I’ve struggled with and overcome many addictions in my life. I’ve struggled with alcohol, drugs, overspending, overeating, overhelping, caffeine, too much TV, too much social media, and even addiction to unhealthy people in my life. Some of these things are a constant battle that ebb and flow throughout my life to this day.
The Oxford definition of addiction is “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity”.
The psychological definition of addiction is “a neuropsychological disorder characterized by a persistent and intense urge to use a drug or engage in certain behaviors, despite substantial harm and other negative consequences. Repetitive drug use often alters brain function in ways that perpetuate craving and weakens self-control”.
Now this last sentence is true, but I believe it goes deeper than just repetitive substance use. Any behavior whether it’s substances or negative patterns will perpetuate craving and weaken self-control. We are constantly rewiring our brains and creating new neural pathways that cause us to think and behave in a certain way. If we’re always negative and complaining, that will become our default thought pattern. If we’re always ‘rewarding’ ourselves with drugs and alcohol (and yes, nicotine and caffeine are drugs) then we’re going to be more apt to reach for those things in times of happiness or stress.
I recently started smoking cigarettes again. I smoked for 10 years in my early years with a 2-year break when I had my son. I was able to stop by the grace of God but started again a few times over the next years of my life. I found that it was usually because I had a ‘F***-it’ mentality and was rebelling against my circumstance and myself.
Now I could lie to you and tell you that I started smoking again to do some real-life research for this article but lying doesn’t make me feel good and doesn’t help anyone. So while I may have some shame surrounding this issue I still believe that honesty is the best policy.
This most recent time of smoking started because I felt jealousy for my friend who smoked cigars. He looked so happy and content puffing away that it made me miss the days of being a regular smoker. I would take a puff of his cigar here and there and this quickly turned into me bumming cigarettes from people after I’d had a few cocktails. Now, I’m not blaming the cigar smoker, these choices are solely mine. But I allowed whatever glamourized attachment I put on smoking to slowly entice me into this terrible habit once again.
Every time I allow myself to have a cigarette, I feel elated for a moment, but then feel sick and angry with myself for doing it. So what is going to happen? What is going to be the tipping point for me between wanting that cigarette and wanting to actually feel good? That’s where our cognitive choices come into play.
Each time I decide to light one up, there’s a voice telling me that I know better. Telling me that I’m going to feel that disgusting dizzy buzz and that I’m going to stink from the smoke. So why do I continue to do it? Addiction? To some extent, addiction is a choice. It’s in those small moments of clarity before you give yourself that hit of whatever it is where we can stop and really take a moment to think about how we want to feel. Do I want to continue to feel guilt and that sick dizziness? Or do I want to feel proud of myself and healthier for not putting that substance into my body?
With each choice, we’re building a neural network geared for one or the other. The more you feed your addiction the more it will grow, but thankfully the opposite is also true. The more you decide NOT to feed your addiction, that will also grow. We get into these bad habits slowly and can get out of them slowly as well. Every choice is putting you that much closer to addiction or freedom.
Which one will you choose?
Happiness is a gift we can give ourselves every day. It’s not always easy but it can be learned. Don’t wait to start living your happiest life.