I'm opposed to the “addiction is a disease” paradigm and believe that addiction has other causes such as childhood issues and/or the deficiency or lack of good character traits in an addicted individual.
There are parallels between physical diseases and the mental and emotional problems of addicts. And I do regard mental illness as a physical disease because mental processes occur inside of the physical organs that are our brains.
Certain mental disorders are related to improper functioning of the brain or degeneration of the brain. But other mental disorders that may occur in an otherwise physically normal brain are related to systems of thinking and structures of thought processes: They are distorted, inappropriate viewpoints that are linked to negative personal experiences.
Cumulative negative experiences that would cause mental disorders can range from obscure minor frustrations from childhood to severe traumatic events. Such occurrences cause our thought processes to change for the purpose of protecting us and creating feelings of calm and safety. And unless we have good knowledge and guidance to help us deal with the negative experiences, our thought processes can change in ways that are detrimental to us and those around us.
What are some of these negative experiences? They can include inadequate love, inadequate physical touch, inadequate supervision and/or overall care, household chaos and dysfunction, yelling and shouting, vulgarity, physical abuse, the presence of alcoholism, the presence of mental illness, neglect, abandonment, racism, bigotry, controlling, smothering, and a great many other things.
Children need an ample amount of love if they are to grow and develop into positive, self-loving adults. And parents need to understand that their own interactions as a couple will affect the well-being of their children. In particular they must realize that divorce will be intensely traumatic to their children: A child perceives the separation between two parents as death, and children who lose immediate access to physical and emotional contact to one of their two caretakers will experience anxiety.
Children find boredom excruciatingly discomforting. Consistent boredom is actually a traumatic experience for children and will cause them varying degrees of anxiety.
Schooling or becoming institutionalized can have a scarring effect on a child. When children leave their homes and enter the societies of schooling, many of the related experiences can cause them to develop anxieties and various maladaptive behaviors. Things such as competition, insecurity, ridicule, fear of ridicule, and inappropriate teaching techniques will cause trauma and repress creativity in many children. They will then experience varying degrees of anxiety.
When we experience prolonged anxiety, we seek relief from it for the sake of our mental and emotional well-being. We look to whatever we're familiar with that will cause us to feel good, calm, and relaxed rather than bad, stressed, and fearful. And addiction begins with this desire to alter our negative feelings so that we'll feel better.
When we’re young we don't have the knowledge of how to skillfully change our negative feelings and attitudes into positive ones. Instead, we choose inappropriate things as we seek relief. We then discover that such inappropriate things bring false relief and additional negative consequences. This exacerbates our sense of unwellness.
Addiction is repetition of unskillful, self-destructive behavior patterns that at best bring only temporary relief and always yield negative, consequential side effects. One such tragic side effect is that even when we wish to stop using certain addictive substances or indulging in certain negative addictive behaviors, we still feel compelled to continue.
I don't agree with the disease paradigm regarding addiction advocated by a school of thought in recovery for some of previously stated reasons and others. There are some physical diseases of the brain that can make a person prone to addictions and addictive behaviors. But far more often than not, addictions and addictive behaviors are fueled by other factors—ignorance, traumatic experiences, lack of love and nurturance, lack of character development, lack of willingness to develop good habits, laziness, and others.
One might hope for a pill or a surgical procedure that would permanently remove an individual’s addiction. One might also hope that sheer willpower would enable a person to permanently overcome an addiction. But neither scenario reflects reality.
Regarding willpower, if those of us who have been addicted had adequate willpower to begin with, we never would have reached a bottom. Granted, willpower to refrain from doing something that you know is not good for you is necessary. But, sadly, it's not enough.
Suppose that you had enough willpower to quit your addiction(s) but were still an extremely unhappy person rife with anxiety. That would be a terrible way to live. Clearly, it’s necessary to address the roots of anxieties and traumas that drive addictions for one to live a life that’s both free of addictions and satisfying on a personal level.
What is anxiety? Anxiety is basically fear. And fear has its place: It’s a natural state of mind for a creature living on this planet to have. Fear is designed to help us learn what is dangerous. It's designed to help us react and respond to anything that could be a threat to our emotional world and our physical being.
