Some Observations on Addiction
So grandma goes into hospital for a hip replacement. After the operation she’s given diamorphine, which is medically pure heroin. Over the next two weeks the doctors prescribe smaller amounts until it’s time for grandma to go home. So here’s the question… why doesn’t grandma come out of hospital a heroin addict?
The answer may astonish you – it’s because grandma has never had any interest in taking drugs. All grandma really wants now is to resume her life, see her grandchildren and socialise with her friends. The last thing on her mind is the drug she was given to ease the pain after her hip op.
Dr Bruce Alexander experimented with the effects of addiction on laboratory rats. He put each rat in a small empty cage with two water bottles – one dispensed pure water while the other dispensed water laced with heroin. The rats had a free choice of which bottle they could drink from and within a very short time, the rats almost always chose to drink from the heroin laced water because that was the one that made them feel good.
Once it was clear the rats had become addicted, they were transferred to a much bigger cage – this one large enough for them to run around and contained objects for them to explore and toys to play with. What happened next was totally unexpected. Even though they were still given a choice of pure or heroin-laced water, the rats very quickly changed their preference and chose the pure water over the heroin.
What Bruce Alexander proved with his experiment is something that to me has always been blindingly obvious. Drugs are a great time-killer. If there is nothing else in life, then drugs provide the escape from a humdrum and pointless existence. The fact is that people who live busy, productive and fulfilled lives mostly don’t do drugs. And throwing political correctness to the wind for a moment, drug addiction is a council estate disease and it’s rife in areas of high unemployment.
In my view, drug taking and heroin addiction is a symptom of boredom and hopelessness. I have written about this before and the more I see it, the more convinced I am that drug addiction is a matter of choice.
But what about people who find themselves addicted to other things, like cigarettes, food, gambling, sugar? …the list is probably endless.
Temptation and reward is an evolutionary response. In the case of food, it’s natural that the body needs carbohydrates, especially things that taste sweet. There are very strong evolutionary reasons why we feel better when we eat. You see food, your body needs nourishment, you eat, you feel good. It’s the natural process of survival that the pattern is repeated.
But what about when you’re feeling bad? When this happens, the brain reminds you that there’s a way of feeling better: eat, feel better, repeat… eat, feel better, repeat… and so on. And if your choice of food involves lots of carbohydrates and sugar, the end result is unhealthy weight gain.
A helping of mindfulness might be a useful first step, but a sensible diet is certainly the next. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can help, and of course Hypnotherapy, but this must address the root cause of the addiction, which in my experience has a lot to do with boredom and lack of things to do to occupy your time.
The temptation/reward scenario is an integral component of all addictive behaviour and it’s as pertinent for problem gambling and alcoholism as it is for heroin.
Moving on… smoking is addictive, yet no one who smokes can say that cigarettes actually taste good – they don’t, they actually taste like shit. Ask a smoker if this is true and you’ll be surprised by the answer. The act of smoking a cigarette is not pleasant – it’s the nicotine kick the smoker likes.
So why do people start in the first place? Could it be beecause they want to feel cool like the movie stars or the neighbourhood bad boy who gets all the girls? It’s acually hard to start smoking – again, you can ask any smoker – the first few cigarettes make the novice cough because it’s difficult for the lungs to ingest smoke and in many cases, cigarettes induce feelings of nausea.
Again, the application of a little mindfulness will help the smoker think more carefully about their habit – and the fact that smoking makes your clothes smell and your house stink of stale tobacco. There are lots of obvious reasons to stop smoking.
Here’s another one:
When it comes down to it, addiction is still a matter of choice.
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