Is Pleasure an Addiction?

When I naïvely asked the above question over a very pleasurable lunch with my friends, I got the following not very pleasurable reactions:

“Give me a break-having a few drinks after shopping for a couple hours is an addiction?”

“Are you telling us that having a good time addictive?”

My answer: “Okay, guys, what do you expect me to do, here” -leave, or explain what I was trying to say?”

Their response: “You’re addicted to explanations, anyway, so go ahead and clarify your statement.”

What is pleasure?

Pleasure is “A feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment, or an event or activity from which one derives enjoyment.”

Here’s my question for you: What do you really enjoy a lot?

Video games? Gambling? Drinking alcohol? Eating sugary foods? Shopping? Using street drugs? Cheating on your partner? Watching TV endlessly… watching porn or scary movies?

All of the above could become addictions.

Why?

Because they give you pleasure; they stimulate the brain’s pleasure centre.

Any kind of stimulation of the pleasure centre releases massive amounts of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter and a neurohormone produced in the brain.

Don’t stimulate your brain’s pleasure centre too often-you can wear it out! The intense and repeated release of dopamine will damage the receptors in your brain and cause them to tire of stimulation.

We people like dopamine very much. In the field of science, dopamine is called “the pleasure neurotransmitter.” With adequate amounts of dopamine, we feel good, happy, and satisfied.

And what’s wrong with that? Nothing, really… except that many illegal drugs and the other things people enjoy, such as those mentioned above, also target with the brain’s pleasure receptors, releasing dopamine and contributing to possible addiction.

Individuals who are addicted engage in the process of releasing dopamine even if they know it’s bad for them.

The brain’s pleasure centre can be damaged not only by overuse but by toxins or head trauma, as well. The result is the same.

After a while, an individual will need more stimulation or more extended periods of intense stimulation just to release adequate amounts of dopamine. What follows this overuse is that the brain’s pleasure centre will be less responsive.

Translated, less responsive simply means that the brain will produce less dopamine.

But we do need dopamine-right?

Yes, we do. However, when less dopamine is released, a person may be headed for depression or for an addiction to the original stimulus (e.g., nicotine, drugs, alcohol).

In the beginning, a person turns to “pleasure”; after the brain’s pleasure receptors are overused for a period of time, however, he or she is at risk for addiction.

In light of the information I’ve just shared, is the question, “Is pleasure an addiction” a valid one? The answer is a definite “yes,” since any overuse of pleasure can lead to addiction.

Of course, it’s important to enjoy the things you love-doing so makes for a happy and satisfying life. However, as the saying goes, “All things in moderation.” If you keep this in mind, you’ll steer clear of the path to addiction.

The Double Life of Sex Addiction

Sex addicts are just like you and I, with the exception that they are struggling with a disorder that is gradually consuming more and more of their lives. Because sex addiction causes addicts to continually increase and escalate their sexually compulsive behaviors, they begin to lead double lives. They lead their normal life the best they can and live every moment of the day for their addictive life. Over time the normal life will unravel as the addictive life consumes more and more of time and energy.

For addicts, this issue is a deep, haunting secret. They live in constant fear of being caught. Tension, anxiety and stress built up as a result of having to live a secret double life. The compulsion to engage in sexual behaviors becomes more and more time consuming and the addict finds that he has to constantly escalate his behaviors just to achieve a sense of normalcy in his life. Along with a deteriorating emotional state, many addicts suffer from severe consequences as a result of their double life.

Relationships suffer as a result of this addiction. When a sex addict is living a double life, he tends to withdraw from everyone, including his spouse or life partner. This means that his relationships will suffer and in some cases become broken. The person he is in a relationship with will find it difficult to understand his change in behavior. Naturally, the addict will not be able to explain that change out of fear of revealing his double life.

Leading a double life often has serious financial implications as well. Individuals begin to neglect their responsibilities or are unable to perform well at work as a result of engaging in sexually addictive behaviors the night or morning before work. In some cases, addicts may even be engaging in sexual behaviors while at work, to the detriment of their duties. All of these instances of neglect will eventually add up, and employers will be left with no choice but to terminate the person. Repeated warnings will not be enough for an addict to stop the neglectful behavior from continuing.

Another source of stress and financial burden comes from the expenses related to leading a double life as a sex addict. Just like gambling, alcohol and drug addictions, sex addiction can become quite costly. The costs of pornography, online sex chats, phone sex chat lines, prostitutes, strip clubs, adult videos and books and other sexually related goods can add up to huge debt for the sex addict. The burden of covering up these expenses combined with the looming debt will only add to the pressure the addict is experiencing while trying to keep his double life a secret.

Over time, this double life can lead to severe consequences such as divorce or loss of a house. Unfortunately, like any other addiction, the individual will need to make the decision to seek help, and it often takes serious consequences to convince a sex addict to get help. However, once the addict makes that decision, there are many effective programs that can lead him to lifelong recovery.

10 Common Questions Men Have About Sex Addiction

1. Question: Am I a sex addict?

Answer: There are a number of red flags that can signal an addiction to sex. A person who uses sexual activity be it intercourse, viewing pornography, phone sex, chat rooms, prostitution or masturbation as a numbing agent, something to prevent them from feeling bad, may have a sex addiction. Other indicators the sexual behavior is causing the addict problems include their spouse becoming upset over their behavior or they’ve gone into debt over payment for phone sex lines or Internet pornography sites. Spending an excessive amount of time viewing pornography Over 10 hours a week is another red flag, since this sexual behavior is interfering with time spent with friends, family or at work.

