By Ambi Daniel
Addiction has gathered steam on the way to becoming one of society’s biggest challenges.
This goes far beyond the opioid epidemic. It’s not just substances like alcohol or heroin that lead to addiction. To look at addiction, we must consider that anything in life that produces a rewarding response can lead to addiction.
You’ve likely heard people say things like, “Well, it’s OK if it’s a good addiction, like working out.”
Exercise on its own is a fantastic thing. At the same time, if we are starting to see it impacting a person’s life in a negative way, now we start looking at it with different eyes.
Addiction is not about a substance or single behavior; it’s about dysfunction.
Let’s take substances out of the equation and look at cell phones.
Have you ever left home without your cell phone and chose to go back to get it, leading to being late for work? Or, if you didn’t go back, you would be feeling really “off” all day?
Are you regularly sucked into the black hole of cat videos or articles for over an hour when you planned a 15-minute Facebook break?
Have you heard anyone say, “I miss a time without cell phones, I used to do so much more with my life?”
Have you noticed there is a change socially and in interpersonal relationships because of the internet at our fingertips?
Of course, it’s great to have a literal world of knowledge at our fingertips. At the same time, when we look at some of these easy-to-connect-to scenarios, we can see how our lives changed in less functional ways.
One characteristic of dysfunction is not enough to define it as an addiction; however, when we start to have multiple criteria, now we can see the strength of the impact on a persons’ life.
The reality is there is a reason we choose chocolate over salads! Our brain is looking for ways to let us feel rewarded, to keep going, to continue successful survival, successful work and fun.
There are neurotransmitters released telling us, “This was the right decision, do it again! Get that reward!”
And this happens before our logical thinking part of our brain says, “Hold on, let’s look at the pros and cons of this, and make an informed decision, to be sure this is the best plan.”
When you read those two inner dialogues back, how did they sound in your head? Did you have a reaction to the “neurotransmitter voice” versus the “logical brain” voice?
Most of us hear statements like these with specific voices in our head. When there is a photo of Morgan Freeman, many naturally hear whatever is written in his voice! What voice tone did you hear when you read those statements? The tone is telling of what we will emotionally gravitate toward!
Our world is becoming faster and faster and instant gratification is getting more instantly accessible.
So, let’s go back to those cell phones, when someone gets a “like” or a comment on their Facebook post, or finds something connecting to their current emotion, we get that same neurotransmitter boost that says, “Do it again!”
It has become easier to find reward in reading short articles on the internet instead of the delayed gratification of a full book.
When we talk about chemical substances including heroin, marijuana, and alcohol, we are getting that neurotransmitter boost in much more significant ways than a great meal, or a “like” on Facebook.
There are solutions?
So, what does all this mean? Are we all doomed to a world of instant gratification?
It doesn’t, and at the same time, it gets easier to see addiction in a bigger light.
There are many things we can do to halt the cycle. Where can we start?
For many, it’s about starting to recognize there is dysfunction at any level. We can decide to try and change behaviors on our own or to seek help.
In the Mohawk Valley, we are genuinely one of the most resource-rich areas in the state of New York.
There are counselors and therapists that specialize in addiction, and for substance use specifically, we have a growing network of treatment providers, peer advocates, and family support navigators.
At Center for Family Life and Recovery, Inc. we can connect you to the services in our community that best fit your needs.
If we want to start on our own, one of the best tools is to find a way to redirect the behavior and change course.
Let’s go back to those pesky cell phones. If we see it or hear a notification and are triggered to pick it up, we know we may get sucked in. It’s about breaking the cycle and desensitizing to the trigger.
One technique uses technology to beat technology.
There is a free app called Forest App that we’ve been talking about a lot. It’s a very simple concept: You set the timer for how long you want a cell phone break, and this triggers the growing of a “cute little tree.”
While the tree is growing, you are unable to open most apps, without the decision to kill the tree. Many have found this to be a very effective tool because they just can’t kill the trees!
More than one person has shared they have been able to read more books and enjoy more summer activities using this technique!
Regardless of the addiction, tools of redirection are one of the most basic forms to fight those impulses. They say you have three seconds to change your mind. If you have a thought to engage in a behavior that has been causing dysfunction, you want to have a planned set of options of things to actively do.
The more of your five senses you are engaging at once, the more rewarding and stronger the tool will be, which will lead to better, successful redirection.
Cooking is a great example of this. Open your awareness to how ingredients feel, smell, and taste.
Hear the sounds of the stove at work, see the amazing colors that so much of our food has. Exercise is also a fantastic tool that engages multiple senses and also releases neurotransmitters.
When we look at the concept of reward and redirection, it’s also one of the most powerful that loved ones of those struggling with addiction can use.
Ask yourself, what activities would my loved one enjoy doing that I can help them start?
Where can I express appreciation for a job well done or a thank you for a task completed?
These little steps of reward can really impact a shift in the addictive cycle.
We are living in a growing world that is so fast-paced, where we work more and more, and slow down less.
It’s becoming more challenging to stop the momentum to find the little rewards of mindfulness and delayed gratification.
I challenge you to slow down, spend time with your loved ones, and take in the world with as many senses as you possibly can. If you need help breaking the cycle of dysfunction and addiction, please reach out. There are so many of us who will walk with you on your journey to wellness and recovery.
• Ambi Daniel is the director of family support navigation services at the Center for Family Life & Recovery, Inc. in Utica.