For most of us, when we think of addiction, we tend to picture a junkie strung out on heroin. Or maybe an alcoholic, or someone who can’t go half an hour without smoking a cigarette. But our addictions go way beyond the obvious, and something most of us probably struggle with more than we realize.
With gambling becoming more legalized and accessible (online gambling), there’s a very real concern for an increase in gambling addiction. Speaking of computers, how many of you have children with a gaming addiction? Or cell phone addiction? And what about food?
Have you heard that sugar just might be the most addictive substance on the planet not named heroin? And, of course, there’s this little thing called the Opiate Epidemic. Any time we give a name to something, you know it’s become an issue.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.”
They go on to classify it as an “inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioural control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviours and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”
That definition sure does leave a lot of room for interpretation and equally covers much ground. In the modern world, the way we overcome most things is with medication, and addiction is no different. But aren’t we simply trading one addiction for another.
In fact, the best way to overcome addiction is through substitution. However, what you substitute for can either be healthy or unhealthy. Which makes trading in one drug for another kind of silly. While trading in that same drug for an exercise routine a much better choice.
Think about alcoholics and the old joke about them trading in alcohol for weekly meetings, more cigarettes, and umpteen cups of lukewarm coffee. There’s truth in this stereotype because substitution works. But sometimes so does abstinence.
The best way to beat a sugar addiction is to quit eating sugar. Sure, you’ll have cravings for a while, but those physical cravings will subside, and usually in only a few days you’ll likely begin to notice a shift. But will the psychological cravings end?
Same goes for carbohydrates and the dreaded addiction to bread. It only takes a few days to get over that craving physically. But mentally? How do you stop dreaming of bread?
Is there a way to shift the way we think? The way we react and respond to certain triggers? Isn’t an addict always an addict?
Look at that addiction definition one more time. Particularly, the last three words: dysfunctional emotional response.
The Mind/Body Connection is the Key to Everything
Buddhists will be familiar with the Four Noble Truths, the first of which is this: Suffering, pain, and misery exist in life. The Second Truth is that this suffering is caused by selfish craving and personal desire. And the third states that this can be overcome. (While the fourth hints at Enlightenment as the end goal.)
Is it possible we humans have too much self-awareness? Aren’t we the only living things (most likely) that know from an early age that we have an expiration date? And could it be that most of our addictions stem from our desire to be distracted from this knowledge?
Sorry to get so deep on you, but in disease we talk about getting to the root of the problem to really solve that problem, as opposed to medications that simply mask it. Which means to truly solve the addiction riddle, we need to get to the root of it.
This isn’t going to be easy! (And yes, sometimes an addiction is just an addiction. But since everything has a root, has a beginning, has a cause with a subsequent effect, maybe an addiction is NEVER just an addiction.)
Let’s look at the cause and effect relationship as it pertains to addiction. Let’s also acknowledge that death isn’t the only thing causing us mental and emotional distress, and that any addiction can be a distraction from any cause, no matter how superficial.
If our thoughts of anguish are the cause, and our actions of addiction are the effect, this combination could be summed up as: the mind/body connection. So, how do we solve addiction issues? By acknowledging this connection exists, and then doing the things that bring us into a more centered state in both areas.
Calling it a mind/body connection is actually misleading, because when we say mind, what we really mean is emotional, and perhaps even spiritual. Your brain and body share the same chemical language, and your hormones and neurotransmitters are the messengers. Which is why emotions manifest themselves in physical form.
Think about times in your life when you’ve been nervous or anxious. Ever been to a job interview and realized your palms are sweaty? And knowing that you’re about to shake hands with the person conducting the interview makes them even more sweaty. Or how about butterflies in your stomach during a first date, or before an important presentation at work?
Your mind and body are not separate entities. They exist as parts of the same whole. Which means your negative emotions and thought patterns can cause imbalances physically. So, to restore balance in both areas, which should greatly aid in overcoming your addictions, let’s focus on exercises and practices that incorporate both.
The meaning is simple – to be present physically, mentally, emotionally, in all that you do. Rather than our default, which is in our heads, stuck on negative self-talk, worrying about the future, or obsessing about the past.
When we’re completely present, or mindful, we’re not engaged in this self-talk. We see the world as it is. We experience everything fully. Now, it also helps if you can to this while also being free of judgement. But as just living mindfully is difficult enough, let’s save that one for the master class.
Meditation is equally tricky. Freeing your mind from all thoughts is much easier said than done. But the benefits are mind-blowing. Meditation has shown an ability to change brain chemistry. And it’s through this change in brain chemistry, that you’re able to change your emotional responses to stress, stimuli, and your addiction triggers.
If you’ve tried meditation before and discovered an inability to quiet your mind, give guided meditation a try. Or incorporate audio programs that use binaural beats to help put your mind into the proper brain state, which is the theta state.
Also, try adding a deep breathing practice into your daily routine. Add yoga or tai chi to your exercise routine, both of which are very much focused on mind and body. Exercise in general is great for rewiring brain chemistry and thus helping you to overcome addiction. But those exercises that focus on both body and mind will be even more beneficial.
You cannot separate mind and body. And since addiction is a disease that affects you physically, mentally, and emotionally, a total approach that addresses all of these areas will likely be your best, and healthiest, bet to overcome whatever addictions you’re suffering from.
Know more about Dr. Raju Mantena.