Another key factor is the addict has tried to stop engaging in sexual behavior but failed. When all these things come together, it’s time to ask a professional about getting help.

2. Question: Can I be cured?

Answer: Many sex addicts have reported being able to bring their sexual behavior under control, through any one of a variety of treatment methods. Some attend intensive rehabilitation facilities; others go to therapy sessions, attend 12 step meetings or use medication and a host of other techniques to control their sexual behavior. This can include finding a trusted person to act as an “accountability partner.” Or for pornography addicts, it can mean the use of pornography blocking computer programs.

3. Question: Does being cured mean I give up sex?

Answer: No. Unlike chemical dependencies related to alcohol or drugs, sex is recognized as a healthy aspect of life. Treatment for sex addiction, while it does involve a period of abstinence, seeks to bring harmful and unwanted troublesome sexual activity under control to where it is no longer causing harm. It may lead to stopping viewing pornography, discontinuing solicitation of prostitutes and other “bottom line” behaviors or even illegal activities. The goal is stopping harmful behavior, but certainly not giving up sex.

4. Question: Is sex addiction even real, or just something people use to excuse their behavior?

Answer: Truth be told, there are some experts who don’t feel sex addiction is real and say it’s more a product of conflicting social norms and mores. Other say sex addiction exists but do not feel it meets the definition of an addiction in the same way addiction to alcohol or drugs does. For a sex addict seeking treatment, it may be a moot point. To get treatment, first one has to recognize they have a problem and stop trying to use their own willpower alone to control it. Many people have sought treatment for sex addiction and reported results. Much of the criticism about its validity has been aimed at celebrities embroiled in public sex scandals and is hardly analogous to the average person not living in the public eye. Sex addiction is real and one struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors certainly can attest to that fact.

5. Question: What caused this? How did I get to be this way?

Answer: There is no definitive cause for sex addiction, and for each person it will be different. Many sex addicts report being sexually abused at a young age and growing up with a distorted view of sex and what a healthy sex life should be. For others, it is simply the rush of chemicals in their brain after discovering a parent’s pornography stash or coming across it in some other fashion. Still others indicate the accessibility of Internet pornography had them fall into a cycle, while there are those who turned to using sex as a numbing agent during a difficult period in their lives and began relying on it as a coping mechanism. For some growing up with abuse, neglect, abandonment and enmeshment have cause the to seek out other ways to feel good about life and themselves.

While knowing the cause of sex addiction is important, those on the path to recovery should not seek to dwell on the unchangeable past; instead, they need to focus on their present actions.

6. Question: Does viewing pornography and sexual interaction over the Internet count as cheating on my spouse?

Answer: Not to be glib, but it can depend on the spouse. Certainly many women do feel that their spouses having cybersex or phone sex with another woman qualifies as infidelity. They may not react in the exact same way as if it had been physical sex with another woman, but the impact on a relationship can be dire. First, the wife will feel betrayed. She won’t trust her husband if he’s been hiding his behavior. She may can feel bad about herself, perhaps thinking some failing on her part led the husband to seek these sexual outlets.

Even pornography viewing can be a sore spot for women. Society places a lot of pressure on women to be physically attractive and sexually desirable and they may feel they are in competition with actresses in pornographic videos. This can affect their self-esteem, even if they do not confront their husband about the behavior.

7. Question: Can medication lower my sex drive so I don’t have this problem.

Answer: Yes and no. There are medications out there that can lower a person’s sex drive, and they are often used to treat sex addiction. However, they are limited in their power to erase the problem completely. Some form of therapy, be it a 12 step program or other process, is required.

8. Question: Will I ever be cured or is this a lifelong problem?

Answer: Many people report being able to bring their sexual behaviors under control, sometimes after a period of months or years, and are living lives relatively free of problems related to sex addiction. These people have addressed the factors in their life they had once sought to control by using sex; they have now embedded into their lives multiple tools to avoid falling back into destructive addiction cycles. For some, there is always the fear they will relapse, and some do struggle with sex addiction for long periods of time. There is no quick fix for the problem.

9. Question: I’m also addicted to alcohol. Is my sex addiction just a sign that I’m susceptible to addictive behaviors in general?

Answer: In some ways, yes. Many sex addicts report being addicted to alcohol, drugs, or behaviors such as gambling. They also claim family members with various addictions. It’s certainly been theorized that a person can have a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviors. As to treating multiple addictions, it should be noted that many sex addiction treatment programs are modeled after alcohol treatment techniques developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. 12 step programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous model their programs after and borrow their literature from that organization.

10. Question: Am I really a sex addict or is my sex drive just naturally high?

Answer: The difference between a sex addict and a person who enjoys a lot of sex has to do with why the behavior is being sought and the inability to stop an unwanted behavior as well as the obsession and compulsion. A person with a high sex drive is aroused and in most cases can control acting on that arousal. A sex addict is engaging in sex as a coping mechanism, isolating themselves from others even if they have a real life partner for the sex, and engaging in the sex act compulsively. They may feel shame after they complete the act, or some general feelings of depression. Actual arousal is not the primary motivator.

Perpetually Erect Penis – Sex Addiction or Normal Male Desire?

At some point, most men probably wonder whether they might have a sex addiction or whether that always-ready erect penis is just part of being a man. Clearly, a tool that is always at the ready is a sign of good penis health, but even so, the possibility that he may have a sex addiction problem can make a man feel quite uncomfortable. So how is a guy supposed to tell if he is addicted?

