What is Addiction?

Understanding Addiction

According to the ASAM, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individuals life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.

Ok, that’s simple to process, right? Not so much! Addiction can be very challenging to understand, as it is a complex problem. And even more complicated when you find yourself surrounded by parents, partners, siblings, or any loved ones who struggle with addiction. Breaking addiction into two categories, chemical vs. behavioral, helps find understanding amidst the confusion.

Behavioral Addiction

The National Library of Medicine describes behavioral addictions such as gambling, overeating, television compulsion, and internet addiction are similar to drug addiction except that the individual is not addicted to a substance, but they are addicted to the behavior or the feeling experienced by acting out the behavior.

Behavioral addiction is not related to a specific substance. For example, gambling, working out, sex, dieting, working, those are common behavioral addictions. What I found while living around loved ones who struggled with chemical addiction, is that I became addicted to the chaos of their actions, addicted to codependency. Codependency can simply be explained as an emotional attachment or reliance within a relationship, often with someone who struggles with illness or chemical addiction. The obsession to control people and outcomes of situations is common. Refraining from this behavior is very challenging, creating strong cravings and it eventually begins to consume every aspect of life. Control becomes the addictive behavior in hopes to prevent suffering.

Chemical Addiction

With chemical addiction, substances impact the chemistry of the brain, bringing pleasure, and in many circumstances allowing immediate physical and emotional pain relief. This temporary relief from past and current painful situations, encourages users to continue consumption of the substances, at any cost. A cycle forms, it turns into a chronic pattern that causes individuals to have persistent desires to use the substances despite the unfavorable results. Over time, more of the substance is needed to induce the same desired calming, or numbing results. The addiction grows stronger, with larger consequences.

To numb the pain of past experiences, or help control unwanted situations, addiction plays a critical role wanting to feel better. These types of patterns lead to unpleasant outcomes, and a life that is filled with struggle and pain.

Can We Heal?

Good news, there is hope, we can heal from addiction. Behavioral, or chemical, healing from addiction is possible. The caveat, no one can do it for you. It is a solution that comes from within. Healing the behaviors, wounds, trauma that have built deep neural pathways in your brain, (neural pathways are grooves built in your brain, sending signals repeatedly over time, again and again). These signals become our actions. Imagine riding a bike or driving a car, at first the mind struggles to combine all the necessary movements into a fluid experience. It is building new pathways, as to learn the new desired behavior. With time, the new pathways inside the mind begin to make deeper impressions and the actions are executed with less effort, more ease.

Eventually, one day at a time, one choice at a time, the neural pathways begin to change. Recovery begins with recognizing your own need for healing and then finding ways to change your neural pathways each day. I talk more about my realization journey with behavioral addiction here.

Rewiring Old Patterns

Whatever side of the coin you find yourself on, chemical or behavioral addiction, it is possible to heal. Whatever negative patterns have accumulated, healing begins by fulfilling those needs more positively. With small simple steps, done consistently, the old narratives and the deep grooves that are entrenched in the brain begin to change. These simple changes stack up over time, improving the quality of life, often unnoticeably at first.

One method I use to create dramatic changes within my life is a daily yoga practice. Particularly, a style that incorporates movement and meditation. While the movements are used to provoke and build new positive brain pathways, meditation promotes releasing the need for control. If interested, a short daily movement and meditation practice can be found here for free, on my YouTube channel. Start at the welcome video for Connect – A 40 Day Yoga Journey for Consistency.

Connecting to calm daily, shedding old patterns that no longer serve you, begins with one choice, one day at a time. Tools that have led to temporary numbing and controlling aren’t sustainable for overall health and the enjoyment of life. You choose. How will you move through life today? Join me next week for more information on the impacts of a daily practice while healing from addiction.


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