Addicted to Addictions

“For a species wired for survival, we have an odd habit of getting hooked on things that can kill us.”

 – Dr Michael Lemonick and Alice Park

Everyone, everywhere is addicted to something.

“I’m addicted to Game of Thrones, I’m addicted to Fortnite, I’m addicted to Ryan Gosling.”

We’ve all probably heard these before, plus with the release of the hit television show, My Strange Addiction, addictions have reached a whole new level.

However, you rarely hear someone openly say “I’m addicted to heroin, I’m addicted to smoking or I’m an alcoholic.”

Certain addictions can cause significantly more harm than others. It is a serious topic that seems to be swept under the carpet.

So the overarching question is, Why do we continue doing things that are bad for us; knowing full well the consequences of them?

Addiction is described as “a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behaviour for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behaviour despite detrimental consequences”.

Whether its drinking, smoking, spending, gambling, procrastinating or binge eating; none of us were born doing it. Addiction is something we learn and develop as we grow; and it is becoming terrifyingly common.

While we have learnt to become easily adaptive in an ever changing world, it has caused us to become prone to addictions; and just like brushing our teeth, we conduct in these bad habits without thinking. When we pick up bad habits such as smoking, drinking, or drug abuse, our bodies turn on auto pilot and it can become impossible to break.

Joseph Frascella, a director of clinical neuroscience, stated that,

“Addictions occur when behaviors start to become excessive. They are driven by our systems that stand up, shake us and say, “The brain is saying this is good; we should do it again.”

Defining addiction can be as hard as fixing it. It can be hard to establish the difference between addictions and bad habits. It’s easy to claim to be addicted to chocolate, social media, chips, coffee, sex, our iphones or even a television show, but according to science and brain chemistry they are merely just bad habits. Next time you call yourself a coffee addict after drinking 6 a day, truth be told addiction is far more complicated than that.

The danger is that we have an idea in our head that these addictive substances or habits are “normal’. Take alcohol for instance; alcohol occupies a significant place in Australian culture and is consumed in a wide range of social circumstances. Drinking is normal, you aren’t judged or frowned upon for drinking, in fact, you are usually the odd one out if your aren’t.

Consequently, if we over-drink on a regular basis, alcohol can be extremely harmful for our health, our joy and our future. Just by having more than 2 drinks a day puts you at a higher risk of liver and mouth cancers, high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, brittle bones, and even memory loss.

The ironic thing is we know the consequences, we’ve been told them a thousand times, but does that stop us? No.

Same goes for smoking, all smokers are aware of the health concerns such as lung cancer; unfortunately, placing photos of diseased lungs on cigarette boxes never decreased the sales of cigarettes. 

Clearly, we don’t partake in these knowing that they good for us, we know very well that they are bad for us, but that doesn’t stop us.

Dr Nora Volkow has done extensive research on this topic, and concludes that:

“Addiction has a specific definition: you are unable to stop when you want to, despite being aware of the adverse consequences. It permeates your life; you spend more and more time satisfying your craving.”

So How does Addiction creep up on us?

Evidence concludes that addictive behaviours and substances activate brain pathways of reward and reinforcement, many of which involve dopamine. So as soon as we take a certain substance, our brain releases a chemical (dopamine) that tells us we are doing something good. Dopamine gives us the feeling of pleasure and reinforces behaviours critical for survival, like eating food.

We believe the lie that only engaging in the act occasionally is a safe way to avoid addiction.  Research shows that when it comes to substances such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, an addiction can be developed after a single use. Subsequently, with cigarettes and alcohol, addiction can take over after only a few uses.

Healthy success and happiness aren’t absent from our lives because we don’t have good habits, but due to the bad habits we possess that lead to dangerous addictions.

It is clear that being aware of our bad habits and addictions wont make us stop.

The issue is that we wrongly believe we can’t change, making us suffer even more.

If we can somehow eliminate the desire to partake in the act, then we are able to develop the willpower to stop.  If I asked you to eat a bowl of live cockroaches you would easily say no because you don’t have the desire to. If we can fight to eliminate the desire, we can have the willpower to say NO. Overall, it takes immense strength, the right beliefs, knowledge and willpower to fight against a world that has fallen so sadly under the spell of addiction.

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