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The Powerful Truth Behind Addiction & Your Basic Human Needs

Updated on March 13, 2012

The Psychology of Addiction

Before I can go any further in informing you about the powerful truth behind addiction, and the ways in which you can break the spell of any addiction, I feel its best to start with the psychology behind addiction, which has it's roots (as all things do) in Human Needs.

You see, all humans have basic physical and emotional needs. The physical ones are the most obvious and include things like:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Oxygen
  • Sunlight

Our emotional needs are not all that complicated, though we tend to make them so. When you break them down, really, there are only six basic needs that we all require.

  • Connection (love)
  • Contribution
  • Significance
  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Growth

Certainty, variety, significance and connection are often the needs most of us get stuck on, because we don't quite know it's these needs that will fulfill us and allow us to gain the last two - Growth and Contribution, which are considered spiritual needs.

Anyway We Can

These basic human needs are needs that none of us can ignore or avoid, and they are needs that are always filled. The problem, is that these needs can be filled in both positive and negative ways. So if you aren't able to find a positive way to fulfill your need, you will find a negative way to do so, and most of this is on a subconscious level, until you take it into your conscious control.


  • You and your partner have been experiencing turbulent waters in your relationship. You deeply desire to reconnect with them in a way that makes you both happy, because what you really want from your partner is their positive attention, that attention that shows you they care about you unconditionally. However, when you can't get that positive attention from them, you find yourself angry and upset, and you use those emotions to gain attention from them anyways, but in a negative way, such as through arguing, manipulating or playing head games.


  • You're bored with your current form of employment, and it seems that every day you spend there gets worse and worse. You're boss stinks, your co-workers are to dramatic and the pay just isn't enough for everything you have to put up with. Truthfully, you just aren't getting enough variety in your career sector, but since you aren't consciously aware of this, it just seems like the job has gotten worse or changed, when it's really you that has changed, even if only in perspective. So, being that you aren't aware that you just need variety in your job, an awareness that couldn't brought that to you, you decide to quit your job, essentially filling your need for variety, in a negative way.


Remember that list of basic human needs? You can understand why we need these right?

  • Certainty provides the stability we need in our lives. The knowledge that we will always have our physical and emotional needs met.
  • Variety, also known as uncertainty, is the need to avoid boredom, seek adventure and try out new things. It's the knowledge that we won't be stuck with an imbalance of too much certainty.
  • Significance is what makes us feel special, important and worthy of love. Without significance, we feel like only shadows of ourselves.
  • Connection is what makes us feel loved and loving. When we are connection with others, it brings us a connection with ourselves that we need to have to feel whole.
  • Growth is a need that all beings on earth have. If you don't grow, you die.
  • Contribution is often a need that is ignored or unknown, and is very important. If you aren't able to contribute in someway (to your community, family, kids, relationship, etc..), then life holds no meaning.

So here's the amazing thing about these needs. If something you do, fulfills at least THREE of your needs, you will become INSTANTLY ADDICTED to that thing. It doesn't matter if it's a good thing or a bad thing, because the truth about addiction is that is a necessary part of human survival. Addictions allow us to hold onto the things that fulfill our needs.

The problem is, that our subconscious mind doesn't separate the differences between bad and good addictions. To your subconscious, an addiction to success is just as good as an addiction to failure, because it meets at least three of your human needs, and because there is always good intention from your subconscious for latching onto anything that meets your needs.

EXAMPLE 1: Cigarettes - That disgusting habit that many succumb to. Can you guess which human needs smoking meets?

  • Certainty - You know the cigarettes are always there when you want them.
  • Variety - Not only do you receive the variety of hundreds of flavors and types of cigarettes that you can choose from, but you also provide yourself with the uncertainty of your health. Definitely not a healthy way to meet your need for uncertainty, yet still it is there.
  • Significance - When you become a smoker, you align yourself with a global group of people, all with the same problem. That makes you feel significant, because you know you are part of something greater then yourself, and that significance reinforces your need for certainty.
  • Connection - I know it may not make a lot of sense at first, but you do receive connection from smoking. It's that connection with your youthful innocence, your rebellious side and your need for acceptance.