What is sex addiction?

Sex addiction – also known by the term “hypersexuality” – is a cause for enormous debate among the medical and psychiatric communities. Some people believe that there is no such thing; others believe that it most certainly does exist. But even among the latter group, there is a range of opinions concerning how to define it – and how to diagnose it.

Writing on PsychCentral, Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S, defines sex addiction as “a dysfunctional preoccupation with sexual fantasy, often in combination with the obsessive pursuit of casual or non-intimate sex; pornography; compulsive masturbation; romantic intensity and objectified partner sex for a period of at least six months.”

Weiss also states that an addiction may exist if this obsessive behavior continues despite efforts to stop it and despite the impact that it has on relationships, social life and work. He compares it to other obsessive addictive behaviors like gambling and binge eating.

If it feels good, is it addiction?

One of the traits of sex addiction is that sex is often used to make a person feel better; rather than soothing oneself in a non-sexual manner or talking to others about problems they are experiencing, sex addicts tend to turn to sexual behaviors to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.

That does not mean that a guy who occasionally fondles his tool when he’s feeling stressed or seeks to bed someone when he’s blue is a sex addict; but if this kind of behavior occurs with great frequency and if it cannot really be controlled by the man, then an addiction is quite likely.

The un-controlled aspect is key; many men have extremely high sex drives and engage in sex with an above average frequency; but they do this by choice. So, just because it feels good to have sex and a man does it often does not mean he has an addiction.

Seeking help

If a man does think that perhaps his sexual activity goes beyond normal and has the possibility of being an addiction, he should definitely seek help. There are recovery programs, such as Sexaholics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous, that can provide support and aid in dealing with the issue. Mental health professionals, such as psychotherapists, psychiatrists and some social workers, are another resource; those with training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can men develop strategies to meet their sex addiction challenges. Certain medications, such as SSRIs (often used in treating depression and anxiety), may be prescribed by doctors to help control sexually compulsive behaviors; various mood stabilizers may also be used. Seeking help for a sex addiction is very important; as more becomes known about this condition in future years, more therapies will be developed to help those suffering from it.

Many men who experience a sex addiction engage in sex so frequently or with such aggressive behavior that their erect penis can become damaged – raw and sore or even de-sensitized — due to rough handling. And it’s not just hypersexual men who encounter this; many men find themselves in the same boat. This is why it’s crucial that men make a habit of using a superior penis health cream (health professionals recommend Man 1 Man Oil) on a regular basis. A cream with shea butter and vitamin E will nourish and moisturize the skin; if the cream also contains acetyl L carnitine, which is neuroprotective, it can help restore sensitivity lost due to peripheral nerve damage caused by rough use. And if L-arginine is also present in the cream, there will be a benefit to penis blood flow, as that ingredient aids the process which keeps blood vessels open.

Responsible Gaming and Addiction

Gaming is one of those fun activities that most Ugandans find appealing. This is especially true for online gaming and online casinos. The beauty is that gaming online is safe because the regulation bit has been taken care of the National Gaming Board Uganda which is a body corporate that was established to ensure responsible gaming in Uganda.

Despite the regulation that has been put in place, it is still your responsibility as a player to ensure that you play the right way and avoid any gambling issues that may arise. Many games have gotten addicted because they probably were not advised as to how best to play. Many have found themselves borrowing money to facilitate their gaming and losing jobs all because they do not exercise any form of restraint. The truth of the matter is that for you to reap anything out of gaming, you need to be extremely disciplined.

The commonest symptom of gambling is the inability to stop irrespective of how much money has been lost. Addicts are the gamers that you will find playing day or night and who often resort to pleading tactics when told to stop. They keep requesting for more time or one more game. Addiction is mostly intensified or fuelled by the use of substances like alcohol and drugs since these remove any inhibitions that one might have.

How to avoid the addiction – The Four Pointers

  1. Have a pre-set budget: Creating a budget will give you a discipline that you need while gaming. Given that people earn different incomes, it’s essential that you do not base your budget on that of others but rather create one that fits perfectly into your income. Remember that gaming money should not take priority over bills like rent, food and tuition. It should be taken from your supplementary budget after other essential expenses have been removed. Remember to stick to your budget and not divert from it irrespective of whether you are winning or losing. If you need to reinvest, rather invest with your winnings than with money that is not budgeted for.
  2. Do not accumulate unnecessary debts: Borrowing is not a good decision when it comes to gaming. Not only will it create unnecessary anxiety but will also put a lot of strain on your finances. Remember that gaming is not a necessity so if you have no money, you would rather postpone it than enter into debts.
  3. Follow a strict set of rules: Setting your personal rules will help you have a discipline when playing. Set a time frame within which to play so as to leave room for other activities. Also essential is that you do not raise the stakes when you lose. Count all losses as such as opposed to them being a ticket for further playing. It is also essential that you follow the rules that you have set and not deviate from them.
  4. Never rely on your luck: Luck is just odds and this might not guarantee a good gaming experience for you. It is important that you understand that at certain times you will win while other times you will lose. At some point you will hit a jackpot but this does not mean that you should continue playing thinking that it is your night. It is important that you have fun while playing and not take the game too seriously. So play for playing sake and have fun while at it.

The above are just a few pointers of how to avoid gambling. However, in the event that you find yourself an addict, there is still hope for you. You might need some professional help along the way and might even need to close your accounts for a while until you get things under control.

