A Revolutionary Definition of Addiction and Proposal for Its Cause and Treatment
WHAT IS ADDICTION? — A New Definition of Addiction
Most people associate the word addiction with alcohol or drugs, but that association severely and inappropriately limits the extent of addiction in our society. A new definition of addiction is needed, one which will give us a better grasp of the nature of addiction and will enable us to approach its treatment in a far more productive way.
Addiction is the compulsive use of any substance, person, feeling, or behavior with a relative disregard of the potentially negative social, psychological, and physical consequences.
This definition of addiction creates a much broader — and more accurate — picture of addiction, which we will demonstrate in much greater detail throughout the remainder of this article. Before we can meaningfully continue our discussion of addiction, however, we must first consider its causes in a new way.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF DRUG ADDICTION AND OTHER TYPES OF ADDICTION?
Despite all the research done on this subject, there is no consensus on the cause of addiction. Some theories have been proposed, however:
- Genetic: We are born with a genetic predisposition to addiction.
- Bio-chemical: There is a chemical imbalance in the nervous system that makes us more susceptible to addiction.
- Mental illness: Addicts have a kind of mental illness.
Regardless of the specific cause espoused, most experts regard addiction as a disease, and many believe it’s inherited. They believe that people inherit the tendency to addiction, even if they never actually become addicted to a specific substance.
A New and Powerful Explanation for Addiction
Dr. Baer has now worked intimately with thousands of addicts, and he proposes a cause for addiction that is radically different from those generally discussed. This proposal explains the overall data of addiction better than other theories do, and this proposed cause has allowed the development of a treatment plan that has proven to be very effective with thousands of addicts.
Addiction is not a disease. Addiction is a response to pain.
“After extensive interviews with thousands of addicts,” says Dr. Baer, “less than one percent of them fail to respond enthusiastically to this definition of addiction and the clarification of the causes of drug addiction, whereas most of them have had serious problems with the usual definitions and explanations.”
In order to understand the cause of drug addiction, we must first understand what is required for human beings to be happy, a subject sorely neglected in mental health research and literature. We tend to usually focus our attention to an inappropriate degree on illness and on the treatment of disease. We all understand that physical health requires more than simply the elimination of disease. In order to be physically healthy, we must also attend to positive qualities and behaviors — nutrition, exercise, shelter, and so on. In a similar way, mental health requires that we attend to the acquisition and maintenance of positive required elements, not just the elimination of negative factors, or disease.
The most important requirement for our emotional health and happiness is to feel loved. Our souls require feeling loved in just as real a way as our bodies require air and food. We need to feel cared for and to feel connected to other human beings. There’s a reason that such a huge portion of our novels and movies take love as a theme. Love is a basic human need.
But not just any kind of love will do. The only kind of love that can fill us up and make us whole emotionally is Real Love.
Real Love is caring about the happiness of another person without any thought for what we might get for ourselves.
It’s also Real Love when other people care about our happiness unconditionally. With Real Love, people are not disappointed or angry when we make our foolish mistakes, when we don’t do what they want, or even when we inconvenience them personally.
When I use the word happiness, I do not mean the brief and superficial pleasure that comes from money, sex, power, and the conditional approval we earn from others when we behave as they want. Nor do I mean the temporary feeling of satisfaction we experience in the absence of immediate conflict or disaster. Real happiness is not the feeling we get from being entertained or making people do what we want. It’s a profound and lasting sense of peace and fulfillment that deeply satisfies and enlarges the soul. It doesn’t go away when circumstances are difficult. It survives and even grows during hardship and struggle. True happiness is our entire reason to live, and it can only be obtained as we find Real Love and share it with others. With Real Love, nothing else matters; without it, nothing else is enough.
Sadly, few of us have sufficiently received or given Real Love. From the time we were small children, we observed that when we didn’t fight with our sisters, didn’t make too much noise in the car, got good grades, and were otherwise obedient and cooperative, our parents and others smiled at us, patted our heads, and spoke kindly. With their words and behavior, they told us what good boys and girls we were, and we felt loved.
But what happened when we did fight with our sisters, made too much noise, got bad grades, and dragged mud across the clean living room carpet? Did people smile at us then or speak gentle, loving words? No — they frowned, sighed with disappointment, and often spoke in harsh tones. Just as the positive behaviors of other people communicated to us that we were loved, we could interpret the withdrawal of those behaviors only as an indication that we were not being loved. Although it was unintentional, our parents and others taught us this terrible message: “When you’re good, I love you, but when you’re not, I don’t — or certainly I love you a great deal less.”
