“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to a painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.”
― Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
What is Addiction?
We all have bad habits that we wish to change and, many times, we are successful in breaking them. A bad habit can become an addiction when it feels very difficult to stop repeating it, even if it inevitably hurts us and others.
Addiction is often a coping mechanism that is serving us in some way, and therefore, can be very difficult to break physically and emotionally. Addiction can also cause withdrawal symptoms that are often much more painful than the consequences of the addictive behavior. Our brain circuits can also be altered in such a way that we cannot regulate our impulses to discontinue the addiction.
Addiction itself is not a disease because it is a normal response to unbearable circumstances. Ultimately, the addiction cycle continues because our whole body – and namely our nervous system – is altered due to the addiction.
So, how can we naturally heal ourselves to stop this cycle of addiction? Foremost, we have to go deeper to understand what has caused us to be addicted in the first place and work from there to heal our body, mind, and spirit. Read on, as I will highlight some of the most effective holistic and natural ways to break from the cycle of addiction.
What Are the Different Kinds of Addiction?
Depending on our natural predisposition based on our genetics and upbringing (epigenetics), we will gravitate toward certain addictive substances, activities, and behaviors that will activate specific chemical pathways in our body. These chemical reactions may excite us, calm us down, numb us, relieve pain, or help us escape.
Addictions that elevate our mood – including cocaine, ecstasy, caffeine, extreme sports, refined sugar, shopping, gaming, and many others – stimulate our brain’s dopamine reward pathways. If these pathways are constantly activated, our body depletes dopamine and other molecules important for our overall well being.
Because it takes quite some time for the body to replenish the overused molecules, we can experience expreme withdrawal that includes pain, depression, and anxiety. The more we hijack our reward pathways, the harder it will be for us to experience the same high, because now we will need even more of the molecules to feel the same high (our threshold for pleasure greatly increases).
Even if we are trying to create excitement in our life with uppers, they actually numb us in the end, since repetition of a certain state of being makes it less pleasurable for us over time, and we need a more extreme event to feel a greater elation. Humans are not constantly meant to be at very high, low, or neutral states perpetually. Instead, we are meant to have contrast to maintaining a physical and psychological balance and harmony.
Some of us are attracted to addictions that help us relax and forget about life’s problems. We engage in these addictions especially if we are predisposed to anxiety and stress. Downers such as alcohol, sedating prescription drugs (Xanax, Numbutal, and Codeine), marijuana, sleeping pills, and even watching TV, act on our inhibition brain pathways that enhance GABA neurotransmitter production.
GABA neurotransmitters attach to our GABA receptors to inhibit the anxiety circuits in the brain involving our amygdala and the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal axis (the HPA axis).
Pain relievers such as opioid drugs like heroin and morphine, activate our opioid receptors and help us feel a sense of numbness and even euphoria. Some addictive behaviors such as self-harming and dissociating can act as pain relievers because they distract us from feelings that bring us unbearable emotional pain.
Most of the psychedelics that we are familiar with – mushrooms, LSD, ayahuasca, and DMT – act on our serotonin receptors, causing us to have experiences of alternate realities. Our sound perception can become much greater and we can see different geometric shapes and colors accompanied by height and depth distortion.
We can use these psychedelics for spiritual and healing reasons but many people use them recreationally to escape their daily realities, but can easily become addicted to these “escape trips.” In addition, psychedelic drugs act as neurotoxins and can be neurologically and physically damaging over time.
Other Types of Addictions
Some drugs and behaviors can be uppers, downers, painkillers, and/or psychedelics at the same time. For example, smoking tobacco can get us high or can depress us, depending on how we are feeling when we are smoking. Smoking marijuana has depressive but also hallucinogenic effects, and watching TV can either help us unwind or excite us.
Other lesser known addictions can be an addiction to suffering. Suffering in itself can activate a soothing chemical cocktail in our brain, because our body is always trying to help keep us in balance. Ironically, we can seek out or try to intensify physical and emotional suffering (such as in cutting or other self-harm, staying in an unhealthy job or relationship, or eating food that makes us feel terrible) so that we can soothe ourselves and escape the pain.
We can also be addicted to dissociating (it is mostly an unconscious behavior) when we feel uncomfortable or are in an anxiety-provoking situation, because the dissociation acts as a protective and numbing agent.
Another very common addiction is consuming refined sugar. Because this kind of sugar is bleached and stripped of all its fiber and nutrition, it overwhelms the brain’s reward pathways, acting very similarly to cocaine’s reward channels. We get a quick high and then we crash, feeling miserable and craving more sugary food to feel better.
I once heard a story that some survivors of a nuclear disaster in Russia actually feel elated when they are re-exposed to radiation because their cells craved the toxic “elation” that the radiation gives them. How interesting, right?
Why Do We Become Addicted?
In the modern world that doesn’t lend itself to healthy living, it is difficult to live in the present moment because our society bombards us with and rewards us for instant gratification and vilifies everything deemed boring. As a result, we are constantly trying to escape the present moment because it is too scary, too overwhelming, or too boring. We can’t just be in the present moment and experience it fully, so we seek external comforts, stabilizers, and numbers to cope.
