What Are Addictions?
What do you crave the most in life? What do you honestly believe you can’t live without? Is it sugar, food, cigarettes, marijuana, exercise, sports, the internet, alcohol, or even sex? Whatever your answer you are part of the growing population of individuals who experience addictions.
The reality is we are all addicted to something. The term addiction is used to describe a recurring compulsion to engage in some specific activity despite harmful consequences to our health, mental state, or social life. in other words, it’s a mental attachment we connect with to feel something. There are biological or emotional factors that contribute to these addictions, too.
The truth is, all addictions give us some type of pleasure, otherwise we wouldn’t do them. It’s amazing what addictions mean to us and what we tell ourselves about them.
We often reward ourselves with things that are not very good for us. A friend recently told me she only had one vice: she rewards herself by smoking cigarettes. Drinking diet soft drinks or having the occasional smoke may not seem like a big deal, but addictive behaviors often lead to more serious destructive life patterns.
According to Stanton Peele, Ph.D., “Addiction is the thematic malady for our society and entails every type of psychological and societal problem.”
In the Buddhist tradition, addictions are seen as attachments. They can be an attachment to fear, loss, longing, or even to a lack of purpose. It doesn’t matter if we choose alcohol, drugs, sex, food, pornography, exercise, or even shopping you are trying to fill an empty space and dampen emotional pain. The important part of the addiction or the compulsion is not about the specific desire to drink, do drugs or spend money. Rather these addictions reflect an emotional need to fill an empty space within us and calm the pain of a past memory.
Understanding how we operate with addictions is the key to healing. Addictive behaviors arise from unmet life needs and a lack of love during childhood. These past emotional memories cause us to feel unworthy and especially unloved.
How Addiction Works
The addictive behavior shows up in life as an “emotional need” and ends up as a replacement for something else. Food becomes a replacement for love or appreciation. Obsessing over things or details becomes a replacement for self-confidence. The addictive behavior offers a sense of power that can’t be found elsewhere. Compulsive, obsessive behaviors and even co-dependency are other forms of emotional addictions. These emotional addictions are connected to areas of life where we feel out of control.
Take drugs as an example. We get addicted to the euphoric sensations they provide. Suddenly we start believing that being under the influence allows us to really “feel,” or that it gives us a sense of grandeur that otherwise we would not experience. However, the drugs aren’t doing anything but changing the dopamine levels in the brain.
When we complain about not having enough of something, money for example, we are getting something from the process of complaining, and it makes us feel something different. In essence, this too is a type of emotional addiction. We get addicted to complaining or to the behavior associated with it to ensure our needs are met.
Transferring addictions is a common occurrence. Instead of healing the emotional patterning associated with the addiction, we transfer the physical addiction to something else. This is often seen with alcohol addiction. If we are addicted to alcohol and stop the addiction, yet do not heal the emotional needs behind the addiction, we will transfer the addictive bad habits to something else, such as smoking. To heal, it’s important not to transfer addictions. You want to change the emotional interactions associated with the addictive behavior and unwind the original patterns.