When the word "addiction" is used, alcohol, drugs, gambling or shopping may come to mind, but many other behaviors fall under the umbrella of addictive disease. Cell phone use, gaming, use of social media, exercise, over- or under-eating, sex addiction, workaholism or codependency are also highly prevalent in a society that rarely supports genuine vulnerable expression of feelings.
In order not to feel, we turn to any kind of numbing agents listed above or unique to you. Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by a compulsive seeking (which is often unconscious) of the numbing agent. Many of our behaviors as humans are unconscious, unknown, or habitual and must be gradually brought to light. How many of you have ever really taken the time to notice how often you pick up your cell-phone during the day and the feelings of withdrawal when this “drug” is taken away? Try it sometime!
All addictions have one thing in common: avoidance of pain. Not unlike physical pain, emotional pain is something we want to avoid. Drinking, overeating, gambling and other addictive behaviors release endorphins in the brain which are morphine-like chemicals that help diminish pain and trigger positive feelings. Endorphins and neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, serve as a reward system and addictions can alter the natural balance of these chemicals. Tolerance builds with excessive use, and more and more of “the drug” is needed to produce the same effect. Withdrawal occurs when the drug is taken away starting the cycle of dependency.
Treatment of addiction requires an individualized plan of care and the willingness to feel your feelings. Feelings are like water filling and expanding a sponge under running water. They must be squeezed in order for the sponge to be effective. In order for us to be effective, or in connection with ourselves and others, we must feel. Otherwise, we remain numb, and numb is on the continuum of death. Numb leads to saying things we regret and doing things that lead to terrible outcomes. Learning to even know what you feel is a part of addiction treatment.
Often people need a higher level of care than outpatient to safely come out of the cycle of addiction. Support groups for addiction are integral as well as contracting with your therapist to follow through with treatment recommendations. Addiction comes with denial and often has a familial, systematic disease component. With motivation and compliance with care, addiction and its underlying psychosocial contributors can be successfully treated.