Breaking the Bondage of Addiction

Addictions today have become more common than we dare to accept. Many types of addictions have become socially acceptable, in these morally and spiritually bankrupt times. Good things when misused can turn into addictions.

What is Addiction?

It is dependency on a particular substance or behaviour which is impossible to break without timely intervention. It destroys the person, demoralizes the family and all those associated with him.

Society has a general tendency to consider different kinds of substance abuse as addiction, while ignoring certain behaviour patterns that are equally addictive. Food, shopping, gambling, work, or sex can turn to behaviour addictions and create problems that are just as destructive as substance abuse.

• Workaholics would be shocked if told that work has become their addiction. They believe that frenetic activity is good for mental health and wellbeing. People want to carve out positions of power and honour through their professional accomplishments. What starts as a worthy ambition soon grows into an addiction. Without work they feel enervated and depressed.

• Food becomes an emotional pacifier to satisfy longings, loneliness or low self esteem. People eat when under stress. The act of digesting the food switches off that part of the brain mechanism that makes them tense. The rise of serotonin when food is taken makes them feel good. Those who live alone and are sad or depressed are vulnerable. One woman who was eating all the time said, “I miss my husband, and my stomach does not know the difference between hunger and love.” Frenzy feeding is an addiction. It is a vicious cycle. When a depressed person snacks, his blood sugar rises and he feels good. But insulin shoots up in the blood and after a while, blood sugar falls. So he feels depressed again and reaches for a hot chocolate or a cookie.

• Gambling: Lotteries, playing cards, number games, casino games, betting at the races or even cricket matches and other sporting events can become addictive. Even losing money doesn’t deter them. They believe that luck is just around the corner. The adrenaline rush overshadows the guilt of money lost and debts piling up.

• Shopaholics are compulsive buyers. Whenever they are angry or frustrated, they find release in purchasing a pair of shoes or an expensive dress, irrespective of the money and time wasted. It makes them snap out off their moods.

• Relationships: Some people develop an over dependence on a particular person to make them feel complete or fulfilled. This may lead to stalking, threatening or harming the very person they claim to love.

• Sexual addiction is when the need for sex becomes a compulsive obsession whether marital, extramarital or same sex. 44% of sex addicts are embarrassed by what they do, but can’t help themselves nor will they seek treatment. Fetishes, pornography, rape, frottage (pawing women) flashing, are some of the ways by which they get their orgasm. This addiction is to the neurochemical changes that occur during sex. Sex addiction in women is becoming a major problem.

• Mood altering chemicals like cocaine, heroin, LSD, amphetamines, ketamine, and prescription drugs like cough syrups, sedatives, tranquillizers are habit forming. Even caffeine (one cup of coffee contains 150mgs of caffeine) is addictive. Drugs provide a feeling of well being and a false sense of power and control.

• Alcohol is a threat to modern civilization. With free availability, younger age groups are becoming hooked on alcohol. Alcoholism is said to decrease the life span of a person by twelve years. It is a depressant that affects the central nervous system immediately. No doubt it temporarily reduces tension and brings about relaxation. But in the long run, it destroys a person mentally and physically.

• Smoking is a habit very difficult to kick. It has damaging effects on liver, heart and is implicated in the cause of cancer.

All addictions, whether behavioural or chemical, are destructive. They gradually rob one of will power or self control. With drugs and alcohol, the body becomes tolerant to small amounts. So, larger quantities are needed. Mixing of drugs enhances potency, but also increases dangers. Health deteriorates. There is loss of control and inability to manage one’s affairs. Even routine jobs are difficult to perform. Behaviour becomes erratic.

Causes of Addiction:

1. Friends or family members may introduce the young impressionable teen to a glass of beer or a cigarette. This may be the beginning of a love for these substances. Recently, the case of a brandy guzzling child of five was reported. His parents started giving him brandy every day to ward off asthmatic attacks.

2. Keeping wrong company. Peer pressure can be very persuasive.

3. Disorganized home environment where parents are poor role models. There is no love, warmth or appreciation of a sensitive child. Parents may quarrel frequently or there may be domestic violence.

4. Poor and unsafe neighborhoods where drunkenness, violence and abusive behaviour is a way of life.

5. Lack of direction with no moral standards to live by. Young people can be easily influenced into wrong ways.

6. Glorification of alcohol, drugs and vices through films, TV, advertisements.

7. Easy availability of alcohol and drugs.

How to break the bondage of Addiction:

• By first admitting that one has a problem with either substances or behaviour; that life is fully out of control; that there is loss of dignity.

• By seeking help from trained counselors or psychiatrists. They will help to get to the root of the problem – Injustice? Fear? Worthlessness? Anger? Life is not a bed of roses.

Everybody has problems, but one must learn to deal with them without the aid of substances. It is important to be conscious of one’s vulnerabilities.

• Approach for alcohol and substance abuse is multidisciplinary. It needs admission to a facility dealing exclusively with these problems. Medical measures will involve detoxification and treatment of withdrawal symptoms.

Psychological management will be through:

1. Counseling individually, by which he is psychologically conditioned to stay away from drugs or alcohol. Each member of his family must also cooperate with the addict’s treatment, through love, understanding and compassion.

2. Group therapy will help the addict realize that he is not alone and that there are others in a similar situation. Here there is mutual understanding, acceptance, sharing of individual problems and sympathy.

