving when the substance is withdrawn or not available. Of course, this does not explain similar symptoms that occur with non-drug addictions, like gambling.
In the psychiatric community there is a popular theory based on the idea of a brain disease called "addictive personality disorder." This is further broken down into various forms of the disease related to specific "disorders," such as eating disorder, compulsive buying disorder, compulsive cell phone use disorder, etc. The defining of the condition as a "disorder" opens the way to intensive psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication. Therapy involves defining certain personality traits and the use of behavior modification techniques.
Now for a different point of view.
What we call an addiction is a form of compulsive physical, emotional, and/or mental behavior whose purpose is to provide one or more essential pleasures unobtainable by any other means.
Let's put that in more simple terms: an addiction is when people become dependent on one thing that makes them feel better than anything else does AND they are afraid of losing or not having that feeling.
The three main factors here are desire, fear, and belief. In order for an addiction to develop, there must be a pleasurable experience that one desires to repeat, a fear that not having that pleasure would be too painful to bear, and a belief that there is only one way to experience that pleasure.
The second thing to understand is that people can become addicted to anything. We usually think of addiction in terms of drugs, but that is only one kind. People can be and have been addicted to gambling, work, games, noise, parties, television, texting, eating, dieting, exercise, traveling, criticism, and loads of different things, including other people. The real problem of addiction is not the desire to repeat a pleasurable experience, it is the fear-driven focus on one single way of accomplishing this.
You can enjoy watching a lot of football games, but it doesn't become an addiction until you get very upset physically, emotionally, and/or mentally when you can't watch them. You can enjoy being with another person, but it doesn't become an addiction until you get very upset physically, emotionally, and/or mentally when you aren't with them, no matter how they treat you.
Every form of addiction has the same basic pattern. Addictions can be healed only when a person's focus can be shifted to another kind of pleasure that is not attached to fear. Some ways to do this will be given now.
There are three kinds of pleasure that can be addictive if the fearful focus is present.
One is the pleasure of sensation, which can include physical and sexual activity. Sensation addiction is born from excessive stress, and it is the stress that contributes to the narrow focus. The first step in healing this kind of addiction is finding some way to experience deep physical relaxation other than the addictive one, and in that state of relaxation to introduce new ways and means of relaxation.
Another kind of pleasure comes from the feeling of connection with another person that we usually call love. One symptom of addiction here is jealousy. Of course, the jealousy can be so mild as to not be a problem, but the greater the fear of loss, the more addictively jealous a person can become. A variation of this is to become excessively dependent. A so-called "co-dependent" relationship can be two dependent types or one dependent and one jealous type trying to live together. The fundamental problem behind this kind of addiction is low self esteem. It usually requires a lot of outside help or some inner transformation, but as self esteem increases, addictive behavior decreases.
The third kind of pleasure comes from feeling effective, that some people call feeling powerful, or in charge, or in control. Addictive anger or criticism are common symptoms with this one, as is being abusive or destructive. The fundamental problem is low self confidence in relation to something or someone the addictive person does not feel confident about. Confidence, you see, is not generalized, it is very specific. People can be very confident in one area of life, and very helpless in another.
The more things you feel confident about, the more generally confident you appear, but that is only appearance with many people. With those addicted to feeling effective, skill training in the area where confidence is lacking can sometimes work if the teacher is an authority figure in the mind of the addict, but all too often the "power hit" from this kind of pleasure is so appealing that it can be very hard to give up. As an example, the feeling of power that comes from being critical, or angry, or destructive can feel so good that the person so addicted can't even conceive of anything that would feel better. Sometimes it takes a life-threatening situation to stimulate a change of perspective, but in any case, the more confident a person can become in as many ways as possible, the more this weakens the addiction.
So, the keys to healing addictions are relaxation, self esteem, and self confidence. Any techniques or interventions that are tried will only be effective to the degree that they support or lead to one or more of these three states.
We never know what is going to work, because all healing comes from within. In working with addicts, therefore, it's best not to become addicted to one approach.