Expert Corner: What is the Cause of Addiction?

Expert Corner QuestionI saw a TED talk a while back about why people become addicts. The guy basically said that addiction comes from loneliness. I guess that kind of makes sense, but also doesn’t. For me the loneliness came later. I started drinking and smoking pot with friends in high school because that’s basically all there was to do for fun. It wasn’t until years later after everyone had moved on that I found I didn’t have any friends outside of those I’d use with. I never really stopped using until rehab (I tried a ton of stuff, but heroin was my favorite). Detox was intense. I don’t see how any of that could have been easier if I had friends or something. But I get the idea that maybe I would have quit sooner if I had a better life or friends. But what’s true? Is addiction just isolation or is it a disease or is it something else entirely?

Elevate Expert Answer

I don’t believe I’ve seen that particular TED talk but I’d be interested in watching it. According to the medical industry, addiction is a disease. I don’t disagree, but to me it doesn’t matter whether it is or it isn’t as I’d treat it the same either way.

While personally I wouldn’t say that “addiction comes from loneliness,” I can absolutely see the correlation between the two. I firmly believe that overcoming addiction must contain finding purpose in life and staying true to that purpose. Purpose usually has nothing to do with money, although money can help you to advance your purpose and live more comfortably. Also, people can have more than one purpose. For instance, you may find purpose in raising a family but also have separate career goals. Balancing these things is important, but someone living for their purposes is generally happy and productive.

Let’s take an example: Suzy has always loved animals. Her favorite place as a child was the zoo and she seemed to feel at home with animals even more than most people. Suzy grew up, graduated college and moved to an expensive city to find a job. She settled for an office job that she hates so that she could make money to pay for her house, car, clothes, college loans, etc. She goes out with her co-workers and drinks too much and does drugs because she is seeking an escape from a stressful and miserable life. The irony is that she doesn’t even really care about nice clothes or fashion, isn’t that interested in cars other than transportation, and would be just as happy in a tiny cabin than in her $3000/month apartment. She dreams of leaving it all and going and doing “what she really wants” but feels like she can’t, so she just continues the day-to-day rat race.

I would say that Suzy’s real problem isn’t the drugs or alcohol, it’s the fact that she is continuing to live a life that she feels the need to escape from. And although very temporary, drugs can be a very effective way to escape and forget about things for an hour or two. Suzy is probably surrounded by people, yet feels very lonely or that people don’t understand her. She would probably be much happier working at a zoo or animal habitat or shelter. But her parents told her that there was no money in that, so she decided to go into business so she could make money. Suzy isn’t being true to her purpose and so she seeks to escape her own life. This is so common in America, it is considered normal.

If Suzy were to quit her job and move to the countryside to work with animals, she would be happier. More importantly, she would be around “her people”, others who share her passion for animals. These are people she could relate with and she’d probably have more fun playing with elephants surround by these friends than she ever had on drugs. She would come to work every day happy and enjoy her life. She may not have as much money but she would have less stress and she would feel it was worth it, because her quality of life is high. In her mind, her life would be filled with adventure.

The funny thing is that because Suzy is so passionate about animals, she could probably make a good living as a veterinarian or running a zoo, or opening a business around animals. She might end up making more money than that office job because her heart and soul would be sunk into her work.

The point of the above example is to show that addiction is always referred to as the problem. But in my experience, addiction is always the “solution” for a deeper problem. That deeper problem might be being unhappy with work, coping with trauma, or dealing with family issues. It could be as deep as an abusive childhood where one never felt love or self-worth, or it could be a fear of leading a boring, inconsequential life. All of these things can be solved in much more productive ways than abusing drugs and alcohol.

While Suzy may love animals, that’s not everyone’s purpose. Rick may love computers and James may love painting houses. Rick gets the same level excitement Suzy gets when he is programming code, while James loves to look at a house he’s painted, knowing that he did a great job and the customer will love it and refer him more business. Everyone’s purposes are different and life is about finding our niches.

In reference to your specific situation, you mentioned using heroin and not having any friends other than those you used with. That is very common. People who aren’t doing drugs typically don’t hang out with people who are for the simple reason that it is not forwarding their own purpose. They have goals and dreams and they don’t want anything to get in the way of that. It sounds like you have detoxed and are currently sober which is fantastic.

My advice to you would be to find your purpose, at least one thing you love to do that is healthy and makes you feel good about yourself. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it doesn’t involve drugs. It may be working on cars, designing video games, or flying airplanes. Delve into it and meet others who are doing the same thing and who are successful. It may take some work to get to where you want to be with it, but the point is to dedicate your energy to your purpose. Start from the bottom if you have to, but put yourself in a place that excites you and surround yourself with people who share your enthusiasm. You won’t feel lonely anymore and you will eventually feel less and less need to escape to drugs because your life is fun and exciting and you are connecting with people who share your interests.

Obviously you must always be aware that addiction had a grip on you and you should not let your guard down. It’s not always easy and you will experience cravings, periods of emotional instability, and stress. But when you like getting up and going to work in the morning, it can do a lot to build your confidence and show you how much meaning there is in life and why it would not be worth it to throw it away for a temporary high. If you are unable to stay clean despite all of this, you should continue to seek professional help and may need to go back into treatment. Some people go to rehab once, some go a dozen times. It’s not until they face their fears, get honest with themselves and start living a productive life they don’t have to escape from that they start to change for good.

Good luck.

2 thoughts on “Expert Corner: What is the Cause of Addiction?”
  1. Great post! I agree that some people can be more easily addicted than others, especially if someone makes them feel extremely happy or satisfied in the moment. Hopefully people can be more mindful of what affects their body and choose healthier alternatives.

  2. “her quality of life is high…” to me, this was the best part of the example given. If you find something in your life that elevates the quality of your living; physically, emotionally, and spiritually then you should make a strong attempt to pursue it. Addiction is never an easy thing to deal with, but surrounding yourself with people who care about your recovery and well being is a great place to start.

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