Unaddicted. It’s a real word. You can find it in real dictionaries. But is it a real thing? Can someone truly become unaddicted and have zero interest or desire in the object or behavior that was, at one time, so all-consuming?
Friends of mine who haven’t smoked for decades will still admit to cravings and urges when they walk into a pub. An alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in many years might express a similar sentiment when sitting down next to the camp fire, because that’s where she would imbibe her drink of choice. We’ve all heard the phrase, I’m sure: “Once and addict, always an addict,” and addicts will correct you with statements like, “I’m a recovered addict,” if you try to suggest they used to be an addict.
That’s not to suggest the idea of unaddiction isn’t desired. Certainly, every addict I’ve ever spoken to, whether a cigarette smoker, alcoholic or otherwise, would like to leave their cravings behind. I know I’d like to leave my addiction behind as well.
There are arguments both ways. There is the, “once an addict, always an addict,” camp in which there is no possible reversal of addiction, and then there are those who feel otherwise. I fall in the latter category and I think it makes perfect sense.
The brain is, as they say, plastic. It literally has the natural ability to remake itself as life and environment create the circumstance for change. Our brain needs to be this way or we would lack the capability of learning anything. Addiction is, at its core, a focused, highly warped, type of learning. When one engages in an addictive behavior or activity, we are reinforcing a lesson that we taught ourselves a long time ago. The lesson, of course, is how to get whatever it is we are addicted to. If someone is addicted to alcohol, that person has taught themselves that alcohol is of artificially great value and that he must have it. From an evolutionary perspective, our brains have no natural inclination toward the consumption of alcohol. In fact, most of us are repulsed upon having our first sip of the stuff. The flavor is so bad that many alcoholic beverages have to be jazzed up with a ton of sugar or other flavors to make them palatable enough for the beginning drinker to get it down. This stereotype of younger drinkers favoring the sweeter blends makes perfect sense. A brain that has zero evolutionary reason to crave alcohol needs time, focus and practice to acquire the taste for it. Classically, to someone becoming an alcoholic, the sugars and flavors fall away over time in favor of the substance it’s really after. This happens because the brain is rewiring itself for dopamine surge it gets from it. It creates its own reward circuit specifically for alcohol.
I’ll stop here because a brain that rewires itself is an important point. Our brain has evolved to do that probably better than any other animal because that very ability to rewire is the number one reason for our success as a species. A plastic brain is a learning brain. It’s really that simple. That’s why I believe it is possible to be unaddicted. I’ve rewired my brain once already in favor of an addiction. So it naturally must be possible to rewire it again, to break the circuit. The easy question then is, how? Perhaps an even better question to ask would be, why? Why can we become unaddicted?
The reason I use why rather than how is twofold. For one, it is absolutely imperative to find out why one became addicted in order to then become unaddicted. Without knowing the why of your addiction, the goal of becoming unaddicted is as attainable as flying to Mars using only a vigorously shaken bottle of seltzer. Addiction comes as the result of a life out of balance. Finding the why of that imbalance helps us to rebuild a life that negates the need of our addiction. And, of course, remember that there is seldom only one why. This is why therapy can be so valuable. A therapist can help you navigate the thicket of your thoughts. When one spends too much time alone with his thoughts, especially when in the midst of an unhealthy life, it is too easy to develop a warped sense of reality.
The second reason why is better than how is attitude. How suggests a path with a possible outcome if you follow the steps properly. Why, more simply, portends a truth. How suggests a negative in that one might fail if one doesn’t perform the steps well enough. Why explains what is, by virtue of nature itself.
To review then, ask not, “How do I become unaddicted?” Instead, ask yourself, “Why can I become unaddicted?” The answer starts with evolution making it so, and finishes with the self you’re ready to set free.
Remember, I’m not a trained professional. If you are considering making a change in your life based on anything you find on my site, always consult with a therapist and/or doctor first.