3. Sociotherapy involves teaching the addict effective methods of adjustment to normal life. He should not be left in a high risk environment. Community reinforcements like recreation clubs, Alcoholics Anonymous, and job availability will be helpful.

Rehabilitation can be a long and hard battle depending on whether the addiction is to a substance or behaviour. It depends on the addict’s desire and determination to be cured, and the support he receives from his loved ones. Relapses may occur. But there must be the will to start all over again. Sometimes it may be a life long struggle especially with drug addicts and alcoholics. Therefore finding support groups is important.

Along with therapy, dependence on God is essential. A daily walk with God will strengthen a person enough to surmount the injustices of life, and dispel lurking fears.

The seeds of addiction are within all human beings. We need to periodically examine ourselves and see if there are things we find difficult to let go, and which have the potential to turn into addictions.

Spider Solitaire Addiction

Addiction: Merriam-Webster defines it as “Compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful”.

That’s right. People are addicted to cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. That’s why there are so many ways offered to wean yourself from these additions. People are addicted to other things too such as food (chocolate ranks up high in food addictions), and gambling. There are all these programs available to help people get weaned from these addictions — alcoholics anonymous, overeaters anonymous, gamblers anonymous…

A newer addiction is the addiction to the computer. People can spend hours surfing the web, or playing the latest computer games.

But the biggest addiction seems to be to Spider Solitaire. It’s so readily available. It comes for free with every Window’s installation. It takes just a few minutes to learn. You start with just one suite. Quickly move up to two suites. And then begins the challenge… Four Suites! That’s when the addiction comes. The game allows you to backtrack as many moves as you want — even all the way to the beginning of the game. You can spend hours just retrying the same game but when that game ends, whether win or lose, you’ll quickly press “new game” and start all over.

I have done a little research onto how the game has affected people’s lives. Answers I have received:

  • I stayed up all night playing
  • I didn’t take the dog for his walk (what a mess!)ï’· Supper burned (lucky for the smoke alarm)
  • Forgot to pick up my kids from school
  • Spent a full day at work just playing
  • Missed a full day of work
  • _______________________ Write in your own — no one’s immune.

The Solution

Everybody’s gone through it. There are no simple solutions. No special gum. No patches. No clinics. No support groups (who could pull themselves away from Spider to get to a group meeting). There’s only one solution. Delete the game from your computer. The one at work too. Do a good search to make sure you’ve deleted any instance of it. Then just pick up a new computer addiction (try Facebook). No other computer addiction is as bad as Spider Solitaire.

Recovery From Addiction Through Basic Mindfulness

Introduction

Currently, there is no clear consensus among health professionals in precisely defining addiction. Historically, it has been defined narrowly only in relation to psychoactive substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Increasingly in recent years, however, many dysfunctional behavioral patterns that are not specifically substance-based are viewed by many professionals also as “addictions.” Some common examples are addictions to: gambling, food, sex, pornography, computers, video games, watching TV, dieting, internet use, work, exercise, shopping, cutting/burning oneself, etc.

A common unifying theme with the victims of all of these disorders is how powerfully and repetitively they are internally driven to engage in the particular activity that defines their addiction.

There is, moreover, growing evidence from neuroscience research that the neurophysiology of ALL addictive disorders, whether substance-based or behavioral, is very similar in many ways. Endorphins (or endogenous morphine), for example, as well as key transmitter substances such as dopamine, epinephrine, and serotonin are common mediating factors in all of these disorders.

The prevalence of these addictions in the modern world is staggeringly high. In the U.S. alone 15.1 million people are addicted to alcohol, 4 million to drugs, and over 20% of the population is still addicted to tobacco.

Although there is no reliable way to estimate the total prevalence of all the behavioral addictions, there is abundant evidence that they are extremely common. As a matter of fact, there are probably very few people alive today who are not subject to some form of addictive behavior.

In this regard, answering the following question with complete honesty will help you determine if you may be one of them: Do I ever feel driven to engage in any form of behavior that I personally regard as self-defeating or harmful and about which I later feel guilt, shame, embarrassment and/or remorse to some degree?

A New Way to Understand Addictions

The following formulation, although grossly oversimplified in many ways, is intended to help provide an initial rough framework for understanding how Basic Mindfulness offers a highly effective way to deconstruct the brain/mind formations that underlie all addictive behaviors.

Like all other creatures on this planet, humans universally tend to seek pleasure and to avoid or escape from pain. Although these two extremely strong genetic instincts have been and continue to be essential to survival, they are also the extremely fertile common ground in which all addictive behaviors become strongly rooted and sustained.

The basic habit patterns that comprise the core of these addictions start developing out of these intrinsic propensities in a very natural and lawful way even before we are born and continue to proliferate from that point onward.

The twin principles that govern their natural initial development can be stated quite simply, although they progressively evolve into highly complex and subtle brain/mind processes that are much more challenging to understand.

Principle #1: Whenever we do anything that is followed by an increase in subjective pleasure or satisfaction, the probability that we will do it again increases to some degree. In general, the probability of recurrence of such a behavior is proportional to the degree of pleasure/satisfaction experienced.

Each subsequent repetition of this particular sequence further increases the probability of its future recurrence or its “habit strength.” As it continues to develop, it will tend to become increasingly streamlined or “automatic,” requiring progressively less conscious awareness and/or intentionality for its occurrence. An automatic habit pattern that has developed primarily in this way will be referred to here as a pleasure-seeking reaction.

