Sourcing the Need for Loneliness and Addiction
The word addict is thrown around a lot these days. It seems everyone is addicted to something. People aren’t only addicted to substances like drugs, they are addicted to people, things, and experiences. Some accuse others of being addicted to their own adrenaline. Is there no end to the possibilities of addiction?
Dictionary definitions don’t tell the complete story. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says:
Addiction (noun) – A compulsive, chronic, physiological, or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.
While this defines the word, it does not go far enough. As a medical doctor dealing with all sorts of health issues, it seems to me that there is more to addiction than habit-forming substances and getting withdrawal symptoms. Addiction is so much more. Let’s take that definition and revise it more generally. After removing all the fluff, we get:
Addiction is a need.
However, we also must consider what is a need. “Need” has an inherent “for what?” attached. You can’t just need. There must be a purpose in a need. “I need to eat so I can live.” Does that mean I’m addicted to food?
Addiction is a need that causes harm.
The Need is the Problem
People who need people are not “the luckiest people in the world.” They are addicted to people.
When I was very young, around eight years old, I realized that my parents and brothers could not fill my needs for connection, love, and companionship. I specifically thought about my needs and knew I would have to wait to get that need filled. I was a patient little boy! I looked around and listened and decided that marriage would fill that need. Other people said it worked for them, so I waited. Fast forward twenty years, I got married, and was shocked that my wife was also unable to fill that need. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost. Without thinking about it I kept trying. It was like trying to fit the square peg in the round hole (her words). I have a need, a hole in my heart that must be filled, but I don’t understand that my childhood assumption is not working. I tried really hard for twenty years but end up divorced. Then, with some hope, I married again, and found that my second wife also couldn’t fill the need, but I kept trying – doing the same things that didn’t work the first time. My addiction destroyed my relationships. My need has caused harm to my marriage, my children, and myself. After a long time, I realized that the need is the problem! So, I looked around and saw this problem everywhere.
People who need money get addicted to cheating, stealing, and gambling.
People who need a substance to feel good get addicted to drugs, caffeine, alcohol, prescriptions. And so forth.
Food is likely the most common addiction. People eat to feel better but eating only briefly raises dopamine levels, so they become addicted, and become obese in the process. They get calorie toxicity that manifests as metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar with central obesity) or diabetes, among many other health problems.
“When you’re not feeling your best, you might crave comfort foods, like sweets, fried foods, or processed foods. These are often high in salt, saturated fat, and sugar, which can lead to illness over time.” But this addiction can even take on the façade of “good.” Orthorexia is a term used for people who must eat good food all the time. They get anxious if there is any “junk food” around.
Some people take on all sorts of obsessions to ally their fears and calm their anxieties. Some exercise, others have orthorexia, still others are focused on avoiding toxins. It’s not that these are injurious, necessarily, but rather they take their focus away from things that are important, like dealing with their problems. In this sense it is little different from drowning your sorrows in alcohol. Needing comfort also creates addictions. It seems that just about everyone could be addicted to something because of a need that is not being filled.
There is a need in the heart, a yearning, a longing. Anything in the world that people find to fill that need can become an addiction. It is literally trying to use a short-term answer to fill a long-term need. Sometimes the need is for comfort, to relieve suffering, which can come in many forms:
There are many ways to fill this need, but the most likely bottom-line is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that allows us to feel pleasure. What’s odd is that anything that causes us to release dopamine will fill the need — or seem to.