At BHT addiction is viewed firstly as an attempt to solve a life problem, and secondarily as a disease. We ask not what’s wrong with addiction, but what’s right with it. What is the addict getting from it that makes the addiction worth the price paid?
Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable.
Brain scans have found that the same parts of the brain light up when a person suffers emotional pain as in physical pain. Substances, behaviours and activities that suppress the pain, or make an individual feel more at ease, are akin to taking a painkiller after an injury.
Gabor Maté, renowned addiction speaker is of the opinion that all addictions can be traced to painful experience. He says hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviours. Focusing on a disease model makes it too easy to ignore the deeper perosnal issues that underlie the power of addiction.
“It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.”
― Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
Addiction manifests in any behavior that a person finds temporary pleasure or relief in and therefore craves, suffers negative consequences from, and has trouble giving up. It is a complex psychophysiological process with a few key aspects.
There’s craving, relief and pleasure in the short term, and negative outcomes in the long term, along with an inability to give it up. The definition for addiction says nothing about substances. While addiction can often be to substances, it could be to anything—to gambling, to sex, to shopping, to eating, to the internet, to work, even to exercise. The issue with the addiction is not the external activity, but the internal relationship to it. Thus one person’s passion is another’s addiction.
Not bad habits, not inherited, not choice
With this framework, addictions are neither about choice nor inheritance. An addiction always serves a purpose in people’s lives: it gives comfort, a distraction from pain, a soothing of stress. Addictions serve a valid purpose, even if they don’t serve this purpose effectively.
Thinking of addictions as bad habits falls short of truly understanding the underlying key to addiction. If you start with the idea that addiction isn’t a primary disease, but an attempt to solve a problem, then you soon come to the question: how did the problem arise?
Saying that addiction soothes emotional pain, creates the question: where did/does the pain comes from?
Unraveling the patterns
Therapy is an important aspect of addiction treatment; not to dredge up your past, but to address it in a manner for finding healing and wholeness.
If the addiction is soothing a discomfort pattern, explore how your discomfort arose. If the pattern is related to a sense of control or power, ask why you lack control, agency, and power in your life? At BHT, Hollie works with clients to address these questions, heal the emotional pain, and become empowered to overcome addictive cravings.
Substance or behavioral addictions?
Whether your addiction is to a substance (alcohol, cocaine, cigarettes) or an activity (gambling, sex, work, Facebook), there are similarities.
Similar across all addictions is the pattern of compulsive engagement in the behaviour that one craves, finds temporary pleasure or relief in, but suffers negative consequences from. Also, many of the behaviours around both kinds of addiction, such as denial, are similar. There will often be dishonesty about the addiction. And shame is the common undercurrent, whatever the object of the addiction may be.
The other commonality among all addictions has to do with brain circuits. Whether it’s a chronic worker or a heroin addict, the same incentive and motivation circuits are activated, and the same brain chemicals are being secreted. Dopamine is the brain’s chemical for the hunt, the search, the excitement of the chase. And that has to do with the brain’s incentive and motivation circuitry, the availability of dopamine, which is also what cocaine and crystal meth and nicotine and caffeine elevate.
So on a biochemical and brain circuitry level, there’s no great difference between behavioral and substance addictions. It has to do with the brain’s pleasure-reward centers, pain-relief circuitry, incentive-motivation circuitry, and impulse-regulation circuits.
Stress and addiction
Often clients report a stressful event as the impulse to return to addiction. Therapeutic practices for managing stress and maintaining emotional regulation are very helpful for clients with addiction. People who have addictions often regulate emotional stress with external inputs, eventually causing more harm.
Neuroplasticity and addiction
The brain continues to develop through life in an interactive relationship between the environment and our experiences. You can retrain your brain to respond to stress, emotional pain and discomfort in different ways.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.
The circuitry of stress regulation, and emotional self-regulation involve our internal opiate substances which are called endorphins. Endorphins and dopamines are important in the addiction context because opiates such as heroin and morphine, and stimulants, such as crystal meth, cocaine, nicotine and caffeine all work through the dopamine circuits or the endorphin circuits.
Interactions with our early environments determine how these circuits have develop or not develop. But the good news is that you can influence the physiological and biochemical development of the circuitry throughout your life.
When we understand that addictive behaviours are attempts to solve a deeper feeling, therapy can work to address the deeper problem.
Addiction is a secondary problem that comes out of a primary problem. Work with the primary issues, and success is more likely. It involves being willing to ask questions that excavate pain from the past, and working to integrate the pain in the present.
All addiction, no matter what, corresponds to human pain.
Holistic therapy for addiction
The essence of emotional pain is not in the past, or the external. Pain and shame are carried within, and their impacts can be long lasting.
Therapy does not aim to make pain go away. It aims to integrate the wounded parts of our Self, so that we can move through life whole.
When we move through life with pain and stress, all five pillars of health are affected : mental, environmental, emotional, physical and spiritual. The good news is, balance can be a reality.
The etymology of the world heal comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for wholeness. Wholeness means reconnection to yourself. It takes into account all the parts of you, balances and increases your internal capacity to get you closer to the best version of yourself.
To learn more about the BHT view of addiction, watch this video with Dr Maté about the Power of Addiction.
Try it at Braidwood Holistic Therapies
For more on down-regulating stress and pain, read about myofascial release with the YTU Balls >>>
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The article BHT view on Addiction was published by Hollie, for Braidwood Holistic Therapies.
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