The Psychology of Addiction

“Addiction is the only prison, where the locks are on the inside.”

Many of us have seen addictive tendencies either in ourselves or in others and wondered about why this deadly affliction takes place. The feeling that one can’t stop, one can’t control the cycle of craving and gratification feels like a prison and is imminent and crippling. The locks are on the inside, which implies that we alone can unlock the gates of this prison and release ourselves and be free from addiction.

Yet, lot of us fail to understand the causes, the roots of where our addiction began. And in order to treat addiction, it is important to understand it first. In such a situation, we move from concept to experience, which means we understand the concept intellectually and then apply it in our day to day lives. In this article, we will go over the common psychological factors that play a role in addiction. It is important to note that it is difficult to account for all psychological factors and each individual’s addiction manifests in its own unique way, but we are putting out the most common and easily identifiable psychological factors which aid in the development and maintenance of addiction.

  • Impulsivity

We all have a rational mind and an impulsive mind. These two overlap and form the wise mind which makes decisions rationally, logically while satisfying some impulses or denying some. A balance between the rational and impulsive sides in needed, which is lost in addiction. The addict is solely acting based on their impulses, giving in to each impulse and the rational mind is less active. This impulsivity shows in other areas as well, such as, work, finances, relationships, etc. Impulsivity gives rise to compulsive behavior of substance taking which means one is repeating the same behavior over and over and is unable to stop it. Working on one’s impulsivity in all areas of life is a strong pillar for one’s recovery from addiction.

  • Experiential learning

Our mind learns by our own or others experiences. Repeatedly associating experiences to substances is dangerous as we are sending the message to ourselves that a substance is relaxing, most fun activity, a way of celebrating, of coping with feelings, etc. Maybe we saw our parents do it maybe we ourselves connected certain experiences to alcohol or drugs, but we learned this behavior. Overtime, beliefs formed from these experiences and a pattern of these thoughts, beliefs and behavior formed about drinking or using. This is why so many people, relapse due to associations. Associations with the weather, birthdays, promotions, weekends, stressful situations, emotional distress, etc are all strong triggers.

  • Beliefs about the substance

An addict gradually develops positive beliefs about drinking and negative beliefs about sobriety. These beliefs are learnt through experiences, associations, and are reinforced time and again. These beliefs may be: “Life is boring without alcohol or drugs.” “The only way for me to unwind or enjoy right now is to get high.” “this habit does not affect other areas of my life, so it’s alright.” “I like to reward myself after a hard day and reward= getting high.” “I need to relax and relaxing can only be done by drinking or using.” Many people are unaware of these beliefs as they are so unconscious and automatic sometimes. Identifying and challenging these beliefs is a cornerstone of therapy for addiction.

  •  Avoidant coping mechanisms

We learn to cope with situations since a young age and the way we cope is influenced by what experiences we had and how we or others found solutions to difficult situations. In out society, suppressing an emotion for the sake of functionality is given more importance than actually processing an emotion. So distracting oneself becomes an easy way out of stressful situations. Avoiding being vulnerable, avoiding confrontation, tough conversations, excessive thrill seeking, getting bored often thus seeking excessive stimulation and of course indulging in substance are all forms of avoidant coping mechanisms. Substance abuse is a avoidance not only of our stress, difficult emotions but also our normal, unadulterated present moment, the natural state of one’s mind and is unacceptable of our life as it is.

  • An incomplete sense of self

Even thought on the surface level, we don’t feel it, but many of us have an incomplete sense of self. We seek to fulfill this incompleteness by things outside of us such as: our career, money, material things, people, hobbies, travel, sex, substances or experiences. This fulfillment is short lived and we move on to the next thing to satisfy us. Some people are able to use this seeking mechanism which comes from a sense of incompleteness, towards positive behaviors. But many people feel this void, this incomplete sense of self and try to fill it using substances. This is an unconscious underlying process and we are not aware of it. To form a more complete sense of self, one has to move beyond the self at least for some moments of the day and by becoming very present through meditation, art, physical activity, journaling, etc. When one is not continuously attached to this ‘self’ and it’s story, only then can one move beyond this feeling of void.

  • Trauma

A very heavy word which lot of people don’t associate to instantly. But as we are learning more about psychology we are seeing trauma not just as an extreme event which happened but something that is very common and often overlooked. Trauma can be the end of a relationship, neglect from a parent, long term isolation, repeated stress in a short period of time, emotional abuse, loss of a close one and many other common events. Most often people are unable to identify their trauma and brush it off saying that it happens to everyone. But many times some or the other baggage in terms of unprocessed emotions, thoughts or pain remains and is buried deep within our minds. This makes us more vulnerable to anxiety, poor impulse control and judgement, thus playing a major role in our eventual addiction.

There are many other psychological factors that play a role in addiction such as one’s self esteem, emotional regulation, defense mechanisms, personality traits, etc. But these few are seen as very underlying factors that are seen in most people suffering from addiction. When one comes into treatment, therapy focuses on finding out one’s psychological contributors to their addiction and how they can overcome them. At ZorbaWellness rehabilitation center, we work on modifying the person’s behavior, thought and emotional patterns, keeping in mind all these factors. Even though the factors may be similar, how they manifest differs from person to person and treatment has to be individualized. Our team focuses on psychoeducation and customized therapy for each client. And on conveying accurate and reliable information to spread awareness about mental health. Know more to grow more!

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