Principle #2: Whenever we do anything that is followed by a decrease in subjective physical/emotional pain, discomfort or dissatisfaction, the probability that we will do it again also increases slightly. Again, this increment in the probability of recurrence is generally proportional to the degree of reduction in subjective pain/dissatisfaction that is experienced.

Each subsequent repetition of this sequence similarly increases the probability of its future recurrence or its “habit strength.” As this happens, it will also become progressively more automatic as described above. This type of automatic habit pattern will be referred to here as a terminating reaction.

As used above, the words, “do anything,” refer to external behaviors as well as to their internal representations -i.e., the emotional feelings, mental imagery and/or self-talk to which they give rise. Typically, these internal representations are strongly linked to the external behavioral reactions from which they are derived and thus become a key part of the overall reactive pattern. Very commonly, they also play an important part in activating the external behavioral part of the reaction.

For example, thinking about/imaging a piece of chocolate cake in the refrigerator will tend to activate the corresponding pleasure-seeking reaction of actually eating it. Similarly, if you have a headache, your terminating reaction of taking an aspirin is highly likely to be preceded by thinking, for example, “I need an aspirin,” and/or an image of taking one and getting relief.

As nearly everyone knows from much personal experience, reliving a pleasure-seeking reaction in imagery tends to activate–at least to some degree-subtle feelings of pleasure; conversely, reliving a terminating reaction in imagery similarly tends to activate subtle feelings of getting relief from pain/discomfort. The same is true of anticipatory imagery and/or engaging in internal self-talk about future occurrences of pleasure or pain.

For example, someone experiencing a lot of stress at work may repeatedly imagine what she is going to do when the weekend comes and/or think repetitiously, “I can hardly wait to….” Both of these internal processes can be understood as subtle, garden-variety internal terminating reactions. It’s very important to understand that they also commonly occur very automatically, without any conscious awareness.

Within this framework, then, an addictive behavior can be defined as any pleasure-seeking reaction, terminating reaction, or a combination of both that is significantly harmful to oneself and/or others and that has become sufficiently strong and automatic that it effectively overrides-at least on some occasions– one’s intentionally conscious efforts to suppress or control it.

By this definition, all addictions cause pain-physical and/or emotional; and since pain tends to activate automatic terminating reactions, this sets up a self-perpetuating process or “vicious circle.”

Consider, for example, an alcoholic who chronically worries about how to pay his bills and who has had a highly stressful week at work. Predictably, this triggers a strong terminating reaction of stopping for “happy hour” at his favorite bar, where he ends up getting drunk, spending a large part of his paycheck, and staying until the bar closes.

His wife, expecting him to come home to participate in a special birthday celebration for one of their children, becomes very emotionally upset, as do all of the children. They are traumatized further by the loud argument that ensues between their parents after he finally gets home.

When he wakes up the next morning, he has a terrible hangover and is filled with intense guilt, shame, and self-loathing about what he has done. His baseline level of emotional pain, which he temporarily terminated through ingesting a large amount of alcohol, has now increased tremendously-far above its original high base level.

Given this level of pain, it is extremely likely that the same terminating reaction will be quickly reactivated, setting off another addictive round in this tragically vicious circle.

How Basic Mindfulness Fosters Recovery from Addiction

Mindfulness meditation was originally discovered in India over 25 centuries ago by a young prince named Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as the Buddha. He made this discovery after five years of intensively searching for an effective way to end suffering. He subsequently spent 40 years teaching this method to his many followers. Since then it has been practiced ardently by hundreds of millions of people-mainly in Asian countries.

Since it was successfully introduced into Western countries a few short decades ago, it has quickly merged into the cultural mainstream-especially in areas such as psychology, medicine, education, and generalized personal development. At this point, it has also become a very hot topic in Neuroscience research.

A Definition of Basic Mindfulness

Basic Mindfulness, as I will refer to it here, consists of three powerful interrelated mental skills:

1) Concentration power;

2) sensory clarity; and

3) equanimity.

With adequate guidance and through disciplined practice, this skill set can be developed to a very high degree by nearly anyone. Once acquired, it can be applied effectively to every area of one’s life.

In particular, it is a means second to none for enhancing conscious awareness and thus become liberated from a wide array of highly automatic and unskillful habit patterns-which, very importantly, includes all addictions. Likewise, it provides a way to enjoy all of life’s pleasures much more fully, while also offering a very powerful means of coping with all forms of physical and mental pain.

Here are brief definitions of the three sub-skills of Basic Mindfulness:

Concentration power is defined simply as the ability to attend selectively and consistently to whatever you consider as relevant at any given time.

Sensory clarity consists in being consciously aware of, and perceiving clearly, all of the endlessly changing external and internal sensory events to which we are subject continuously.

Very importantly, this includes the subtle internal mental states mentioned previously that are incorporated into pleasure-seeking and terminating reactions. These transient states typically occur very automatically and with little or no conscious awareness.

Without mindfulness training, an average person will not perceive them clearly for what they are, but rather will typically experience them as a powerful and highly compelling urge to behave addictively in order to get relief. As a result, then, they commonly give rise to highly automatic and unskillful behavioral reactions.

These internal states fall into three basic categories:

1) Emotional feelings in the body;

2) mental imagery; and

3) verbal thinking

Equanimity entails letting go of negative judgments about what you are experiencing and consciously replacing them with an attitude of loving acceptance and gentle matter-of-factness. Effectively, then, it allows our internal mental processes to flow without resistance or interference.

