The Wandering Monk

Brewmaster Rysu – New Posts On Tuesdays


Addiction: It’s all in your mind.

There are plenty of resources on the internet that talk about addiction.  Still, the stigma of addiction talks a lot about chemicals and withdraw, and marks distinction between a person being addicted to Heroin and a person being addicted to, say, Gambling.

The stigmatized perspective is that when you take chemicals that are considered addictive, the chemical makes you want it — nearly involuntarily.  And perhaps this is true in a sense, but the general perspective is that it’s the chemical that’s at the wheel of the addiction bus, not you.

But what if that was completely wrong?  What if I told you that no chemical makes you addicted to it inherently?  What if I told you that all that chemical addiction stuff you read about is actually all in your mind?

To be clear, let’s mark the distinction between withdraw and addiction.  Withdraw is the physical and psychological response to not having something one is addicted to, whereas Addiction is the act of feeling like something is important enough to alter the gravity of your life and to become such a priority so as to be viewed as irreplaceable and to want uncontrollably.

Often when someone is denying addiction, they’ll say “I can stop anytime I want to, so I’m not addicted.”  … I think the inherent logical fallacy here is that addiction is never wanting to stop.

“Okay, I’m addicted,” you might say, “But why don’t I want to stop? Because of the chemicals!”

This is where I’ll disagree with you.  To explain why, let’s first look at what the typical symptoms of addiction are in a person’s life.

  1. A person lies about the frequency, and sometimes even the existence of, a particular thing in their life either out of shame, fear of judgement, or so as not to draw attention to it.
  2. A person slowly restructures their life around the addiction, reconfiguring their finances, responsibilities, and social participation to support their addiction — all the while downplaying the impact of those changes and justifying them in their mind.
  3. A person slowly pushes the boundaries of meeting their obligations; shedding all unnecessary responsibility, time, and commitment to focus on their addiction; including going into work late or leaving early, frequent call-offs from work, or neglecting other responsibilities without hard boundaries, such as relationship obligations, house maintenance and duties, or even parental responsibilities.
  4. A person with addiction is defensive, abrasive, and/or protective of their addiction if it is referenced to or attacked.  When it’s approached as being an addiction, it’s dismissed without consideration.  When it’s critisized, irrational counter arguments or ambiguous replies are the majority of their defense, such as “It’s what I want to do.” or “I can do what I want.” or “You just don’t understand me.”
  5. A person with an addiction justifies to themselves why they are doing it when their common sense questions the activity.  “I only need to win one more time,” .. “I’ll be fine as long as I do/don’t …” … “I’ll just do this quick and then that’ll be it.”

There are other symptoms but these are often telltale signs of someone with addiction in their lives.  The thing is, these symptoms exist in someone who is addicted to Heroin, and they also exist in someone who is addicted to video games, gambling, checking their smart phone, smoking, drinking, or even running, drinking coffee or tea, or any other activity that offers certain criteria in a person’s life.

Addiction is just another word for a runaway habit.

An addiction can usually form if these criteria are met:

  1.  The activity gives the person some form of relief or happiness that nothing else in their life can emulate.
  2. The activity is an escape, can be easily downplayed, justified, or explained to oneself, even if external logic or common sense easily dismisses those explanations or justifications.
  3. An activity that can be done habitually and with relatively or perceived ease and discretion.


Here’s why Addiction is in your mind.

If I wake up in the morning and I spend 30 minutes drinking a cup of coffee at my kitchen table, it will become a habit (after about 20 days of doing this).  If I then tie any of the three criteria listed above to drinking coffee, it will eventually become an addiction, or a runaway habit.  If drinking coffee in the morning gives me a sense of relief, if I feel like I need to escape my life and I use my morning coffee to do it, or if I justify it to myself even if it could potentially have a negative impact on me (high blood pressure, jitters, etc.), then drinking coffee in the morning will grow into an addiction that is re-enforced each time I do it, and each time I talk myself into it.

If, one day, I wake up and I’m suddenly not allowed to drink coffee in the morning, and I have tied relief, escape, or need to it, then I will begin to go through some form of psychological withdraw.  Compounding this factor is the 5-7 day chemical withdraw period.

Withdraw is not addiction, withdraw stimulates addiction in us, psychologically.

When I go through this withdraw, psychologically or chemically, I’m telling my mind that I am being adversely affected and I am associating my adverse feelings to my lack of the thing I want, that gave me relief, escape, or need.  Because of this, I will use these criteria to justify my continued use of it.  We maintain addictions for fear of withdraw for the same reason we don’t touch fire — we experienced it once, and we learned that it hurts, so we try to avoid it by human nature.

Okay, so if I maintain my addiction for fear of withdraw, then how do I stop being addicted?

Too often, our society has this view on addiction — especially to illegal drugs — that consists of us casting those who experience addiction out of our accepted society.  We make it harder for them to find jobs and become stable, and we put people who use drugs in cages.

We take people who are not well and put them in a place where they can’t possibly get better and then hate them for not recovering.

The fight against addiction is two-pronged.  We must first approach it as individuals by understanding it, and then we must approach it as a society by healing it, not trying to conquer it or lock it away.

For us to approach it as individuals, we must understand that our very nature — the nature of wanting and needing emotional peace and happiness — is the root cause of addiction and that once addiction has taken hold, it cannot be torn from a person’s life by making a single decision to “just stop”.