Essentially, we can become addicted emotionally or physically to basically anything, since it is actually the chemicals in our body that we mobilize when we engage in addictive behavior that we become addicted to (and not the addictive habit itself).
For example, we might be addicted to dangerous sports, but it is not the sports themselves that are addictive to us. It is the adrenaline that is produced during these activities that our body craves. However, every time we engage in the sport, it takes more adrenaline to get the same feeling of exhilaration that we are craving. Eventually, our body depletes the adrenaline and causes us to crave the dangerous sport even more so that we don’t feel the pain of the withdrawal symptoms.
Becoming Aware of Addiction: What Are The Causes?
We may not be aware of why we are drawn to certain addictions and could be pursuing them unconsciously. Other times, we are aware of our addiction but are unable to stop the cycle of addiction.
Trying to stop an addiction might be a futile endeavor because a part of us does want to give it up, given that the addiction is solving a particular problem for us. Maybe we don’t want to continue seeking addictive behaviors rationally, but our body is still heavily dependent on addictive substances or behavior.
The key is to dive deep into what is causing us to engage in the addictive pattern in the first place to be able to break it. The biggest question to ask ourselves is: “What problem is this addiction trying to solve for me?” And then, how can you solve this problem without damaging your body and sabotaging other aspects of your life? Finally, do you have the support you need to heal?
There are many reasons that could cause us to develop addiction but three reasons stand out for me: unsatisfactory daily life, trauma, and boredom.
Unsatisfactory Daily Life
For many of us, it could be that we are coping with a harsh work environment where we are pressured to work at a fast pace. We can even say that today’s fast-paced culture based on shame and competition is driving many of our addictive behaviors – some that we don’t even acknowledge.
For instance, addiction to sports and exercising, grabbing a drink after work every day, eating junk food (and snacking often), or getting coffee in the morning just before work could be addictions that we feel are benign. We take many of our addictive behaviors for granted because they are acceptable in our culture. Although we justify them as helping us to get by in life, a lot of these addictive patterns have a negative effect on our health and well-being – especially over time.
For a lot of us, addiction serves as a way to soothe ourselves when we are reliving our past trauma (which can be anywhere from severe to mild). A lot of our addictive behaviors could develop unconsciously, such as seeking out dangerous activities, dissociating, self-harming, isolating ourselves, and being attracted to abusive relationships.
These behaviors not only are harmful to our bodies because they cause stress and other physical harm, but can also deepen our sense of unworthiness, victimhood, and emotional pain. In fact, many of our coping mechanisms to trauma may retraumatize us!
As we go deeper down the downward spiral, we may feel like there is no way out so we stop taking responsibility for our lives and seek escapism.
Our lives are getting increasingly easier in the modern world. We have so many conveniences that we don’t even have to get out of our houses to live a comfortable life. There are, however, many issues with this kind of lifestyle.
First, it takes us away from a community life which requires us to grow, take charge, participate, and keep healing our old wounds so we can be healthy and contributing members of our community. Feeling useful and accountable not only helps strengthen our connection to our tribe through a specific contribution we have within it but also helps strengthen our sense of purpose and meaning. When we feel purposeless and unaccountable for our actions, we start to feel bored and are very likely to seek distractions to fill a hole in our lives and develop addictions detrimental to our well-being.
Why Do We Keep Addicted?
Because we live in an increasingly toxic society and environment which is difficult for humans to process and adapt to physically and emotionally, many of us are caught up in addictions without even knowing it. Our body is not meant to experience chronic states of being such as anxiety, extreme elation, long-lasting boredom, and constant danger/fear.
We are also not meant to eat processed and fried food constantly. The modern lifestyle and the habits we adopt to cope with it causes us to overuse and deplete our dopamine, serotonin, cortisol, adrenaline, and other important molecules, which are essential for physical, emotional, and mental health.
In one of the most familiar scenarios, we are tired from work and come home to relax. We get a glass of wine with our fast-food dinner and watch TV until we fall asleep. After the initial surge of dopamine with processed food and TV, we induce relaxation by increasing our GABA neurotransmitters with alcohol. The next day, we feel tired and anxious, wanting to stay in bed all day or drink coffee to be able to function at work.
But that is not all. These days, we are craving our quick fixes even more because our body is hormonally and electrically depleted and dysregulated. Since these addictive substances cause our cells to crave them, we need even more of them to achieve the same pleasure/relaxation feeling as before. And even if we are successful at beating one adaptive addiction habit, we may simply find another that seems less toxic and more socially acceptable.
Until the reason behind the addiction is not consciously recognized, the coping mechanisms addiction takes can have many sides and expressions. For example, you may replace your addiction to shopping with an addiction to food, simply because the shopping addiction can have a negative impact on your family finances and food addiction is more private and manageable. And so the cycle continues.
How Do We Make Changes in Our Life to Break the Cycle of Addiction?
