In extremely simple words, “Addiction is a compulsive physiological or psychological need to take or use something.” Let’s go around this statement once more, the very definition has answers to cure addiction that we might be looking for. The first clue being ‘compulsiveness.’ This word means ‘irresistible urge’ and if we further try to break it down, ‘urge’ refers to a strong impulse or desire. You might notice when Gautama, the Buddha made a statement that ‘desire is the cause of suffering,’ there might be some truth to that statement. The truth might not be simple to find, it might be hidden in several layers, but it sure does exist.
The myth that surrounds you is that only certain substances can be addictive, but that is not true, anything done out of compulsiveness and unconsciousness can transgress from action to addiction.
We might think that we live in the moment or maybe through the randomness of destiny, but if we observe our daily actions, we live according to certain patterns, circuits and conditions that we develop from our childhood, the more gross or visible these circuits become, you will notice them in your behaviours itself, why you are so uncomfortable in one situation and comfortable in another? One important aspect of addiction is the presence of circuits or patterns that you develop in your daily life, let’s take the example of coffee. If let’s say you begin with drinking a cup of coffee every time you begin classes, through reinforcement both of these actions are clumped together to form an addiction, in due course of time, your classes will not feel the same until you get the cup of coffee. You see, it’s not only about the addictive substance, but it is really important to consider the situation and actions around it as well, the situation and the substance create a circuit, a very dense pattern. You might be thinking this happens only with specific substances but that’s not true, addiction can occur with any dopaminergic substances. It can be junk food, gym, even relationships.
Anything that can contribute to dopamine release can be an addictive substance. When something is engineered to constantly stimulate dopamine release in your system, suddenly changing your environment where there is less, or no stimulation is difficult. You can easily see this with your inability to live without your phone even for a few hours, the constant need to be entertained or to be around someone or something that stimulates either of your senses.
When one is not conscious of the actions and consequences of those actions, there seems to be some sort of repetition, this very repetition is an important part of the formation of addiction. Anything that releases dopamine, serotonin and all other ‘happy’ hormones should be carefully looked at. When a human being lets go of his inhibitions, ethics, morals, he lets go of his conscious self for the sake of pleasure. Once there is a taste of pleasure in performing a particular action, the body, and the mind demand that action repeatedly, even if that action is gruesome, bad for the body, it does not matter. The body is so complex, if you observe the actions that you perform, the same chemicals are released for one person in the gym and an alcoholic who gets his wine after a day’s work, both are in another state of ecstasy, however, one builds, while the other kills, but can we call both addictions?
There was an interesting Ted Talk by British writer and journalist Johann Hari where he had said that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is rather connection. He mentioned that any time an individual fails to form a bond or a relationship in his present environment, he feels an urge to use something or do something to break free of his environment, he might use a substance, a relationship and so on. However, the minute he connects with what is around him, the minute there is a connection, he refuses to bond with substances, rather he feels no need to do so.
How do I address my addictions?
1. Societal terminology creates a taboo over this word, it gives a negative connotation. The first thing to understand is the balance of addressing addiction, do not normalize addiction but there is no need to give it negative aspects as well. It is important not to belittle addiction, to treat something, we must breed it in an environment of care and awareness instead of an environment filled with disgust and negativity.
2. Observe your actions and responses, why do things that once excited you, no longer excite you? Your body is a chemical soup, and any irregularities in it will have observable physiological and psychological consequences. One aspect of it is ‘dopamine fasting’, which means to consciously take a break from whatever action stimulates you for short periods, as you get a hang of it, you keep increasing the fast. It can be chocolates, video games, porn, alcohol, anything that has become a habit rather than a choice.
3. Eckhart Tolle had rightly spoken about the results of conditioned behaviour, repeated behaviours for many years that have now become a part of your daily routine. Good or bad is not the point, you don’t even have to escape those behaviours, but you need to recognize them, you must observe what is important to you and why is it, can you live without something? If you cannot, why is it so? When I say observe, we must realise that you perceive the object in front of you according to your biases and prejudices, the picture in front of you is not as it is, it is rather a shadow of how you perceive the world and so to observe means to have an unbiased opinion, a fresh perspective.
4. Exploring new environments in the form of travelling, holidays and many such ways can help you come out of your current environment. It is important to explore the unexplored because if you notice your addictions, they are closely connected to the environment, and so if there is a change in your environment, you have quite literally loosened the chain of that which you are addicted to. It is a very interesting concept that sages and saints used to use, especially in today’s times, the Jain saints never stay in one area for long, in a month or two they shift whether they like it or not since they believe that their body and mind might try to attach themselves to the possessions in their current environment, so to keep their momentum going, they move from one place to another.
In our daily life, we all are addicted to something or the other, one way of looking at it is through giving ourselves challenges, challenge yourself to free yourself from anything you feel you are addicted to, addiction is simply a limitation, a limitation that you must aspire to break. The more limitations you break, you will observe that there is an intense feeling of freedom, every chain that is attached to you will be noticed by you, it is a slow process that requires your trust. The more you trust yourself, the more limitations you will break.