This conditional love can give us brief moments of satisfaction, but we’re still left with a huge hole in our souls, because only Real Love can make us genuinely happy. When someone is genuinely concerned about our happiness, we feel connected to that person. We feel included in his or her life, and in that instant we are no longer alone. Each moment of unconditional acceptance creates a living thread to the person who accepts us, and these threads weave a powerful bond that fills us with a genuine and lasting happiness. Nothing but Real Love can do that. In addition, when we know that even one person loves us unconditionally, we feel a connection to everyone else. We feel included in the family of all mankind, of which that one person is a part.
Without sufficient Real Love, we can only feel empty and alone, which is our greatest fear and source of pain.
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ADDICTION: WHAT WE DO IN THE ABSENCE OF REAL LOVE
In the last section we discussed a new definition of addiction and learned that without sufficient Real Love in our lives, the pain and emptiness are intolerable. In order to eliminate or reduce these feelings, we’re willing to do almost anything. This desire to eliminate pain is the key to understanding the causes of addiction. When we find something that temporarily reduces the emptiness and pain of not having enough of that one element essential to our emotional health (Real Love), we pursue that temporary source of relief — that substance, person, feeling, or behavior — with great zeal, even desperation, and when that desperation leads us to regularly disregard the potentially negative social, psychological, and physical consequences of our pursuit, we have satisfied the definition of addiction.
Everything we use as a substitute for Real Love — to temporarily make us feel better in the absence of what we really need — becomes a form of Imitation Love, and all those substitutes fall into one or more of four categories: praise, power, pleasure, and safety.
In the absence of Real Love, we very much enjoy the acceptance and praise of others, and we’re generally willing to do a great deal to earn it. But therein lies the problem. We have to earn praise. We have to do what other people want us to do, so the approval they subsequently give us cannot feel as though it were given unconditionally. In short, the instant we do anything to get other people to like us in any way, we can’t feel genuinely loved.
In addition to praise being an ineffective substitute for Real Love, its effects are also annoyingly temporary. We’ve all had the experience of working hard to purchase a moment of acceptance, only to discover that the effects wear off with astonishing speed. Then we have to earn it again, and again, and again. In fact, the more we rely on praise, the faster the effects wear off.
We also have to work harder and harder for the same amount of praise. When you were four years old, for example, you could simply tie your shoes correctly and be rewarded with “Wow, you are so clever.” But you have to do a lot more than that to hear those same words now, don’t you? This continual earning of praise is exhausting.
We have also learned that greater quantities of praise are required to give us the same feelings of satisfaction. Where once the slightest nod of approval may have been fulfilling, eventually we require greater displays of acceptance, then applause, then printed notices in the newspaper. Ask most professional performers about their growing and often insatiable need for praise. Eventually, no amount of praise yields satisfaction.
It shouldn’t be difficult to see that the pattern we’ve described here for praise is exactly the same as for any addictive drug. Let’s make that comparison here. Any narcotics addict, for example, knows that when using his drug
- the initial effects are exciting.
- there is a sense of relief or excitement, but the feeling is never one of genuine fulfillment or peace or joy.
- the effects wear off, and with time they wear off more quickly.
- greater and greater quantities are required to achieve the same effect.
- he doesn’t care much about the social, physical, and emotional consequences of his drug use.
The addictions to praise and drugs share another important characteristic. While people are addicted to either “substance,” the intoxication and other effects are so distracting that the users cannot feel the effects of Real Love. They can’t feel loved, and that effect alone is deadly.
With the possible exception of the physical withdrawal seen in drug addiction, there is little to no difference between the addiction to drugs and the addiction to praise. It should also be emphasized — originally stated in the new definition of addiction — that the addictions to all other forms of Imitation Love follow the same patterns as those for drugs and praise, as described above. All addictions — to praise, power, pleasure, and safety — are essentially the same. They have the same characteristics, and in the end, they’re all capable of destroying our lives, because they destroy our ability to benefit from the Real Love that is essential to our emotional well-being.
In order for people to smile at us, compliment us, and want to spend time with us — all signs that they accept or “love” us — we’ve learned that we usually have to be talented, beautiful, wealthy, witty, cooperative, grateful, successful, or otherwise worthy of acceptance. That kind of acceptance is conditional, because all the signs of it — the smiles and kind words, for example — disappear when we make mistakes, inconvenience people, and fail to live up to the expectations of others.
Because the absence of Real Love is painful, however, we’re willing to do a lot to earn the approval that temporarily makes us feel good, even if it’s conditional. We make ourselves look good physically, for example, with exercise, clothing, makeup, starvation, and plastic surgery, all in the hope that someone will say, “You’re looking good.” We work hard to succeed at school and in our jobs in order to be complimented for our intelligence, creativity, and diligence.
