It is the time of year when resolutions are made in hopes of changing undesirable behaviours. As much as we want to stop or even decrease our drinking, spending, gossiping, junk food eating or any other craved substance or behaviour, we often cannot.
Whether we name this inability to stop a habit, craving, dependency, compulsion or addiction, they all contain the same pleasuring seeking purpose. In Latin, the word addictionem means “an awarding or a devoting.” Indeed, we would not be repeating the behaviour if it was not rewarding (at least initially).
Unfortunately, the compulsive behaviour brings negative consequences often related to money, relationships and health. Despite ego’s will power to stop the now deemed undesirable behaviour, it is unable to, suggesting that underlying unconscious forces are involved.
The key is to view addiction as a symptom of psychic distress, as a way of psyche communicating that there is something deeply ‘off’ within us. What could be the root of our soul’s need for seeking to feel good from such destructive sources?
Early childhood experiences, especially those during the first two years, imprint the brain, establish relationship dynamics and form the dopamine-reliant pleasure and reward system. When ‘good enough’ parenting exists, the child’s needs are met in a consistent manner, and thus, dopamine levels are maintained and pleasure is perceived. The child learns that he or she is worthy of love and is capable of self-soothing.
However, most of us did not experience ‘good enough’ parenting and were raised in environments where we did not have a consistent emotionally available caregiver. Whether we experienced abusive or neglectful situations or parents who were not emotionally attuned to us, our self-soothing capabilities were diminished.
Research has found that the compulsive use of nicotine, alcohol and injected street drugs is related to the intensity of adverse life experiences during childhood. These experiences range from physical and sexual abuse to the death of a parent and to living in a dysfunctional home.
Abusive or not good enough childhoods result in the craving for pleasure. We begin to outwardly look for the inner spirit, meaning and connection we lacked as children and continue to seek. However, like our parental relationships, the substance or behaviour will never be able to satisfy our needs.
We need to turn inward for the answer. Underlying feelings associated with our past wounds need to be acknowledged so that they do not continue to unconsciously drive us. We must also identify and integrate healthy, enjoyable and meaning-making activities into our lives which boost the levels of our pleasure producing molecules.