Very importantly, equanimity does NOT in any way imply apathy. Actually, in fact, it is the opposite of apathy in that it frees up internal energy to respond more fully and consciously to external situations.

It is also the opposite of suppression in that it entails radical permission to feel. With regard to expressing feelings externally, however, it empowers one to choose skillfully what is most appropriate to her/his particular life situation.

How Basic Mindfulness Helps in Recovery from Addictions

In keeping with the introductory nature of this article, the following brief description is intended to convey only an initial understanding of the formal practice of Basic Mindfulness and how it can help in recovery from addictions. What it highlights, however, will hopefully help readers recognize some of its unique potential in this regard. (Much more comprehensive information about this approach is provided through my blog, mentioned below.)

The formal practice of Basic Mindfulness is most commonly carried out with eyes gently closed while seated in an upright, but relaxed, posture.

The duration of a typical mindfulness practice session ranges from 10 to 45 minutes. After a few weeks of basic training, more extended periods of practice can accelerate one’s progress greatly. This is commonly carried out in “retreat” settings that are specifically set up to support this type of more intense practice for periods ranging from a few consecutive hours up to several days, or even weeks.

The initial phase of practice emphasizes concentration power, which is of key importance in subsequently developing both sensory clarity and equanimity.

Concentration power then functions much like an internal microscope, allowing one to become clearly and continuously aware of all external and internal sensory events-very importantly, including emotional feeling, mental images, and verbal self-talk.

As an aid to this continuous, detailed observation, the meditator formally “notes” these sensory states with a simple sub-vocal label (e.g., “feel,” “image,” “talk,” etc.). In doing so, s/he also “embraces” all of them lovingly and equally with deep equanimity-that is, with complete acceptance and non-reactivity.

This state of equanimity arises very naturally as a result of applying concentration and includes, very importantly, deep body-mind relaxation. As such, it is intrinsically comforting and satisfying and, for people who are addicted, it often gives rise to the dramatic insight that what they have been compulsively seeking through external addictive objects is actually abundantly available from within.

Through this highly focused and non-reactive observational process, internal states that were previously experienced as being vaguely global, static and overpowering are clearly re-perceived as nothing other than an impersonal and impermanent flow of subtle mental events. Shinzen Young, who is a master teacher of Basic Mindfulness, sometimes refers to this highly empowering process of fine-grained perception as a “divide and conquer” strategy.

In the traditional practice of mindfulness, this simple process of systematically bringing clear, highly discriminating awareness and equanimity to internal sensory states that have been previously out of awareness has been found to be powerfully “purifying.” That is, it gradually-or sometimes quite suddenly and dramatically-reduces or eliminates completely the potential of these internal states to activate automatic unskillful reactions.

This application of Basic Mindfulness, then, provides a powerful means of recovery from all forms of addiction. Interestingly in this regard, it effectively utilizes pure awareness as a “higher power” instead of relying on ego-based “will power,” which has repeatedly proven to be highly ineffective in achieving lasting recovery.

Noah Levine, author of the book, Dharma Punx, is an outstanding exemplar of someone who has made a highly impressive recovery from severe drug addiction through the intensive practice of mindfulness. For more in-depth information and guidance in applying mindfulness to recovery from addiction, please visit my blog, “Wise Ways to Happiness.”

The 12 Steps To Recovery From Sex Addiction

Recovering from a sex addiction requires adhering to a 12 step program. Such programs have become synonymous with people’s efforts to change their lives and behaviors, and have been applied to everything including over-eating, sex, compulsive gambling, and drug addiction.

The original 12 step program was published by Alcoholics Anonymous in the late 1930s to treat addiction to alcohol. Since then, it has been adapted and directed towards other forms of addiction and compulsive behaviors and has been recognized by the American Psychological Foundation. Small details within each 12 step program change depending on what’s being treated, but all follow the same template. While there is debate on what defines addiction, many agree that the brain becomes dependent on chemicals either imbibed (alcohol) or produced naturally through a behavior, such as sex or gambling.

The 12 Steps:

Step one is the sex addict admitting they have no power over their sex addiction and that their lives have gotten out of control. This step essentially defines a sex addiction, a situation where a person no longer can control their sexual behavior despite it causing them problems. This may sound facetious, but if a sex addict could control their behavior, they would not be an addict. Admitting powerlessness also opens the door to getting outside help. A person with a broken leg does not try to mend it on their own, they call a doctor because they do not have the skills to heal themselves. It is no different with a sex addiction.

Step two is acknowledging there is a “higher power” that can help the addict with their addiction. This and the next step may be two of the least understood, as “higher power” generally refers to God. While many going through the 12 step program turn to the Christian faith, anything can serve as the higher power. A person can look to the sun, a favorite object, anything they can mentally equate with a power above themselves. Some neurologists have said the human brain is hardwired towards religion, and because of this it can be used as a powerful tool in influencing behavior.

A higher power plays the role of a neutral yet supportive third part in the sex addict’s life. It is not the addicts themselves, nor is it their therapist, nor is it a loved one the addict may have wronged or someone who will judge them.

The third step is giving themselves over to that higher power, as they understand it. Many sex addicts begin reading the Bible and attending religious services of their faith. Others will take up a different spiritual text as their understand of their higher power. The book or the faith or belief is not important here, what is important is that the reliance on self get turned over to a reliance on a higher power. Most religions have set guidelines on sexual conduct, as well as other aspects of life, and make for a ready made code of conduct a person can adhere to, at least until their lives are under their control once more.

