Addictive Personality-Social vs Biochemical Causes
Mental Stress, Biochemical Imbalance and Social Habits
We all have some addictive tendencies. Every time we find an activity or substance that helps us relieve stress or internal conflict we run the risk of invoking our addictive tendencies. But, there are certain personality traits that make enjoyable activities more risky for some. Addiction is a combination of mental stress, biochemical imbalances and social habits.
Almost all stress is a psychological response to to both internal and external stimulus. Stress can be a very healthy thing. Initially it can increase our learning capacity, increase productivity and heighten awareness. Prolonged stress can become detrimental both to our physical and emotional health.
Biochemical imbalances lead to the increasing amount or intensity necessary to keep the activity or substance producing the same feeling. This increasing need is known as tolerance. What gave you a thrill once becomes same old, same old. Suddenly you need increasing amounts of that action to get the same response.
Habits are actions you develop over time that become subconscious. Smoking, nail biting, even thumb sucking are habits developed because they make you feel better. Repeatedly doing the same action causes it to become a habit. Soon, you don't even think about it. When you get nervous, you bite your nails. At this point you may have crossed the line between habit and addiction.
Addictive Tendencies, Norepinephrine and Serotonin
Why is it that some people don't develop harmful habits and some people develop one, two or many. You may have seen it in your own children, one was impossible to get to stop sucking their thumb; the other never had that problem. How can two people of the same genetic material be so different?
All addictions are coping mechanisms that the individual has found useful in the past to relieve unwelcome feelings of unhappiness or inadequacy. The harmful coping mechanism causes a release of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Stressors cause a release of another neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. These two neurotransmitters cause the brain to have very different feelings. Serotonin causes the brain to feel good. Norepinephrine is responsible for causing the brain to feel panic, anxiety and fear.
How the body controls serotonin and norepinephrine uptake in the brain is very unique. Each person is different and unique, and so is our uptake abilities. Current theory feels that changes in neurotransmitter uptake and reuptake may cause changes in mood and behavior. Most anti-depressives consist of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.
Deficiencies of serotonin in the brain can lead to overwhelming anger, anxiety, depression, panic and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Serotonin also transmits messages between cells in the brain. Serotonin helps to maintain happiness. Lack of serotonin is also linked to feelings of worthlessness, fear, insomnia and apathy.
Addictive Tendencies and Self Control
This release of chemicals happens in all people. So why can some people exhibit self control and some people can't. An important fact to remember at this point is that although addiction and self control has been studied by the psychiatric community for years, very little of their conclusions are fact. Psychology is a science based on theory. We understand very little about how the human mind works in reality.
A new study by scientists at the California Institute of Technology have found differences in the brain function of people who exhibit self control easily and those who have problems with this. Everyone uses a certain area of the brain to make decisions based on values such as health. People who exhibit good self control also employ a second area of the brain. Activity in this second area seems to be lacking in people who exhibit poor self control. This second area of the brain seems to help people consider additional factors when making choices.
Social vs Biological
Could this study help us to learn why some people develop adaptive coping strategies and some people develop harmful coping strategies. We all have stress in life, why can some of us cope and some of us self-destruct. The social-psychological explanations do not make sense to me. Two children of the same biological parents, raised by the same rules, loved the same way may turn out so differently personality wise.
I do not believe you can say that personality is mainly a social conditioning. I believe it more like hair or eye color, more like height. It is interesting to note that a common theory feels that the same part of the chromosome that controls hair color and height, also controls serotonin uptake. Families do not feel bad if one child has brown hair, but another blonde. It is not considered abnormal if some children are taller and some children are smaller. Why then do we beat ourselves up when one adapts healthily and one does not.
Current theories in addictive personality state that these personality types have some common traits. Depression, feelings of worthlessness, social isolation, poor self control, fear, compulsive behavior are all considered traits of the addictive personality. Are these starting to sound familiar? Many of these are related to neurotransmitter deficiencies, however society has led us to believe that we have been bad parents.
I do not condone removing the social element completely from this mix. It has been observed that people who come from strong families, most often with a belief in a higher power develop better coping skills and are less prone to addiction. I would just like to bring up the fact that most of these are unproven theories. Just as two parents with blue eyes are more likely to produce offspring with blue eyes, wouldn't the same be true of parents who have normal neurotransmitter function.
Never Give Up on Yourself
What Does All of This Mean for You?
The good news is that one day there may be a cure for addictive personalities. The bad news is until that day life will be harder on those of us with these traits. As my father often told me, life is not fair. Just as some people have to work harder at learning academics, some of us need to work harder at learning how to deal with life.
I do not mean this hub to give anyone an excuse. We cannot say, "oh well, it's my brain malfunctioning and I can't do anything about that." I just want people to know that it very well may not be that they are too weak, their upbringing was bad, or any of the other current excuses society employs to explain what it doesn't want to face.
We each owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to do everything in our power to become well adapted and productive members of society. Just as people with other physical disabilities do not give up and strive to overcome their restrictions, so must we. Many people have and many people will. The most important part is to not give up hope. If we fall, we must get back up. The present is just that, a present. Appreciation of that present involves getting back on that horse that threw us.
I recently wrote a hub Addictive Activities vs Addiction. In it I list some ways to help prevent addictive activities from turning into addictions. While researching this hub I found another interesting technique. It is called "dicing". It is presented as a way to cope with compulsive eating and other activities that we indulge in when we are bored. I think this technique would also work when internal stressors become overwhelming. It is a good way to divert yourself without employing the same diversion each time.
Dicing is done by writing a list of 21 things you can do when you are bored, not including eating, drinking or TV. When you are bored, you roll dice. Add up all the dots showing on the dice. Find the corresponding action on your list. This is what you will do. Kind of reminds me of when I was a child. If I ever complained of boredom my Mom would happily say, "Oh, are you bored? Well, I have several things you can do".
For the time being I am sending all of you with these addictive tendencies love and good wishes. I understand very well how little things can become overwhelming and how certain circumstances will bring back unpleasant emotional memories. Try to employ awareness and variety, do all things in moderation and get out and make some new friends, find some new interests. Finally, God Bless!