That is FOUR of your basic human needs met in ONE awful addiction. Though you'll notice that smoking does not met either of your spiritual needs - contribution and growth. This why, no matter how well it meets your other needs, you will never feel satisfied.

EXAMPLE 2: Food - We love it and hate it, and always anticipate it. Food can be a positive addiction, because it provides us with life and energy, or it can be a negative addiction, providing us with excess weight, health concerns and confidence issues. Can you guess how many needs eating meets?

  • Certainty - For most humans, food is something that is reliably always there. The quantities may vary from place to place depending on environment and economy, but it is still there none the less. Even if you have to eat bugs, you know you can always eat and that food can be found in just about anyplace. Because of these factors, eating/food meets your need for certainty 100%
  • Variety - This one is pretty obvious. From mandarin to mediterranean, sushi to sole, there is no lack for variety in the world food. You also gain the uncertainty of weight, which fluctuates all the time, and is something that every person has to keep track of for health reasons.
  • Significance - If you're healthy and fit, and you choose your food according to what it can do for your body and mind, then you meet your need for significance because you are part of a select group who are able to control their diet and health. If you're overweight, have diabetes or another source of eating disfunction, you receive significance by being a part of a large group of people with very big problems involving food and eating.
  • Connection - have you ever gone through a pint of Ben & Jerry's after a bad break up or hard day at work? How about sharing popcorn and candy with a lover during an intimate movie? How about the holidays, do you celebrate by eating with your family and friends? Food is something all humans need, and so it brings us connection and love. With connection, you reinforce certainty, knowing that connection to yourself and the rest of the world will be there anytime you get the munchies.
  • Growth - Both literally and figuratively, food can help you grow. Now whether that growth appears through weight gain and depression, or it shows up as an intense passion for the culinary arts that leads you to become a world famous chef, that's up to you. Either way, the potential for fulfilling our need for growth is easily met by food.
  • Contribution - You can contribute with food by feeding your family, feeding a homeless family or by contributing to community events. Food one thing that gives us life, so any time you are able to give it to another, you are able to meet your need for contributing and feel the power of taking part in something greater than yourself.

Alcohol, risky behaviors, relationships, careers, drugs, caffiene, shopping, saving, creating, destroying. Every addiction becomes an addiction because it meets three or more of your basic needs. If it meets all six, like food does, there isn't anything on earth that can move you to give it up. Though that doesn't mean there aren't ways to turn negative addictions (including ones involving food) into positive addictions.

Let's Recap... What is it that causes addictions?

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Why You Can't Quit

The reason why people find it hard to quit a negative addiction is simpler than you might imagine. It is due to the fact that once you've become addicted, the process becomes unconscious, meaning it goes on autopilot. Once it gets to that stage, you'll play hell trying to get it back into a conscious level of control where you can deal with it.

The other reason that negative addictions are hard to beat is because you can't just stop or quit doing it, because that addiction meets your core needs, and to your unconscious, the idea of quitting or stopping something that has met your needs for so long, holds too much uncertainty.

How to Break The Spell

If you are truly ready to develop more positive addictions and to let go off your negative addictions, then all you have to do is break the spell. You can do it with these simple steps and a LOT of persistence and determination.

  1. Make It Conscious

    So long as the addiction remains on an unconscious level, you'll never get control over it. So you need to bring it to a conscious level so that you can scrutinize it and understand it. The way to do that, is to stop and look around at exactly where you are and what you do when you renew your addiction.

    When I decided it was time become a non-smoker, I first stopped and looked around. I realized that I ALWAYS had an ashtray near me (sometimes several), I always had my cigarettes in my pocket or within reach and I surrounded myself with people who smoked. I also noticed that when I smoked, my body hunched over, in a similar manner to how your body would be shaped if you were depressed. Shoulders hunched over, bad posture, a frown on my face. Worst of all, I found that I was reinforcing my desire to smoke by using it as a means to escape the hectic house I live in, with two rambunctious boys. It was my way to escape, relax, de-stress and reconnect with myself.
  2. Change

    Once you know how you are triggering and reinforcing your desire for your negative addiction, it's time change those things before you do anything. My first list of things that I did, was to put the ashtrays away and completely out of site. Then it was to put the cigarettes far away from myself, which for me, was in the bathroom drawer. Then I needed to cleanse myself of spending so much time with others who smoked, which wasn't easy since half of my family and friends are all smokers. Once I had gotten rid of as many environmental triggers as I could, it was time to change my physiology and psychology of the matter.

