What are the components of addiction? why is addiction less desirable? and what aptitudes help us to avoid addiction?
“Let’s Turn the conversation towards Efficiency and Away from Morals”
The Psychobiological and Relational causes of undesired, addictive, and compulsory behavior:
Flow (peak experience) – Humans are most fulfilled when: Goals are clear, there is regular feedback concerning progress towards the goal, and you have the aptitudes necessary to make the challenge at the sweet spot between too hard (anxiety) and too easy (boredom).
- Implications – Many electronic devices contain software that was developed to create a sense of flow. This creates a radical craving to engage with the software.
- Solution – We need to ensure public access to ‘flow’ promoting activities that increase biological, relational, and existential wellness. Historically this includes extracurricular activities such as the arts and sport. Self-discipline with also be necessary – such as not having your cell phone at dinner or while on hikes etc.
Implicit System Conditioning – Most human emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are controlled by the implicit system. Our implicit system is evolutionarily older and significantly faster (more intelligent) then our intentional and rational explicit system. This system is adaptive – ex. you couldn’t drive a car with you explicit system.
It is very important to note that most interventions in the past have focused entirely on an explicit override of the implicit system – for example, we attempt to ‘rationalize’ away from a person’s automatic emotional response to stimuli. Unfortunately, this is not how the brain works (If I give you a rational explanation for why something ‘isn’t’ disgusting this will have no impact on your automatic disgust response).
- Implication – Most of us have been primed to have automatic behavioral responses (towards a vice) in response to various emotions or environmental stimuli. example of stimuli that often lead to drinking: anxiety (emotion) or watching a sporting event (environmental).
- Solution – We can set up our environments which allow a mindful reflection on our emotional and somatic realities so that we can our observe our desired impulses, emotions, and sensations with calm attention and without action. We then can learn to feel our feelings without reacting automatically to them. Increasing our ability to tolerate intense emotional experiences will have a positive impact on our ability to avoid the compulsory behavior.
Brain wiring and neurotransmitters – there is some overlap here with the implicit system. “What fires together wires together” Experiences that happen together can wire together – this creates predictable emotional reactions to stimuli and can create associates that are not necessarily rational.
Neurotransmitters help to control our psychological wellness – deficits and surpluses create issues ranging from depression to mania to attention issues to psychosis etc. Adding substances to a developing mind (or a developed mind) can have unpredictable effects on our neural chemistry. Additionally, substances can impact the brain’s ability to properly uptake, release, and create neurotransmitters – which then leads to deficits or surpluses.
- Implications – Substances such as ecstasy have been shown to dramatically impact the production of important neurotransmitters.
- Solutions – Modeling and appropriate structure – We can ensure that we are modeling healthy relationships (including abstinence when necessary) with behaviors that can be unhealthy for our biology. We also should have regular access to nutritional items that promote a healthy biology and a sense of enjoyment.
Human Bonding and Attachment – Many vices (especially substances) impact or interact with the brain area responsible for human bonding and attachment. This means that instead of seeking out a secure relationship with another human – the substance is used (ineffectively) as the relational surrogate. This often leads to isolating behaviors – which leads to dysregulation and depression – which leads to more substance use.
- Implications – Many people will use pot or alcohol as a means of feeling less lonely and dysregulated – though this can feel helpful in the start – the process can create a feedback loop which leads to exacerbated feelings of loneliness and dysregulation without the substance.
- Solution – Emotionally significant/vulnerable and authentic connection. It is easier to use electronics or to engage in a substance than it is to be vulnerable enough to share your true self with another person. It is hard to remain open, empathetic and compassionate in front of a person who is suffering or who is offering their authentic self in a way that we don’t yet understand (Our impulse is generally to fix or to categorize). When we grow in our ability to stay present, honest, openminded, and compassionate, we naturally dissipate feeling of loneliness… in turn we gain a felt sense of regulation (and we, therefore, are not in need of the vice to mitigate our fears).
Anthropological Importance of Inclusion – We are a tribal animal. Our cortex developed to its’ current sophisticated state in response to the need to track an ever-increasing amount of social information (currently we max out at about 200 people). Exclusion from the group generally resulted in death for the vast majority of human existence – we tracked information to ensure inclusion (and to track ‘unsafe’ people). This reality has created a substantial fear response related to exclusion – this fear will propel us to make poor decisions to mitigate our fear.
- Implications – We will often compromise our beliefs, emotional needs, intuition, and ration in order to protect ourselves from the fear associated with exclusion – this can mean that it feels terrifying to be without social media or to ‘just say no’ when the dominant group is engaging in unsafe behavior.
- Solutions – Create emotionally intelligent communities that promote acceptance of differences and encourage open-minded and vulnerable communication. Through a compassionate dialogue, we can create a sense of culture which is best suited to the needs of the individual and the collective. Within this space of openness and acceptance, we reduce judgment and make it safe to express differences (therefore the culture will be inclusive of people who avoid behaviors that are harmful, though ‘normal’.
