Addiction is normal. Maybe that is an unusual statement, but I say it because it is a normal part of the function of the brain to reward us when we do something we enjoy to encourage us to repeat the action, possibly in the mistaken believe that if we are doing something we enjoy then we must be learning, growing and developing as a person.
Our brains are always changing in response to the experiences we have, they learn in response to what is happening in our lives. This change is helped along with dopamine release that our body creates and which is great as it helps us to learn new things, to create new things, to enjoy learning and developing as a person. The downside to dopamine is that it can lead to addiction.
Depending on how you define addiction, most people are addicted to at least one thing in their life and many people are addicted to many different things, trying to pack as much addiction into a day as they possibly can to the exclusion of actually living and enjoying their life. Using anything and everything in the mistaken believe that here is the answer to all their problems. Just one more bet, one more glass, on more smoke and I will feel better.
So, what is addiction and are you addicted? The dictionary definition says:
“An addiction to something is a very strong desire or need for it
There is a test that is used sometimes by doctors, normally in relation to alcohol addiction to answer the question “am I addicted” or do “I need to drink”
So if you want to try, pick something you do every day, maybe it will be drinking, taking drugs or gambling but it might also be going to the gym, running, gardening, spending time on social media, watching TV, playing computer games, whatever it is that you enjoy doing and repeatedly do on a daily basis.
This test is called CAGE and the initial letters, of the word explain the four question that you need to answer:
C = Cut Back
Have you ever tried to cut down or cut back on how often you do your habit and failed
A = Annoyed
Has anyone else got annoyed with you for the amount of time you spend doing something, or asked you to stop
G = Guilt
Have you ever felt guilty about the level of use or the amount of time you spend on your habit
E = Eye Opener
Do you need to act out your habit on waking. Maybe a hair of the dog, a large coffee, or do you immediately switch onto your favourite social media site.
You can repeat the questions for any habit you have that you feel is beginning to dominate your life. If you answered yes to any two of the four then with alcohol a doctor may well decide that that would constitute a problem drinker.
I tried the questions with my Twitter use which I have tried many times to switch off and failed and scored a definite 2 out of 4 but I am sure if push came to shove I could give it up, I don’t believe I spend so much time that it will cause long term damage apart from to my peace of mind.
So, what is the difference between my Twitter habit and an alcohol or drug addiction? The difference is that alcohol, drugs, sugar, and caffeine contain artificial stimulants and when we use this type of stimulant to get our daily dopamine reward it gives a greater level of reward and therefore a greater withdrawal and a greater craving. In the case of a stimulant habit, it causes the brain to rewire due to the intensity of the dopamine that is released.
So, if you answered the questions on a habit that did not also contain a stimulant it should be easier to come off than if there is stimulant that is changing the way the brain is wired.
This of course is not always the case as habits become wired into our brains and if we are using our habit to cope with our life then it doesn’t matter so much what you are using, if you don’t change your life you will always have difficulty in giving up your habit for good.
It is always interesting to take a look at what we are using as a coping mechanism for everyday living, over the years I have met many people both as clients and my wider circle of friends and family and I can see what they are using to soothe and comfort and make life a little more bearable for them. In many cases there is not a problem but it is always good to be aware of when the jogging every night tips over into you must jog every night or you have withdrawal symptom, and even continuing when you have an injury. When going to gym goes from twice a week to twice a day. When using social media is more fun that real life socialising with friends.
To live our life to the full it should be rich with experiences, varied and exciting. If you find you are doing too much of one thing to the exclusion of others, it is not necessarily an issue, but it is always good to be aware.
The great thing is that brains are capable of changing and evolving all the time. What we learn we can unlearn. Perhaps not riding a bike and other skills, but habits that are learned by repetition can be unlearned, so it you want to change a habit, you have to stop doing it, and the habit will wither and die on the vine through lack of use and we can allow other habits to grow, develop and flourish that we reinforce with repetition and allow good habits to grow and flower.
So, choose your habits carefully, choose the habits you want to make part of your life, and let go of anything that no longer serves your best interests.
“Depending what they are our habits will make or break us
We become what we repeatedly do”