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What is it?
How do I recover?

In short: a compulsive behaviour that has short-term benefits, and long-term consequences that is seemingly impossible to fully give up.


We know something now though that Bill W the father of Alcoholics Anonymous didn’t know in the 1920s. We know there is a causal relationship between trauma and addiction. One way of thinking about this is if trauma is all the bits of unprocessed pain a person is carrying - the more trauma the more need there will be to distract the mind from the reality of the pain.


This is why habits can be very hard to break. When the person puts it down, they are returning to the life they were trying to gain some respite from. Unless the life changes, the craving will persist. So, healing from an addiction is ultimately healing trauma and then breaking a habit. An addiction - is the surface behaviour used as a coping mechanism to manage pain.


Gabor Mate says, ‘Ask not why the addiction, why the pain?’.


When talking about addiction we must mention the dopamine baseline. When someone pursues an activity that causes a surge in dopamine - it feels bloody great. After the activity is over the person will experience a decrease in their dopamine baseline. When the baseline is low people experience low-grade to high-grade lousiness throughout the day. Living in this lousiness the person will then seek out the activity again to increase their dopamine levels (feel amazing again). This unfortunately drops the baseline lower and lower until nothing in that person’s life will give them pleasure. The person will lose interest in all other areas of their life and become obsessed with the one thing they can get dopamine from - video games, a relationship etc. And when this one thing no longer provides them with dopamine this is when a person hits what we call rock bottom. And a rock bottom can either be the crisis a person needs to change their life, or it can be tragically the end of their life.


So how does a person increase their dopamine baseline? It’s simple yet challenging and requires active effort. You stop the activities that are spiking your dopamine up. Smartphone scrolling, social media, Youtube, drinking etc. are all dopamine spike activities (in case you were wondering). This abstention from these activities will help you get your baseline up to a point where the little things in life begin to give you pleasure. And then you can start to bring some of those activities back into your life, but this time with more awareness of how much you can tolerate without a dip in your dopamine baseline.


When a person is in a place where they are stuck in pain, compulsively using something to cope, we often refer to this person as an ‘addict’.


However, I put forward this: we’re all on the spectrum of compulsive behaviours. Some of us are dealt very harsh cards and the unprocessed pain stacks up tremendously, requiring a stronger dose of dopamine to numb the pain. The people on the more severe end of the spectrum are those we refer to as addicts. But whether you’re compulsively checking your phone or compulsively snorting cocaine, the same defence mechanism is in play.


The only difference is severity.

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