Written by: Cristel Moubarak, RD
There are various explanations for addiction, and many degrading descriptions for those suffering from it. But are addicts really that different from the average Joe?
Well… not really. The primary difference is the coping mechanism. Can any of us go through life without coping?
The Union Gospel Mission counselors and the Planted Network put together an engaging workshop to explain the make-up of addictions and the science surrounding it. It turns out that the line between addict and not is pretty thin.
Everyone goes through traumatic, tragic or emotionally unbearable and overwhelming experiences. Many feel better by making impulsive purchases, eating chocolate, taking long baths and watching their favorite shows. Others numb the pain with some alcohol, cigarettes or any drugs that may be within their reach. You would not shame someone for having a few too many shopping sprees, but you would if they had a few too many drinks. So, in this sense, everyone is an addict, in one way or another.
There are three aspects, and contributing factors, to understanding addiction:
Relationships & Environment
All addictions have a direct correlation to the environment and relationships of the addict. The type of connections you have with the people around you – healthy, abusive or otherwise – have a profound effect on how you see the world around you, and how you learn to cope with the traumas of life. This is true of all addicts, regardless of other factors involved.
The impact we can have on those around us, by reinforcing stereotypes or lifting someone above them, is tremendous. Shame has never elevated someone above his or her circumstances, nor inspired greatness. Addiction is a vicious cycle that cannot, and will not, be broken through shame, disgust or anger.
Brain Function, Genetics & Psychology
While your personality, your life experiences and relationships have a definitive say in developing addictions, your genetics could be a contributing factor. This is a fact one must be aware of, that predispositions can, and do, make it harder for some to make healthy choices.
But, perhaps more compelling is the reality that our physiology makes it harder for any of us to make good decisions when in emotionally trying circumstances.
In simplistic terms, we have two parts to our brain, each responsible for something a little different. When working in tandem, we have a healthy balance. When unbalanced, it is reflected in the quality of our lives, and our choices. The Prefrontal Cortex is the ‘logic’ centre of our brains. It allows us to weigh pros and cons, facts, and consequences. The Limbic System is responsible for our emotions and much of our ‘autopilot’ behaviours; the things we do when we react, when we aren’t really ‘aware’ of what we’re doing. When we are emotionally aroused, when we are upset or angry, ashamed or embarrassed, our Limbic System is running the ship and we are incapable of making truly rational or logical decisions. We will make our choices based on what ‘feels’ good, or right. We will choose what is easy, convenient or immediate.
Food & Nutrition
Just as potent is our hunger. When we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT) we are more prone to making poor decisions, as we begin to slip into the Limbic System. We know that emotions can be a trigger to poor judgement, and most can admit to making more than one bad decision due to a lack of sleep.
Commercials abound, making light of the reality that low blood-sugars, poor diet, and a basic lack of food make you not you. When we have a healthy relationship with food, we fuel our bodies in the way needed to make good, positive decisions. But food and eating are also a bonding exercise. A good meal can heal emotional wounds, form new relationships or rekindle old ones. Sharing a meal can be a source of great comfort, and serve as a balancing agent for our hearts and minds.
If you or someone you know is going through adversities and in need of help to cope with the overwhelming influx of emotions, it is better to act sooner than later. Get professional help from those who are able to help you through your recovery process wherever it may be at.
We all cope; some of us just need help finding healthier alternatives. You may feel lonely, but you are definitely not alone. Here is a helpful resource list by the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.