Faced paced society with ever increasing stimuli, social dynamics, and expectations with a corresponding reduction of health-promoting options – Currently, our society is not set up to be optimal for our psychological health. We are over inundated with stimuli, we lack sleep, we are responsible for monitoring more social dynamics than is possible, we lack access to nature, there is less access to arts and athletics, we are constantly encouraged to think about the future as opposed to the present moment, and we are often held to unrealistic expectations (such as the average workweek for an adult).
- Implications – Often it can feel like the only way to ‘deal’ with our life is to disassociate from it, avoid it, repress it, or escape from it. Many electronics help us to completely leave (disassociate) from our current reality. Many substances produce a feeling similar to a state of mindfulness – you are absorbed in the present moment and free from the suffering found by attending to the past or the future. Lastly, many substances give us the permission to be who we want to be – inhibition. Both electronics and substances help us to deal with our anxiety resulting from feelings overstimulated, unrested, unfulfilled, and over-extended.
- Solution – Intentionality and authentic prioritizing our life choices and values. We can enact intentionality and discipline so as to live within a set of values that promote our well-being. health diet, appropriate boundaries, authentic expression, secure relationships, exercise, and access to nature are vital for our psychological well-being – these should not be compromised if we have the privilege to not be oppressed from accessing them (many, if not most, people in our world are oppressed from access to these variables).
Variables Impacted by Addiction
Freedom and Self-Determination. Reduced Intentionality – Increased automaticity
- Remember Pavlov and the salivating dog (rang a bell every time the dog was fed – led to the dog salivating by the bell – even when no food was present)? As humans, we are constantly conditioned to have predictable and automatic responses to certain stimuli (this is adaptive). We can, therefore, develop automatic (and often unconscious) emotional, biological, cognitive and behavioral responses to substances, electronics, and other vices.
- Conditioning Targets the implicit system to create unconscious associations with the vice (drugs, electronics, alcohol, shopping etc).
Experience: you have a huge problem and there is nothing that you can do about it in the moment – what vice do you want?(sibling lost all their money and they are on their way to your house to live with you)
- Anxiety = conditioned to have a strong desire (sensation and emotion) for vice – often followed by an automatic behavior to engage in vice
- The teenage brain is already in a state of re-structuring – pre-frontal cortex (executive control center) is less integrated into brain functioning. (this is an important time for the development of intentionality and good habits).
- Solutions –
- Mindfulness – focused attention on the present moment. The ability to notice without judgment and without automatic reaction. With mindfulness, we can observe the stimulus and our mind and body’s desired reaction to the stimulus. With practice, the pre-frontal cortex can override the automatic behavior (though the automatic emotion will likely stay mostly the same).
- Willpower to engage in life intentionally despite a strong impulse to avoid or otherwise retract from discomfort. (without self-determination we are controlled by the external world and our urges)
Emotions and Body Awareness. reduction of sensory and emotional experience along with a reduced ability to tolerate emotions or sensory experiences.
- What sensations are experienced in an elevator with a stranger (what does it feel like in your body)What emotions do you have as a result? What behaviors are we likely to engage in?
- Now imagine all the experiences that a teen is going through – Away from home, love interests, making friends, meeting expectations, and figuring out who they are
- After you have looked at a screen for 5 minutes where is your consciousness?
- What effect might this have on emotional aptitudes such as empathy?
- Electronics and substances often disassociate us from our body (and relationships).
- We must learn to continually be aware of and to tolerate our emotional and somatic experiences to achieve our ambitions – substances and electronics can rob us of the ability to develop this capacity.
What normal aspects of everyday life require a high level of emotional awareness and tolerance? Public Speaking 😉 Creating an emotionally intimate relationship.
Attachment and inter-regulation through Human bonding
- New research is finding that substances and electronics target the same area of our brain used for human attachment and bonding (bonding is a primary need like water (orphanage example & cast away example)— the pull is extreme)
- We are a social animal, and through millions of years of evolution we have developed a very sophisticated system of bonding with other humans that radically improves our ability to survive – Human connection is the #1 predictor of happiness (slope of a hill appears less steep, reduced amygdala activation in FMRIs when shocked)
- We need to help our teens to bond with each other, with us, with the community
- Electronics and substances mimic the feeling we get from positive human connection BUT they do not lead to lasting happiness and they do no facilitate regulation (human bonding is the cure for stress).
Conclusion – Our goal is to mentor our community towards becoming Self-determined, Emotionally intelligent, and Relationally able people. This doesn’t need to be a moral argument – Drugs and Electronics are not intrinsically bad or good… Instead, let’s change the discussion to efficiency – what are the most efficient means of developing the above Aptitudes?