The Startling Way Your Everyday Behavior Predicts Addiction

How the everyday way you seek happiness predicts addiction.

How The Everyday Way You Seek Happiness Predicts Addiction Jupiterimages | Canva

What do you do to relax after a stressful day or hectic week? Some people veg out in front of the TV and watch for hours on end. Others down beer after beer, or reach for sweet treats until they feel full. Many young people play exciting action video games nonstop, and many of us know someone with a serious drug problem. It seems that we all want to "feel good" one way or another; we all want to find an outlet that taps into our happiness.


Unfortunately, many people become so addicted to substances and behaviors that take them away from their troubles that it becomes a real problem. Eventually, they can't seem to control when they start or stop acting this way. Thank goodness programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are available for those who overdo food, drugs, intimacy, or spending, and want to free themselves from their addictions.

In the Twelve-Step program — where someone goes from abusing one substance or behavior to another— they refer to it as "changing deck chairs on the Titanic." Addiction specialists, Drs. Harvey Milkman and Stanley Sunderwirth, have discovered why so many of us behave this way. Their research shows that human beings crave three kinds of feelings: relaxation, excitement, and fantasy or oblivion. Most of us prefer one of these sensations over the others.


In other words, we become addicted to feelings, rather than substances. Therefore, when we curb using one substance or activity we unconsciously turn to another substance or activity that gives us the same feeling. For example, in their pursuit of feeling good, some sober alcoholics who haven't had a drink in years still smoke multiple packs of cigarettes a day, drink lots of coffee, or eat too many sweets. Perhaps the feeling alcohol gave them is relaxation, and now cigarettes or other substances create that same feeling. 

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Here's how the 3 desired feelings can play out in addictive behaviors: 

1. Relaxation

People who prefer relaxation pleasure themselves by overeating carbohydrates, binge-watching television, drinking alcohol, or using tranquilizers. They enjoy the mellow, laid-back feeling they create for themselves and look in amazement at people who adore rollercoasters and thrills. I knew a man who binged on milk when he was upset or angry because the tryptophan relaxed him so much that it put him to sleep.

@emilieleyes.hypnosis Replying to @denisear333medium my favorite deep relaxation practice that only takes 2 minutes🥰1. Rate your stress levels from 1-10 (1=relaxed, 10=panic) 2. Put your hand on your heart and take three long, deep breaths 3. Relax the body from the top of the head all the way to the tips of the toes, taking time to relax each part on its own 4. Countdown from 5 to 1, saying the phrase “ more and more deeply relaxed” on every number 5. Do another scan and take onemore deep breath 6. Open your eyes and rate your stress levels from one to 10 once againif you want to learn more strategies like this to change your brains response to stress and regulate your nervous system, I’m hosting a workshop called ✨rewiring the stress response✨ on Saturday, December 9 at 11 AM Eastern time, there’s also replay if you can’t make it live! All of the info is at my🔗 at the top of my page #hypnosis #relaxation #stressrelief #anxietyrelief #nervoussystemregulation #meditation #selfcare #selfhealing #emilieleyes #neurodivergent ♬ original sound - Emilie Leyes • Hypnosis

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2. Excitement

People who enjoy feeling aroused or excited look to skydiving, racecar driving, caffeine, drugs, horror movies, or gambling for a rush. One of my clients often smoked pot to mellow out; however, her boyfriend liked harder drugs. But because she craved downers, she simply put the uppers away on a shelf; he loved being high, but she hated the feeling.

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3. Oblivion 

People who want to feel oblivious to their surroundings and problems learn to use anesthetic or psychedelic drugs or escape into sleep. I'm addicted to reading and can get completely lost in a good book; you may speak to me, but I don't always hear you. Computer and social media addicts also lose track of time, as they become mesmerized looking at the monitor as if they were in another world.


One compulsive overeater I worked with used a surprising method to zone out from the anxieties of her very demanding job and relationship — she self-pleasured compulsively. Her explanation was, "When I have a climax, I experience 16 seconds of bliss!" Drs. Milkman and Sunderwirth maintain that the reason some people prefer relaxation while others crave excitement or fantasy is likely based on individual differences in our brain chemistry. Electrical activity in certain areas of the brain creates feelings of pleasure and pain. Different behaviors or substances lead to different sensations and moods that cause cravings and an overwhelming urge to feel good.

If you recognize that you're caught up in compulsive actions to soothe the stresses in your life, create a weekly diary where you write down the days you craved or abused drugs, food, alcohol, TV, computer games, or sought pleasure another way. For each episode, rate how intensely you felt a craving for that experience from one to ten, with ten meaning you lost control and had a binge. Think about what was going on in your life on that day that was a seven, nine, or ten. What situation or relationship upset, depressed, or angered you? Did you medicate yourself by seeking relaxation, excitement, or oblivion to change your mood? Once you become aware of the relationship between negative emotional states you experience in your daily life, and a compulsion to make yourself feel good in ways that create guilt or shame, you may decide to seek help — through therapy, joining a support group, or finding a twelve-step meeting — where you can get help and learn how to deal with the problems that trigger you.

Drug and alcohol addiction is incredibly common.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that approximately 20.3 million people above the age of 12 have suffered from a substance use disorder in the past year. According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, close to 2 million people of the same age bracket have suffered from opioid use disorders and 14.8 million from alcohol use disorders. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, there are resources to get help.

The process of recovery is not linear, but the first step to getting better is asking for help. For more information, referrals to local treatment facilities and support groups, and relevant links, visit SAMHSA’s website. If you’d like to join a recovery support group, you can locate the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings near you. Or you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-799-7233, which is a free 24/7 confidential information service in both English and Spanish. For TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, call 1-800-487-4889. 

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Gloria Arenson is a psychotherapist, specializing in energy and power therapies. She is the author of popular books on eating disorders and compulsive behavior, conducts classes and workshops nationwide, and trains professionals in Meridian Therapy.