Addiction is …. When the Body becomes the Mind

When we talk of addiction, most of us think that it is merely limited to alcohol,drugs or at the most coffee or tea. How many of us realize that we get equally addicted to emotions such as anger,envy, jealousy,fear, anxiety and even depression. For some, it could be as simple as a love of their daily routines.
In the Corporate world too one finds different forms of work related addictions. For instance, I have known a CEO of a fairly large company who is addicted to personally getting involved in all minor details of every department to such an extent that he ends up doing only urgent jobs. This would leave very little time for important jobs related to long term future of the company. One can easily guess what would be the long term effect on the growth of the company. Likewise, often we come across lots of people in the work place who, even after being promoted, keep doing the job of a lower level position.

The question that arises is how does one handle addictions. Is it at all possible to bring sanity to our addicted Minds? Before we answer the question, we need to first examine and understand the mental processes involved in addiction. Since the answers are provided by Neuroscience,we need to understand a couple of things about our brain. Our brain has two very basic regions – one focusing on conscious behaviour and the other specializing in our subconscious aspect. The part of the brain capable of Conscious thoughts and actions is known as ‘prefrontal cortex’ while the part specializing in subconscious aspects is known as ‘Midbrain’. It is this midbrain which is essentially involved in addiction formation. (Midbrain is also responsible for all involuntary activities like digestion,maintaining the heart pulse rate,body temperature without the intervention of our conscious part of the brain. This is fairly obvious since we do not consciously give any instructions with regard to any of the above physiological functions). Midbrain may be compared to a State operating autonomously within a Federal government. But on the flip side,the same autonomy enjoyed by Midbrain is also responsible for addiction formations. Here is a brief account of how it happens:

In life we gather lots of experiences and each experience is stored in our memory through its association with a Feeling. And Feelings are generally associated with the Body. The Feeling could be positive or negative depending upon whether it is enjoyable or not. Thus over a period of time, we store in our minds a catalogue of experiences and Feelings. By the time we are well into our thirties, virtually most of our experiences and Feelings become predictable. Naturally,then, the body would not be interested in any experience with unpredictable outcome or Feeling. Given a choice, the Body would like to remain in the same comfort zone of predictability. Thus our thoughts are driven or rather governed by Feelings. Based on the feedback from the Body,our minds will entertain only those thoughts which are likely to give a predictable Feeling to the Body. Thus a Feeling will trigger a thought which in turn will generate the same Feeling over and over again. Doesn’t it sound like addiction? In other words one has created a vicious cycle between Thought and Feeling. And only our Midbrain is involved in the entire transaction.

To eloborate, let us take the case of a thought associated with anger, for instance. Let us say someone makes an irritating comment. Our conscious brain picks it up and passes it on to the midbrain to process it further. The midbrain now takes over and makes a mess of the whole thing. It will instantly pass on the impulse to the body which in turn generates a Feeling corresponding to that emotion. Our body language showing anger as an emotion could be one consequence. As I mentioned earlier, now a vicious cycle will set in between the Thought and Anger, each reinforcing the other. Why does it happen? It is entirely due to the autonomous mode of functioning of our midbrain. The conscious brain has no role whatsoever and hence has no control over the phenomenon. The body experiences a certain ‘Feel Good’ factor, meaning that it has established a certain comfort level with respect to that thought as the cause and anger as the effect over a period of time. Our comfort arises from the simple fact that the cause and the effect are predictable.

One obvious symptom of addiction is unwillingness to learn because any new learning implies that the outcome in terms of Feeling is unpredictable and hence falls outside our comfort zone. Thus the body plays safe and repeatedly demands a known thought stimuli which gives rise to a known emotion / feeling. This is the point where the Body becomes the Mind in the sense it has hijacked the mind and virtually started dictating to the mind to perpetuate the same experience. One simple example is when one is addicted to sweets,no matter how much one tries to avoid sweets, one can’t resist accepting the same when it is offered.
Likewise a guy addicted to his daily routine is quite unlikely to accept any suggestion for an outing to a new place without asking a number of questions as to what it would be like, how long it would take, would they be back for dinner, would there be a good resting place etc. In other words such people would not like to experiment anything new. For them every minute detail has to be planned and worked out in advance so that there are no surprises. There is thus no new learning. This is contrary to how young minds act. They would be ever ready to explore anything new just for the thrill of it.

In the next post I will further eloborate on addiction from the standpoint of chemicals produced by the body. Will try and keep it simple.

Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 6:06 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Very interesting article. What do you do for a living, if you don’t mind sharing?

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