Although it’s mostly unintentional, any time we successfully manipulate or control someone, we’re enjoying a sensation of power over that person. We use money, authority, sex, flattery, and personal persuasion to influence, control, and even hurt people. When we control someone, we actually feel more connected to him or her in a brief, shallow way. It’s not Real Love, but when we control the people around us, we feel less powerless; we feel less of the emptiness and helplessness that are always associated with a lack of Real Love.
When we don’t feel unconditionally loved, we often use pleasure — food, sex, drugs, shopping, gambling, driving fast, and many forms of entertainment and excitement — to feel better temporarily. Certainly there’s nothing inherently wrong with pleasure, but when we compulsively seek it, we’re using it to fill a deep emptiness, and that pursuit easily becomes an addiction.
Without sufficient Real Love, we’re already experiencing an insufferable pain, and we’ll go to great lengths to keep ourselves safe from anything that might prolong or worsen our pain. To minimize painful disapproval, we stay away from unfamiliar situations, tasks, and relationships, and then we confuse that feeling of relative safety with real happiness. People who are chronically shy, for example, are addicted to safety. Alcohol and drugs are common avenues to diminish pain, yet another way to achieve safety.
The Broad Face of Addiction
We can become addicted to anything that diminishes the pain of not feeling loved, and that includes a broad range of “substances, people, feelings, and behaviors.” We can become addicted to
- alcohol, which gives us an obvious sensation of pleasure. More importantly, alcohol is a depressant that dulls the pain in our lives, most prominently the pain of not feeling loved. Dr. Baer relates that virtually every alcoholic he has known has resonated with the suggestion that relief of pain (safety) is the primary reason for his or her drinking. Many people also get a sensation of power from alcohol, because when intoxicated they feel a measure of freedom from their fears.
- drugs (same pleasure, power, and safety as from alcohol).
- sex (pleasure, praise, power).
- porn (pleasure, safety).
- food (pleasure).
- gambling (pleasure, praise, power).
- approval (praise, power, safety).
- the “love” compulsively derived from a single person (praise, power, pleasure, safety). Falling in love usually exemplifies this.
- controlling others (power, praise, safety).
- anger (power, safety).
- lying (safety).
- shopping (praise, power).
- running from relationships (safety).
- money (praise, power, pleasure, safety).
And this is an incomplete list. When we understand addiction in light of the insights above, the incidence of addiction in our society rises to well over 90%. Click here to download a copy of this report.
HOW CAN I OVERCOME DRUG ADDICTION AND OTHER TYPES OF ADDICTION?
When we understand that addiction is a pathologic pursuit of anything that will reduce the pain in our lives, usually the pain of not feeling loved, the treatment of drug addiction becomes apparent.
As people learn to find Real Love — the single ingredient most important for happiness — their wounds begin to heal. They begin to find wholeness and genuine health. As the pain in their lives diminishes — and it uniformly does in the presence of Real Love — they simply lose the need to fill their emptiness with Imitation Love, which includes all the objects of addiction. People most effectively let go of their addictions not by willpower but because they have no need for them anymore.
This is far more than a theory. Thousands of people have now experienced the healing power of Real Love in their lives and have then experienced the freedom of being released from the chains of their addictions.
WHAT ABOUT ADDICTION RELAPSE?
The average rate of addicts going back to their addiction AFTER in-patient or out-patient treatment is 90-95%. Not very encouraging, is it?
Why do so many addicts go back to their addictions after experiencing a period of sobriety, where they learn a sense of freedom from the chains of their addiction? Both addicts and their families are sorely puzzled by this repetitive and seemingly insane behavior.
The explanation is easy: As we said earlier, addiction is a response to pain. Addicts use their addictive substance or behavior as a way of diminishing the pain of not feeling unconditionally loved, not feeling worthwhile, and not having a sense of peace and joy in their lives. If addiction treatment simply removes the addict from his addiction, treatment succeeds only in eliminating the addict’s ability to reduce his pain. The addiction is temporarily gone, but the pain remains, and THAT is a huge problem. The addict is sober but miserable.
If an addict is sober but in pain, he HAS to do something about the pain. We can’t tolerate untreated pain. So the addict either returns to his former addiction, or he finds a new one—switching from porn to alcohol, for example. The point of addiction treatment is NOT to become drug-free or porn-free. The goal of treatment is to give the addict the love he’s always been missing, so the old wounds can heal, and the pain can disappear. The goal is to treat the CAUSE of the wounds, not the SYMPTOMS.
When addicts feel unconditionally loved, the incidence of relapse is VERY low, and if there is a relapse, there is no shame, no sense of “starting all over from the bottom.” We simply love the addict again, and remind him of the love available. Then the desire to engage in addictive behaviors just disappears.