Step four is where the sex addict gets to the “nitty gritty” of their problem and comes to see what it looks like from the outside by completing a “moral inventory” of themselves. This inventory documents their life and how and when their sexual habits, failings, and other common behaviors began in an effort to see the big picture and have an accurate understanding of what it is. Typically, a deadline is put on this step, as many addicts tend to get hung up on it, either because they find it difficult to examine themselves this way, or feel the need to be too thorough.

The fifth step involves taking that inventory and showing it to someone else, either a spouse, sponsor, clergy or trusted confidant, or even another sex addict further along in their treatment. This is done for a number of reasons. If a sex addict can share this, it means they are comfortable with it to a degree and will be able to open up further because seeing the behavior inventory may not be enough to let the sex addict truly see their problem or recognize patterns in their behavior. When it comes to the familiar, an addict sees what they intend rather than what really is. It’s the same as when an athlete needs a coach to check their stance or swing or attitude for their sport. So the sex addict needs another pair of eyes on their moral inventory to catch things and gain feedback from a different perspective.

Steps six and seven of the original Alcoholics Anonymous version are asking the higher power or God to remove the addict’s defects and to forgive them. Other, more secular minded versions describe these steps as similar transition periods. The sex addict goes from identifying the problem to recognizing that they, themselves, are now past that stage and can now expend energy enacting change. The addict is taught to see that the mistakes have been made cannot be unmade, and wishing to change the past is a waste of energy. While it’s not a “clear slate,” it is a shift of focus onto the present, which can be affected by the sex addict.

Step eight, while at first may seem like a look back, is actually for the addict to compile a list of people their sex addiction has harmed. This may be family they’ve neglected, spouses cheated on, and in extreme cases, victims of their sexual abuse. This step is sometimes broken down into smaller segments, identifying the types of relationships harmed by the sex addiction. In the case of deceased loved ones or people the addict cannot have contact with, this step serves as an emotional release by further letting the addict see the extent of the damage their behavior has caused.

The ninth step is an extension of the eighth, and involves making amends with the people identified in that step, when possible. It could be something as simple as a verbal apology, and may not be something that can be accomplished in a moment, a day, or even months. This step is distinctive to the individuals involved, and not completely possible in all cases.

Step 10 is continuing the list from step five, and admitting when a mistake has been made. This can expand beyond sexual behavior and include any kind of non-desirable actions or emotions. Negative feelings are what led the sex addict to compulsively seek the numbing behavior to start with. And being able to identify those trouble spots and handle them in a way that doesn’t feed a new addiction cycle is key. Sex addiction often comes with other forms of addiction, or can spin off into those other forms if the root cause is not being monitored.

Prayer and meditation are Step 11 in the program. Many call prayer and meditation one and the same, but whichever route the sex addict chooses, they should set aside time each day for quiet reflection. A daily pause is used as an anchor to keep the complexities of the addict’s outside world from becoming overwhelming. This step lets the sex addict remind themselves of their progress and the tools they have to fight their compulsions.

The final step is working with other sex addicts, or passing on some of the knowledge the addict has gained. The selfless side of this is ensures a pool of experienced teachers well versed in the subject matter who can perpetuate the program. The benefit to the addict doing the teaching is the same as to teacher; the one imparting the wisdom in turn learns more about what they’ve come to know. Having to articulate to another person what one has learned makes a person think about benefits in ways they hadn’t before, and leads to greater understanding.

Those are the basic 12 steps found in addiction recovery programs. Many are closely related, but together they show a progression. It should be noted this programs not a “do these 12 things and you’re cured” prescription, but at the higher levels are a lifelong set of behaviors. They may play a less active role in the recovering sex addict’s life as time goes on, but the inventory, meditation, and teaching tend to be in the background for a long time.

Addiction, The Silent Killer

The word “addiction” is derived from a Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.” Anyone who has struggled to overcome an addiction or has tried to help someone else to do so understands why.

Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable, but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

The word addiction is used in several different ways. One definition describes physical addiction. This is a biological state in which the body adapts to the presence of a drug so that drug no longer has the same effect, otherwise known as a tolerance. Another form of physical addiction is the phenomenon of overreaction by the brain to drugs (or to cues associated with the drugs). An alcoholic walking into a bar, for instance, will feel an extra pull to have a drink because of these cues.

People with an addiction do not have control over what they are doing, taking or using. Their addiction may reach a point at which it is harmful.

Addictions do not only include physical things we consume, such as drugs or alcohol, but may include virtually anything, such abstract things as gambling to seemingly harmless products, such as chocolate – in other words, addiction may refer to a substance dependence (e.g. drug addiction) or behavioral addiction (e.g. gambling addiction).

However, most addictive behavior is not related to either physical tolerance or exposure to cues. People compulsively use drugs, gamble, or shop nearly always in reaction to being emotionally stressed, whether or not they have a physical addiction. Since these psychologically based addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, they can account for why people frequently switch addictive actions from one drug to a completely different kind of drug, or even to a non-drug behavior.

Addiction, often referred to as dependency often leads to tolerance – the addicted person needs larger and more regular amounts of whatever they are addicted to in order to receive the same effect. Often, the initial reward is no longer felt, and the addiction continues because withdrawal is so unpleasant.

When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character.

Experts debate whether addiction is a “disease” or a true mental illness, whether drug dependence and addiction mean the same thing, and many other aspects of addiction. Such debates are not likely to be resolved soon.