What would you think if I told you that addiction is a good thing?
I know. It’s a strange thing to hear from a therapist.
But consider this: without addiction, we’d never have advanced as a species. We’d still be swinging from the trees, content with our static development. And we’d probably not survive very long.
Thankfully, our brains have a built-in reward system to encourage us to learn, advance, survive, and thrive. We produce a natural cocaine-like chemical called dopamine that locks our attention into a highly focussed state when we’re keen to do or learn something. And once we’ve mastered a new skill, we experience warm feelings of satisfaction caused by other chemicals called endorphins.
Dopamine and endorphins exist to encourage us to learn and master new skills, as well as do things essential for survival like having sex, eating, drinking, and resting when tired. Without our internal reward system, we wouldn’t survive.
But what does all this have to do with addiction?
Habituation drives us to seek out more
The more you have of something, the more you need to get the same level of satisfaction.
You probably already know that when someone is addicted to a drug or cigarettes, they become accustomed to a certain dose and need ever-increasing amounts to feel the same effects. This is true of learning, as well.
When people master new skills, they get a dopamine and endorphin rush, which is pleasurable. But when those new skills become second nature, the person builds up a tolerance and needs to develop further skills to get the same buzz as before. Hence you are driven to continue developing yourself. So, having a so-called ‘addictive personality’ really means having great potential to learn and develop!
This is why people become addicted to behaviours like smoking and why they end up needing more and more cigarettes. Ironically, their natural pleasure/satisfaction drive, designed for survival, becomes hijacked by behaviours that threaten survival.
But addiction doesn’t happen overnight.
Addiction has to be practised
When someone takes their very first puff on a cigarette, the body rejects the smoke by coughing; our lungs don’t have the ability to breathe in and process smoke. To become addicted to anything, you need to repeat it and practise it, just like learning a new skill, so that eventually it feels natural.
And if you repeatedly do one thing in conjunction with another, eventually the two feel as if they naturally go together. It’s only through continued repetition that a smoker comes to feel that a coffee or alcoholic drink must be accompanied by a cigarette or that sex must be followed by one. People who have never smoked make no such association, but still enjoy that drink or a night out chatting with friends.
Even hardened smokers report they can go on long-haul flights without feeling the need to smoke or go swimming without wanting to light up, simply because these things have never become associated as triggers to smoke. This associative factor, called pattern-matching, is more important in addiction than so-called physical addiction.
When we seek to cure someone of smoking, we need to look at these factors and use our knowledge of how the brain keeps the addiction in place to help free them.
The best smoking cessation therapy technique?
Many members of the public, even if they know nothing else about therapeutic hypnosis, recognize that hypnosis is often used to help people stop smoking. It’s almost a cliché. But for good reason.
Hypnosis can help unhook past conditioning very quickly, whether that’s a conditioned phobic response to a spider or a conditioned addictive ‘need’ for a cigarette.
And hypnosis can help build up the part of the smoker that wants to quit and lead a healthier life. I regularly see life-long chronic smokers cured of smoking in one hour.
Any emotional attachment the smoker has to the behaviour can become detached. And they don’t even have to turn into rabid anti-smokers. Hatred and love both require too much emotional involvement to be considered opposites. Indifference is what we are after for successful smoking cessation.
When you can help a smoker to the point where cigarettes just don’t matter to them anymore, you’ll have helped them already begin to heal from the damaging effects of that old destructive behaviour.
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