Personal addiction stems, at its heart, from an absence of fulfillment, balance, and compassion in our lives.  Human beings are wired to adhere to things that give them a sense of happiness, relief, and fulfillment.  Our friendships and relationships are examples of this.

But when the things we expect to give us happiness fail to do so, we’re stuck in limbo.  We want to maintain these things because society tells us we must — we must have friendships, we must have relationships, we must always try no matter what.  But the truth is, persistence isn’t the same as trying; existing isn’t the same as living.

Inevitably, we will find something that can fill the void of what we are missing.  If we feel trapped in our lives, we will look for an escape.  If we are unhappy, we will look for something that gives us relief or fulfillment.  Once we find it, no matter what it is, no matter how petty or minor, we will latch onto it and not let go — because we are afraid of losing the one thing that gives us that sensation.

As human beings, we overcome addiction by finding what our addictions provide to us and make lifestyle changes that promote our finding those things in healthy and productive ways.

In their video, Everything We Know About Addiction is Wrong, Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell) talks about the Rat Park experiment and the human equivalent, the Vietnam War.  It’s a compelling highlight to this blog post and says many of the same things I’ve said as well.

The important take-away is that it’s not the drug, it’s your cage!

As a society, we view addiction with a negative, terrible stigma because human beings fear what they don’t understand.  We shed our compassion in favor of cold finger pointing and disassociation.  We remain too proud to associate ourselves with those that are suffering and explain our actions as the wounds they suffer are self-inflicted and that their choices are what condemn them.

But the truth is, more than 83% of Americans have experienced some kind of addiction in their lives.  Change comes in one of three conditions:

  1. A major catalyst forced change into their lives and allowed them to break the habit of their addiction.
  2. Sincere epiphany revealed the true impact the addiction is having (and depending on what sparked the epiphany, this could just be another catalyst).
  3. The needs that the addiction filled were met by something else in their lives and so their interest in the addiction tapered or subsided.

All three of these criteria can be boiled down to one constant: happiness.

A catalyst doesn’t stop addiction because it forced the person to stop, it usually stops the addiction because something that the person values more than the addiction becomes impacted.  This can be family, friends, bystanders, financial stability, or anything else in a person’s life that is suddenly or immediately threatened or even removed, that causes such a trauma that it jolts the person into making huge changes.

The epiphany is similar, but could come in the form of learning about the nature of what’s going on in their lives, social or peer pressure, intervention from friends and family, or the clear realization that life isn’t better with this thing in their lives, no matter how good they feel temporarily.

When the needs that the addiction fulfilled are satisfied by something else in their lives, this can be both incredibly positive or terribly destructive, depending on which direction it goes.  This can be the introduction of a love in their life, the birth of a child, or a new job.  Or it can be the discovery and access to an even worse habit or addiction that rivals the impact the other one had.

Of all three of these conditions, the worst is the catalyst.  Because life needs balance, it will constant react to an imbalance.  A relationship that suffers under the effects of addiction will eventually boil to ending.  A job will only tolerate addictive behaviors so much before it dismisses the employee.  Because the nature of a runaway habit is that it consumes as much as it can, addictions will always lead to a catalyst and the catalyst is rarely good.  The stress these kinds of things exacts on those in our lives can make people do things they would never do otherwise, and will only perpetuate suffering and sadness — the very opposite of the reasoning we cling to addictions in the first place.

Our society subscribes to the catalyst method of handling addiction.  We ignore people who have them until it’s reported or until the symptoms begin to affect others, and then we shun and condemn them, and even throw them in prison and complicate their lives.  We do this in the name of ‘consequence’, when the consequences of the person’s addiction likely already resulted in grave losses — which often is what pushes addicts to commit crimes.

It’s a slippery slope, where those who are addicted make sacrifices in their relationships and personal lives to maintain the temporary feeling of relief they get, which perpetuates the suffering of their life dynamics and only increases their dependency and reliance on their addiction.

The catalyst in their life can be wild and destructive, and lead to the punishment of a person’s actions as a result, instead of at the root cause.  This is a true tragedy because we never truly prevent the reasons the catalyst formed.

When we are sick, we don’t just treat the symptoms, we treat the cause.  But how do we stop it as a society?

Well, heroin addiction was rampant in Switzerland in the 1990s and they couldn’t stop it.  So, they decided to approach addiction differently.  Instead of condemning those who were addicted to prison, they opened clinics across the country that actually gave them heroin as long as they enrolled in a rehabilitative program.  The statistics speak for themselves, with significantly positive results on the Swiss population as a whole.

The idea is that they don’t rip perhaps the only source of relief and comfort from a person and then shout at them until they get better, or lock them away so they aren’t a menace to society.  Instead, they acknowledge their current state — not the state that they should be in, or the state that they might have been in.  Then they find out what lead them there, and teach them how to build strong, healthy living habits that can bring them superior happiness, fulfillment, and joy to the addiction.

We fix addiction by taking people out of the cage and by giving them another option.  Nobody wants to be addicted, they only want what addiction gives them.

I hope you’ll think on this information and if you decide to do your own research on the topic, I’d love to hear from you.  Reply in the comments below or toss me an e-mail from the contacts area.

Talk to you soon.