Yet we weren't designed to be in a constant state of fearful anxiety. Fear in response to a present threatening situation is one thing. Fearful anxiety because of being triggered by situations that remind us consciously or subconsciously of traumatic experiences is quite another.
Anxiety can mask other feelings. It might be the case that anxiety is driven by sadness, confusion, anger, resentment, or other things. And we’ll often feel the anxiety without being cognizant of the other feelings that drive it.
If you struggle to live in and remain in the present moment and feel suffocated emotionally, if it's difficult for you to be creative, or if you only feel emotions to extremes, it means that your normal modes of experiencing and processing feelings are stifled. And that's happening because defense mechanisms that you created in your mind in childhood from age zero to age 20 are stifling your emotional functionality.
We record past things that happened to us in our own minds. The feelings associated with those things often overwhelmed us physically and emotionally. And we developed addictions to cope with the overwhelming feelings.
We can choose to live without addictions if we take several alternative measures, though. The first is to explore our own character issues. To do that, we need to understand what character is in the first place. Character is a complex word and a complex concept. In part, it consists of entities that are foundational elements in our personality. Our personality is intertwined with our identity. And our identity consists not only of elements of our character and personality but of memories that we've had our entire lives.
The key character quality that all of us should have is an empathetic and compassionate state of mind evidenced by a desire to not cause harm. Additionally, we should all have the personality trait of being able to share, giving back to the community and to the natural world.
What are some other desirable character and personality traits? They include concern for the well-being of others, being organized, being thoughtful, being resilient, being persistent, having positivity, exercising self-control, being resistant to cravings, being humorous, being inviting, and being protective.
Do we struggle with understanding the meanings and practical applications of some of the words and qualities associated with good character and personality traits? If we do, we need to determine why and subsequently learn how we can incorporate some of those characteristics into our lives.
There are two things that will be particularly helpful to a person exploring character development issues. One is talking to trusted others and sharing struggles, victories, and discoveries with them. The other is writing. It's valuable to ask yourself questions about practicing positive qualities—e.g., how to become more courageous or more empathetic—and to then write your insights down. This may also necessitate uncomfortable soul searching about your shortcomings—e.g., jealousy, self-centeredness, or resentfulness—and writing about measures you need to take to overcome them.
In ancient times it was difficult to get knowledge from teachers regarding how to overcome character defects and personality issues. This was because in ancient tribal life it was assumed that people wouldn't be plagued by such problems after coming of age, or if they were they'd be counseled by village elders. In such societies people's lives were structured in ways that would promote development of their character.
Such structures usually aren't available in our societies today. We often need to get information about character development by teaching it to ourselves or by consulting mental health professionals. But the days of being able to go to the tent of a village elder to listen to stories that would help you better understand the nature of your self are over.
Character development is inextricably linked to addiction recovery. When we improve our character we become more able to be resistant to attachments that lead to anxieties and anxieties that lead to attachments.
Ancient societies were structured in a way that promoted character development. There were also ancient philosophies such as Buddhism and yoga that addressed such issues to some degree: Their writings used language that was appropriate and suitable for the periods of time during which the material was written.
Today we have a great deal more written material and other media available to us to help us overcome character defects associated with addictive behaviors. We are blessed to have so many great resources, and the main things that will keep us from accessing them are laziness and fear.
If we have character issues that require introspection, study, communication with others, and other humbling and sometimes difficult steps of action, we must take those steps. And there are a great many simple things that we can do on a day-to-day basis that can become habits that will improve our character. We can apologize to people when we're wrong. We cannot be revengeful or spiteful when something makes us angry. We can avoid thoughtlessly reacting in difficult situations. We can plan how to go about things when conflict is inevitable, and we can learn to both avoid conflict and resolve conflict.
It bears repeating again and again—character development is crucial in addiction recovery. But we should also realize that our character development is important to others and not just to ourselves. Everything that we do affects the entire cosmos eventually. When we take good actions driven by good character qualities, many will benefit over the long run.