There’s a saying in Energy Psychology* that “All addictions are addictions to tranquillizers.”

Think about it.  Some addictions may seem to be relatively harmless, and others can be quite pathological, but they are all addictions to substances or practices which have a tranquillizing effect on the body or mind.

We could think of – nail biting, work, Face Book, Twitter, mobile use, nicotine, food, sex, porn, hoarding,  TV, surfing on Google, gaming, gambling, taking drugs, or drinking alcohol excessively.

And there are a host of others, often more pathological in nature, all of which make people who indulge in them feel less anxious, or at least, take them away from their troubles in the short term.

The body learns…

Some have a more obvious physiological basis, like nicotine, alcohol, or drugs, all of which score a direct hit on receptors in the body.  They cause a release of dopamines (feel good hormones) or other hormones which have an anti-anxiety effect. Some people are more genetically programmed for some substances.

The Real Question is why do people use these things as tranquillizers?

Take gambling in pubs for example.  On the surface it may seem that gamblers are there to win some money, and maybe the money will lessen their anxiety.  But often it goes much deeper than this.

Very often the person is deeply unhappy about something in their life, and the gambling takes them away from thinking about it.  They become addicted and the habit becomes a costly self- help method, often ruining their whole life and sometimes the lives of the people they care about.

From my experience in teaching Quit Smoking, people smoke “because it’s relaxing”.  But the cigarette physiologically does not relax a person, but the time they take to smoke it is “time out” which may be relaxing. Smoking takes the person away from their stress (work) and towards their smoking friends (pleasure).

Nicotine has a stimulant effect in the body, causing a release of epinephrine which is one of the fight or flight hormones.  It acts on the Sympathetic Nervous System causing the heart rate to increase, the blood pressure to rise, and the breathing to become shallow and rapid. In short it prepares you for a fight, or to run to safety.  It can also predispose you to coronary heart disease, diabetes or other health problems.  Even “light” smoking can have devastating effects on the body.

And we’ve all heard of chocoholics, workaholics, alcoholics, and shopaholics.  All of these activities provide pleasurable feelings compared with not having or doing them.  They provide escape, to a more or lesser degree. They can all be quite complex and addictive habits, and the more addictive they are, the more complex they become.

Sex or Porn addictions are complex psychological conditions, and although both involve sex, they are somewhat different from each other, but can have similar underlying emotions such as anxiety, fear of abandonment, depression, anger, depression or loneliness.

People who are addicted run the risk of further secondary negative emotions such as shame, guilt, or social anxiety. There can also be physical consequences such as a sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, decreased concentration or sexual dysfunction to name a few.

Factors involved can be substance abuse, early life factors, social learning or abuse. Biological/genetic factors, or some other disorders can be also implicated.

Are you game?

Parents are right to be worried when their kids seem to be consumed with video games.  There are two main types at present: the first has a single player pursuing a goal which has an ending. And the second more worrying types are games where there are multiple players and no ending.  The game just goes on and on, and provides an escape from reality and a place where players can also be accepted as they are.

These games are visually and emotionally exciting, with well composed sounds and music, and are thoroughly involving.  It’s easy to see how kids can be addicted to them. Even reminders of these games can bring about real cravings for the game in the same way as other addicts crave alcohol, drugs or food.

However, video games alter the structure and function of the brain.  The good news is that they strengthen selective and sustained attention, which is good for focusing on challenging tasks.  Visual and spatial abilities improve and the right Hippocampus in the brain is enlarged. The main function of the Hippocampus is for memory and learning, in particular for facts and events, and spatial relationships.

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