There are many kinds of addiction. The ones we often think of are addictions to endogenous substances such as recreational drugs including cocaine, marijuana, crack, ketamine and other mind changing substances.
Then there are the socially sanctioned and legal substances that can be highly addictive, such as alcohol and nicotine.
Then there is work. Screens can lead to highly repetitive behaviours as the novelty and reward parts of the brain get activated in a powerful cascade, that makes real life feel dull in comparison. Some people call screen life hyperreality because of this neural consequence.
Then there is pornography, again hitting the novelty and reward parts of the brain and also wiring one’s erotic responses to the screen. Screens are not complicated, they don’t say no or argue. Many people enjoy and struggle with sex that is often utterly devoid of intimacy and real connection.
What other experiences can people find themselves in an addictive response too?
Gambling. Travelling at speed and other adrenaline activating activities. Complex and abusive relationships can be compelling for people as they hook people into a codependency dynamic that fulfils some needs whilst totally ignoring others.
And, there’s addictive practices around food. Eating too little, or eating more than the body needs. These are difficult addictions to crack as food is essential to life. You can’t simply stop eating like you can potentially with other endogenous substances.
That’s a good start of understanding the manifold experiences people can find themselves in an addiction response to.
Most of these conditions are associated with early attachment issues, how our parents or carers related to us and our experience of early bonding. When emotional connection and care was inconsistent, neglectful or abusive, this predisposes us to addictive responses to complex life circumstances.
It is also connected to how our early phase of discovering our emotional selves was managed. In our early phases of development before a rational mind is functional, we react to everything emotionally.
Many adults, having been mismanaged themselves, and struggle with dealing with life pressures and emotionally reactive children.
Often children are taught to suppress, ignore, deny, repress and somaticise the emotions that the parent struggles with. As children we want to be loved, we will do anything to be loved, including making some aspects of ourselves, our expression and our life energy, taboo.
Addiction can also start as a way of self-medicating after a traumatic incident such as being beaten up and abused, raped, domestic violence and the ugly ending of relationships.
Addiction arises because we struggle and have difficulty being fully present with complex life experiences and fully feeling the emotions associated with the experience.
For some people the arising emotions are intolerable and they feel compelled to either numb, dull or reduce the intensity. Addictive substances that bring them down are then used.
Conversely people may need to feel alive as they feel so broken, small and numb that they want to feel some life energy flowing through them. In this situation people often choose substances or activities that make them feel alive at last, like cocaine or adrenalized situations such as motorcycle racing.
Remember that people struggling and working with addiction usually went through some kind of adverse childhood situations of abuse, neglect or emotionally avoidant or unavailable parenting, and/or later life trauma. Often these experiences run in tandem.
The outcome is people who habitually use substances or behaviours to feel alive, vibrant, and present, or calm, relaxed and emotionally stable.
The problem with addiction is that it doesn’t work, it is not sustainable. Your body and mind get used to the endogenous substances and then you need more and more to have the same effect. As you increase the dose, the side effects of the substances kick in, the body goes into imbalance and you get ill. Then you feel worse and then you take more and on goes the downward spiral.
I’ve struggled with complex addictions myself in the past, from adverse childhood situations and traumatic incidents. I’ve also worked with people working with addictions a lot. I attend the International Conference on Addiction Associated Disorders annually.
One of the powerful things about all of this is that the practices of embodiment, training the mind through meditative practices, and utilising conscious breathwork to enable powerful changes for people, are becoming key elements of strategy.
Healthy therapeutic relationships, healthy community and other practices of wellbeing such as healthy diet and healthy thinking are also key.
Conscious breathwork and intelligent breath holding – what I call the eight points of wellbeing – are all known to help people break through the power of addictions over their lives and find freedom to live a sustainable life of wellbeing.
We can breathe into liberation from addictions.
In a Buddhist or Yogic sense, people can get addicted to body states and sensations, feeling states, internally produced neuro-chemicals, thought patterns, stories and ultimately their ‘selfing’ and ‘othering’ narratives.
People get addicted to beliefs and spiritual practices as well. These can be used just as successfully as endogenous substances to escape from feeling states and feel safer, numb, or more alive depending on their original pain, on their childhood wounds.
Ironically we can also use wound-ology (Carolyn Myss) as an addictive practice, where we constantly narrate and recreate our ancient or more recent wounds to get attention, give our lives meaning, purpose and direction, even if that direction is attention, hatred or revenge.
The skills of embodied awareness, conscious breathwork and meditative depth are clear strategies, along with other professional support as needed, to get ourselves, no-selves – out of addiction and into fully feeling, fully living and finding a deep sense of joy in life, that previously was simply impossible.
Or if you want to join a beautiful community of vibrant, compassionate people, please check out Embody Evolution – a monthly subscription where you get to join two live 90 minute classes, which are also recorded, and also access many of my online courses.
You can find out about all the courses I offer here.