(Credit goes to +Liza Persson for Inspiration)
First of all, I will define addiction: Addiction is a physiological and/or psychological need (or “dependency”) that has been identified with. The “identification” part is the particularly important bit, the reasons for which I’ll get to in a bit.
Secondly, to prevent any misconceptions about what “identification” is, I’ll provide the definition commonly used in the psychoanalytic context: “Identification is a psychological process whereby the subject assimilates an aspect, property, or attribute of the other and is transformed, wholly or partially, after the model the other provides. It is by means of a series of identifications that the personality is constituted and specified.” (Laplanche, J. and Pontalis, J.-B. (1973), The language of psychoanalysis.)
My understanding of identification is a bit different than this, some of the differences of which are implied in this article, but if you keep an open-mind and don’t focus so much on the petty semantics, you should be able to benefit greatly from the information and explanations provided.
All addictions begin with dependency, which is the reliance on a substance (usually a drug, but can also refer to any person, place, thing, or idea that you identify with). One has some kind of need (or want) to be fulfilled, and the substance is used to fulfill that need, most often fulfilling only in the short term (instant gratification), but of no value for long-term fulfillment.
When the substance fulfills the need, there is a physiological and/or psychological (depending on whether the need being fulfilled deals with the body or with the mind) incentive to continue using it, because it fulfills the need. From your body/mind’s standpoint, drugs work exactly as advertised, providing an effective fix to an obvious need, and this gratification encourages the body/mind to want to consume more of that substance to continue fulfilling that need, all of which of course is managed by the brain. So far so good, your brain says, I see a need and I am fulfilling it. “Thanks a lot chemicals, you make my job easier!”
But of course, substances only work like that in the long term. Over time, you build up a tolerance to the substance, for the same reason you build a tolerance to sunlight, darkness, loud noises, cold weather, crowded rooms, and so many other things that when you were a child, were completely overwhelming. The first time you try a new substance, whether it’s alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, sex, or heavy metal, it’s almost always more overwhelming when you are first exposed to it. But to prevent you from becoming overloaded with all the intensity that is life, Your body builds up a tolerance to substances, including drugs and alcohol. This is the first mistake addicts make about their addiction: they think that tolerance is specific to the drugs they do, when it’s not really specific to anything. Building up a tolerance is a part of life!
Once your brain gets used to the intake of substances to fulfill a need, such as pain relief, an antidepressant, boredom relief, dulling emotional pain or trauma, the backgrounding of personal conflicts (family issues, lover quarrels, self-loathing, stress from work, coping with rejection), there is a valid incentive for you to continue to take the drug. After all, when you have problems and drugs make all the negativity with the problem go away, it’s a good thing, right? So far so good, The drug is working like magic, getting rid of all the problems!
Except it’s not. You come back to reality, and the problems are still there, and now you’ve built up a tolerance to the drug which requires more of the drug to “fix” the problems like you were before. So you take more of the drug, but the tolerance keeps building, you find that eventually, even an infinite amount of the drug will not help you any more. It’s like eating so much candy that you no longer enjoy it, it only makes you sick to your stomach even as you are craving for more.
The sad part of all this is, is that this problem is not specific to illegal drugs, it’s about all drugs, and even beyond that all substances. Medications, energy drinks, masturbation, sex, pornography, even something as commonplace and necessary as “socialization” can be an addiction; sadly, until social network giants like Facebook became an integral part of many peoples’ lives, social addiction was considered by most people to be an oxymoron; now it’s a serious issue, go figure!
People who either self-medicate or take prescription drugs for mental illness are actually some of the worst addicts, because they are considered by most people to “need” medication, with the entire psychiatric community callously declaring that it’s impossible for a mentally ill person to function without taking prescribed medication. In cases like these addiction is actually “fed” by the people who claim to be “helping” the mentally ill. This is by far the most absurd aspect of the scientific community.
So getting back to the process of addiction as a real-life scenario: Once you realize that the tolerance is so great that the substance(s) you’re using can no longer produce the desired effect, you say, “okay, I’ve had my fun, looks like it’s time to quit”. You figure, I can quit any time I want to, it’s just a drug, and all those people who couldn’t quit I heard about are just statistics, just the ones that weren’t mentally strong enough to overcome their addiction. But I know myself well enough that I can overcome this addiction!”
10 years later, with several months of rehab, support services, and therapy– nope, still addicted. What went wrong? What happened? Let’s find out, but first, a small recap:
I believe that adaptation plays a definitive role in environmental conditioning, and (as explained earlier in this post) addictions develop initially as a valid fix to real physical or psychological needs. But the use of substances to fulfill needs isn’t addiction in-and-of-itself, that’s just dependency. So where does dependency become addiction? The answer, as I explained at the beginning, is identification!
You see, while dependency is definitely unhealthy, you can always stop depending on something so long as you don’t identify with what you’re dependent on. If you are just using substances without associating the substance with the effects that it has on you, there is no addiction, because there is no addictive substance. You can only be addicted to a substance if when using it you associate the effect it has on you with conditioning.
If you smoke a cigarette but don’t associate a cigarette with a a means of inhaling smoke, a transfer device for nicotine, a substance that makes one feel relaxed and lightheaded, a stress reliever, an icebreaker, a subculture, a social activity, an act of rebellion, a sex symbol, an easy way to become cool, a mouthpiece, a gum-number, an activity to do when bored…all of these things that people associate with cigarettes, without even realizing it, identifying with these things are what makes cigarettes so addiction. Nicotine isn’t addictive in-and-of-itself, that’s a lie. Nicotine creates the effect that fuels the dependency, but it’s not addictive. Addiction is far more ordinary. All the above tiny trivial aspects of smoking above, all those are what makes cigarettes addictive.
The same thing applies to all addictions. It’s not the chemical or even the object that makes it addictive, that’s just the source of the dependency. The addiction lies in how you identify with it! The reason why that despite dedicating all their willpower to quitting, that billions of people cannot quit whatever addiction(s) they have, is because they’re going about it all wrong. Addiction isn’t caused by the substance, it’s called by identification. If everyone knew and applied this knowledge, addiction issues would be largely solved in the world!
Dependency doesn’t become addiction until it’s identified with. I can’t explain it any simpler than that. If you want to prevent or cure addiction, I have a universal cure that anyone and everyone that applies it can and will be free of the slavery of addiction, and (if applied to every single facet of their life) complete freedom in general: Don’t identify. Just two words. Thousands of scientific experts couldn’t figure it out with all of their fancy tests, probably because it’s too simple for scientists to even comprehend. Yet there are few pairs of words worth applying more than these two: Don’t Identify.