    First I sat up right, made my posture a conscious habit, got out and exercised more and replaced the majority of the energy I put into smoking, into reading my favorite books and playing with my new Kinect. The physiology was essentially the easy part after environmental, but as we all know, it's the psychology that's hard to beat. Though the first thing I did, and the greatest thing I can ever suggest anyone else do, is to realize that in order to become what you want to become, you have to believe you are already there. So I started telling myself I was a non-smoker. At first it was just a little voice I shared in my own head, but then it become bigger and felt more important. Then I started to tell others that I was a non-smoker, until I finally become a non-smoker. The belief that I was already there, is essentially what got me there.
  3. Replace

    Because of the need and good intentions behind any addiction, you can never just "stop" or "Get rid of" an addiction. If you did, you would just find yourself with a very large void needing to be filled, which will probably be the thing that stops you from letting go of your negative addictions. As I said above, I found that putting all that energy I used to put into smoke, which was a lot more energy then I thought until I stopped and made it a conscious process, into playing kinect video games and reading. Both of these addictions are positive and rewarding in many ways. The kinect bring exercise and feel good hormones. The reading distracted me from not smoking, and gave me a healthier means of "escaping" from the rest of the house, relaxing and connecting with myself when I needed to.
  4. Reinforce

    Now, I don't want anyone to believe that I had a fairy tale ending or anything. There have been several times when I've fallen back on smoking. And though I'm unhappy with myself for allowing that to happen, I have found there to be plenty of good in those brief failures, because they allowed me to see what some of my biggest triggers for smoking were.

    So if you find that you fall back on your old negative habits, don't despair. You certainly don't want to go out and celebrate your mistakes, but everything holds an opportunity for learning, especially failures. And once you realize they are learning opportunities, you then provide yourself with even more ways to change your bad habits into good ones.
  5. Remember

    You weren't born with your negative addictions. Even if you were born to find ways to fulfill your needs, which is what creates addictions, you still had to develop your bad habits. Important this is to think about, because when it comes time that you no longer want to continue filling your needs in a negative way, you have to think back to that time when you lived without the bad habit. Before you were sad, before you drank, before you were bitter, before you did drugs, before you were fat. Think about it and REMEMBER what it was like to fill your needs and be fulfilled as a person, BEFORE you had this bad habit.

    For me, I had to sit and seriously meditate on what it was like before I took that first drag. It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be at first. 11 years of smoking was all I focused unconsciously, because it was that connection with myself, an identity I hadn't realized I had identified myself with. Though once I really dug for those memories... when I was 7 and I used to take my dad's packs of smokes and throw them away, telling him he shouldn't smoke because I loved him.... When I was 11, and I rode my bike everywhere, and had lots of pocket money saved....The memories flooded back, from the day I started smoking - at 14, and all the years before that, when I was a non-smoker. There is no irony in the fact that most of us can trace our negative addictions back to a time when we left our innocence behind. Remembering that innocence, has helped me greatly, as it has helped many others. Now it's your turn, remember.

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Submit a Comment
  • BizGenGirl profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Lake Stevens

    Thank you Broke-One, I really appreciate your feedback, and I am glad you are reaching out to your ex-husband. I can tell that you still care for him very much, even if it's not viable to be with him anymore. Though that just goes to show, that you were able to find healthier ways to fulfill your needs than he was. Hopefully this hub will help him out a bit. I'm usually around if you or he have any questions. =)

  • Broken-One profile image


    7 years ago

    I very much liked your article. I was married to a man for 10 years who was an addict. It was unbearable and there was nothing that I could do to help him. I am going to forward this to him. What he does with it, is on him.

    So thank you.


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