And, as many addicts are well-aware, that’s exactly what addiction does- it tells you what to do; it dictates its terms to you; it controls your behavior.
People don’t have difficulty in admitting that they can give up their habits any time they want but when they get addicted it’s another matter- they feel very little control over their addictive behavior.
Reasons behind addiction
For instance, a person may have initially tried drugs out of curiosity but the mind learns that ‘drugs are pleasurable’ and whenever it finds itself in need of pleasure it will motivate the person to return to drugs. Before he knows it, he will have created a strong dependency on drugs.
Everything that we do teaches our mind something. If what we do is registered by our mind as ‘painful’, it will motivate us to avoid the behavior in future and if what we do is registered as ‘pleasurable’, it will motivate us to repeat that behavior in the future.
The pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding motivation (based on the release of neurotransmitter dopamine1) of the brain is very powerful. It helped our ancestors survive by motivating them to pursue sex and food and avoid danger (dopamine is also released in adverse situations2).
So you’re better off not teaching your mind to seek anything that may apparently be pleasurable but turns you into a slave in the long term.
This TED Talk explaining how we fall into this pleasure trap and how to recover from it is the best one I’ve seen:
Hence the actions that we do to fulfill our strongest needs will be strongly driven and more frequent than other actions unrelated or indirectly related to our strongest needs.
A person who is addicted to his work (workaholic) hasn’t yet reached all his career-related goals. A person who’s addicted to socializing isn’t satisfied with his social life on some level.
Uncertainty about the type and size of the reward motivates us strongly to repeat the activity that leads to it.
It also explains why card games like poker can be so addictive. You never know what kind of cards you’ll get out of the random shuffle, so you keep playing on and on and on, hoping to get good cards each time.
1. Esch, T., & Stefano, G. B. (2004). The neurobiology of pleasure, reward processes, addiction and their health implications. Neuroendocrinology Letters, 25(4), 235-251.
2. Robinson, T. E., & Berridge, K. C. (2000). The psychology and neurobiology of addiction: an incentive–sensitization view. Addiction, 95(8s2), 91-117.
3. Blanco, C., Moreyra, P., Nunes, E. V., Saiz-Ruiz, J., & Ibanez, A. (2001, July). Pathological gambling: addiction or compulsion?. In Seminars in clinical neuropsychiatry (Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 167-176).
Want a full-fledged course that teaches you step-by-step how to beat addiction? Check out Truth of Addiction by A. Scott Roberts, M.S. Rehabilitation Counselling.