I am continually experimenting with ways to communicate my insights and learnings about life. Addiction seems to me to be a fundamental human tendency that really covers most all problematic areas of life.
As part of that experimenting, here is my latest attempt at a general overview at what I have learned about addiction; that means all addiction regardless of whether it is to a substance, an activity, or an internal mental/emotional process or state. I have been working deliberately and specifically on this for nearly 50 years now and in my experience, people use all sorts of different words and descriptions, but it all boils down to this~
Our lives ultimately consist of information in and information out. Information comes in through our sense organs, impacts our nervous and endocrine systems, which are spread throughout our bodies. These in turn generate outputs in response and they consist of neurotransmitters, hormones, nerve impulses, etc.
[Sidebar—a quick definition of “information”: What is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things.
We could call information, organized energy. It can be in the form of photons (images), sound waves (speech or thought), physical constructs (chemical molecules) or physical motion (facial expressions, gestures, dance, and of course combinations of any of these and more.]
We perceive that process as subtle physical sensations. Though most often out of conscious awareness, we are none the less on some level aware of them. Some sensations are neutral but the rest we either crave and want more of or fear or hate and want to avoid or at least have less of. And we will do whatever it takes to accomplish those goals!
Each and every addiction boils down to some form of action to modulate or control those internal sensations, to either increase them or decrease them, prevent them or cause them. The reason it is an addiction is because it is unconsciously motivated, reactive, driven, compulsive, not a freely chosen action. We can become free of an addiction in only one way and that is becoming conscious of, and non-reactively tolerant to, the presence of those internal sensations. Any action we take to accomplish that is progress towards freedom. The very good news is that becoming even a little more free in regards to one addiction usually generalizes to increased freedom in the rest of our lives.
The very first step is slowing down enough to become increasingly conscious of the inner sensations that drive us, or maybe just becoming willing to do that and starting to pay attention, trying to feel those sensations. Then we can practice not reacting to them while staying aware of them. Over time this will build tolerance and provide the freedom to choose alternate courses of action. Anything, any practice that aids us in doing this “slowing down and becoming more aware of” is potentially tremendously beneficial and life enhancing. [See note at end]
Anything that does not do this, increase awareness and tolerance of those sensations, but claims to be treating addiction, is at best not helpful and may well be counterproductive. A great many so-called treatments just substitute another addiction for the original one. In some cases this can be life saving and buy the person time, but even then it is avoiding the real issue and may lead to problems later on.
The physical dependence that can develop to some substances (including those substances generated internally by our behaviors!) can certainly cause unpleasant symptoms from withdrawal. With some substances like barbiturates this can even be fatal. But his is NOT the addiction or addictive process. I have personally known two heroin addicts who would periodically quit when their habit became too expensive. They both told me it was no big deal to quit for awhile, that it just felt like a bad case of the flu for a week or two and then done. After some time would pass, they would be much more sensitive to the drug and require a much smaller dose of it to get what they wanted so the price in dollars would again be doable and back they would go. So the physical dependence was clearly not the thing that kept them addicted rather it was the emotional/sensation level change they could experience from using that was the issue.
I know this is a bit of an unusual way of looking at addiction and life in general. Please ask if any questions or if I was not clear in writing this!
*In my experience, after many years of experimentation, I believe Vipassana meditation to be one of it not the very best of tools available for this project. For more information go to this link or ask me.
Geoffrey Levens, L.Ac., Health Coach