The single-minded determination to addiction is not a personal failing; it’s a matter of brain chemistry. Dopamine is at the root of the problem, and it also offers a solution. According to research in the field of neuroscience, any addiction, whether to eating, alcohol, or something else, follows a predictable cycle. When you use your drug of choice, your brain gives you a hit of dopamine, and you experience a rewarding sense of pleasure. You also learn to associate that pleasure with the substance or behavior. This then becomes a cue for the possibility of more pleasure in the future. Even the expectation of using can cause dopamine to release, for some that is the addiction, the chase of what’s to come is their high.
With time, ordinary pleasures lose their potency compared to the reward you get from your addiction. Everything else pales in comparison. The cruel irony however is that eventually, the substance or compulsive behavior triggers smaller increases in dopamine. It doesn't give you quite the same high that it used to. Worse yet, your brain circuitry responds in ways that make you feel depressed, irritable, or stressed out. This only making you want another hit in a desperate attempt to feel better. It becomes extremely difficult to resist strong urges. This explains why you find it so hard to avoid falling back into your addictive behavior, even when you've sworn you'll never do it again.
“When your brain only cares about one thing: satisfying that single, overwhelming craving. You are in full blown addiction.”
If you’ve found yourself in this spiral, you know it’s a miserable place to be. But there is a way out. And here again, dopamine plays a role. The key is in those “ordinary pleasures” – also known as natural positive reinforcers. Any event that increases the feeling of pleasure or reward, even a little, has the potential to increase dopamine release in the brain.
When your addiction is your only source of pleasure, it takes on too much power and rules your life. It’s extremely difficult to overcome an addiction by just white-knuckling it. Willpower is a shaky foundation for recovery. But by exploring new ways to find enjoyment in life and renewing old ones, you can literally rewire your brain, strengthening the pathways of contentment and self-control.
Research shows that spiritual connection increases the release of dopamine in the brain, which can help reduce cravings and when combined with some type of spiritual belief or connection may promote dopamine release in the brain that could translate to a reduction in relapse risk. There is something profound about nourishing the spirit. This may involve attending religious services, meditating, praying, or even being outside and one with nature. Experiences such as these promote a sense of transcendence into a new way of life. They can give new meaning to your life. As you become stronger in your recovery, you will begin to feel more like your true self.