Addictions apply to all of us, not just drug users or heavy drinkers. Where do addictions come from? What is their psychological background? And, finally, how to break free from them?

This article was inspired by the speech of the Canadian physician Gabor Mate, who talked about addictions on TEDxRio. You can watch his presentation attached below. In this blog entry I will try to summarize the most important issues, adding my point of view.   

Gabor Mate has worked with hundreds of people addicted to drugs. He has seen the suffering of people who would go on destroying their bodies and ruining their lives.

Dr Mate emphasizes that in order to understand addictions, we must stop asking "what's wrong with addiction?" and, instead, start looking on "what's right about it?". In other words, what is the person, who is constantly reaching for stimulants, getting from their addictions?

This approach is very much in line with one of the basic assumptions of coaching. Even these seemingly destructive patterns that we, from time to time, allow in our lives have their own specific purpose. We definitely gain something this way. Otherwise, we wouldn’t fall into these behaviors. Just think about people who get ill very often in order to "force" their close ones to show them care, warmth and attention.

Why are we become addicted?

What can addicts get from their drug abuse? Just to name the main qualities:

  • release from pain,
  • a sense of deep peace,
  • a sense of control.

The most important question is, however, why these qualities are missing from the lives of addicted people? What is the source of the pain that motivates them to seek relief in stimulants?

If a person lives in continuous suffering, he is looking for oblivion. They don’t want to remember who they really are and be in their own skin. They want to escape and find relief. They seek for a quick and simple solution.

It is also worth noting that addicts are usually people who cannot put things in perspective. They are unable to see the big picture - that, in the long run, taking drugs is the worst possible solution to their problems. They only see an instant, positive effect, and this effect is the main motivator of their actions.

During his lecture, Gabor Mate names the three things that people are most afraid of: death, other people and their own minds.

When someone has low self-esteem, does not accept themselves and is not happy with their life, he or she is simply afraid to be alone with their own mind and wants to escape from situations, in which they must face their fear.

The weakest individuals for whom the existential pain is unbearable, resort to drugs and other stimulants. The truth is that we are all addicted to something and it doesn’t matter that most of these things are not called drugs because the cause and pattern of addictions are the same.

Gabor Mate tells us what he himself was addicted to, namely work and music. He used to be a workaholic and would spend hours buying and listening to compact discs. He neglected himself and his family.

Definition of addiction

His definition of addiction is as follows: addictions are any behaviors that gives temporary relief, temporary pleasure, but in the long term, causes harm, has some negative consequences and you can’t give them up despite those negative consequences.

From this point of view, we can see that there we can get addicted to many different things, such as:

  • work,
  • food,
  • sex,
  • gambling,
  • toxic relationships,
  • money,
  • consumerism,
  • shopping,
  • television, internet, computer games.

Think about it now. Are you addicted to something? Do you resort to any habits to forget about the hardships of everyday life?

Remember that there is nothing wrong with controlled use of stimulants or indulging yourself with pleasures, when you feel like doing it. You just need to know whether you’ve got control over it. If you do, then everything is fine. However, if you do something habitually and are not in control of your behavior completely, you should consider it some sort of addiction. It's worth breaking free of it.

I really like the Buddhist metaphor of the hungry ghosts that was mentioned in the presentation. The hungry ghosts are these creatures with large, always empty bellies. Their mouths are so tiny that they can never get enough to fill this emptiness.They need more and more. Many of us live in exactly the same way.

At the same time, when we see addicts on the street, it’s very easy for us to judge them, probably because we see that in some way we are similar to them and we don’t like that at all. We reject addicts in order to maintain our self-esteem, forgetting that we ourselves struggle with many hidden addictions.

You can get rid of one of them today. Did you know that sugar is also a drug? It’s an unpopular thing to say, because big and greedy corporations might lose their profits, but sweet products are just as addictive as alcohol or nicotine. 

First step

To wrap up, I have prepared a short exercise for you, which will allow you to make the first and most important step on the road to freedom from some of your addictions. Obviously, this process is suitable only for the hidden, "light" addictions, not the drugs or alcohol dependence.

  1. Look into your own addictions. Which behaviors are out of your full control? What is your escape when you have a bad day?

  2. Think about where these addictions come from. What is missing from your life that you still need to reach for drugs, sit in front of the TV or go on a shopping spree to the mall? Do you need to find some peace, feel a sense of control, have good fun or maybe you just seek oblivion?

  3. Make a list of healthy and constructive solutions that you could apply to enrich your life with the qualities you explored in the previous section. Make sure these methods give you positive effects in the long run and not just temporarily.

  4. Based on the list you made, plan the first action that will forge your path to freedom from your addiction.

I wish you conscious self-control and breaking the bondage of of various addictive behaviors and stimulants. Freedom is a wonderful thing!

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