What can we do to stop the addiction cycle and change our life for the better? Because addiction re-enforces circuits in our brains that are detrimental to a healthy and vibrant life, we have to re-teach (or rewire) our brains how to function healthily. Fortunately, there are many healthy ways that can help us get to the core of our addictions and break them.
Here, I describe some ways that have worked for me and other people to heal holistically and break the cycle of addiction for good.
8 Natural Ways to Break The Cycle of Addiction
1) Become Aware of the Addiction
To become aware of your traumas and emotional wounds, I advise that you work with a therapist or a spiritual counselor to help you recognize how your addiction has negatively impacted your life. Some addictions are more subtle and seem more harmless, such as an addiction to cathartic situations or falling in love, but still cause us a lot of anguish and need to be addressed with care.
When it comes to dealing with trauma, it will be necessary to become aware of how your body has been conditioned to constantly be in fight-or-flight survival mode. Although this is only the start of your healing journey, you can discover that you are more than your life circumstance and your body and that you can live a happy life even after a difficult past.
2) Get to The Root of The Addiction
Find out why you are craving certain feeling states in your life. How could you make realistic steps to meet your needs in nourishing and healthy ways instead?
If you are not conscious of why you are pursuing certain addictions, you could try hypnosis or past life regression to discover if your subconscious mind is holding on to something from your childhood, your ancestral line, or even a past life.
One of the most effective hypnosis techniques for past life regression is the Quantum Healing Hypnosis Technique developed by Dolores Cannon, which works to delve deep into your subconscious to help you become aware of what is not serving you in your life and why. For many years, I’ve followed Dolores Cannon’s work and think her method of hypnosis is one of the most effective ones used and practiced today when it comes to understanding our patterns, behaviors, and life situations. Here is just a bit more about it:
3) Develop Practices That Help You Feel Good Naturally
Learn tools that can help you get into a happy, relaxed, or pain-free state naturally. For example, if you want to feel joy or relaxation, there are many breathwork and yoga practices that can help you get into your desired state.
Our addictions are often attempts to soothe ourselves. However, most of us don’t have healthy and effective tools to help us handle stress and difficult situations (we were never taught how to live and thrive in this world in a balanced way). For example, instead of overeating sweets and junk food, you can relieve stress in healthier ways such as meditation, tapping, eating fruit, taking a yoga class, moving your body (dancing), or doing breathing exercises. Here are some simple techniques that can help you be more aligned with the present moment:
- Body Talk Systems
- Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping)
- Integral Breath Therapy
Another great way to help you decide what tool is best for you in a difficult moment is muscle testing. You can even use it with food, your exercise routine, when choosing personal products, when deciding which relationships are good for you, and much more.
- Muscle Testing
Yet another wonderful way to calm your nervous system, concentrate, and cultivate presence is through sound healing. Listening to relaxing music, solfeggio tones, and binaural beats can bring our brain into a very relaxed state without the toxicity of drugs or destructive habits.
Remember, the more you focus on creating new healthy habits as routines, the quicker you will rewire your brain to associate positive, healthy behaviors as an adaptation to daily life stressors and needs.
- Solfeggio Tones
4) Find Support on Your Journey
Maybe you just need a mentor or someone to help you see your strengths, find purpose in your life, and develop a focused goal.
If so, surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people will be crucial for healing any trauma associated with seeking relief, escape, or excitement. Some of us will need to work with a specialized somatic therapist or a coach to help us on our journey and hold us accountable during our healing progress.
It is important to develop healthy relationships with others, be it a therapist, a family member, a friend, or a pet. You can also try group therapy or find a like-minded community (through your church, hobby, school, etc.) that can provide more stability, structure, and a sense that you are not alone in your journey.
5) Develop a Healthier Lifestyle
Eating a healthy diet, drinking pure water, and eliminating toxic compounds in our environment can help us with our digestion and waste elimination, doing wonders for our well-being. If we are in a very stressful job or around toxic people, we can make steps to change these circumstances for the better. We can also work on our mindset so that we are not as greatly affected by toxic relationships and environments.
How can you start living a healthier lifestyle? The greatest advice is to slowly begin transitioning from your current diet to a plant-based diet. Once you are ready, you can also go on a detox protocol to rebalance your body and mind.
Oftentimes, mental health issues are caused by nutritional deficiencies, especially parathyroid dysregulation, lack of vital nutrients, and lack of electricity (or deficiency in electrolytes). By eliminating toxins and chemicals through full-body detoxification and providing the body with the alkaline chemistry it needs to thrive, you will be able to balance your mind-body-emotional axis so that you feel more optimistic, confident, resilient, and empowered.
From there, you will be better able to handle everyday stress because your body will more quickly recover from unhealthy fluctuations of cortisol.
6) Let Nature Be Your Guide
Spend time in nature and observe the silence and the sounds of animals, trees, and the wind. Find beauty and color in small things beyond the grayness of the daily grind. Through nature, you will hone your observation skills and sensitivity to the beauty all around you – even in the hardest moments of your life.
Make it a point every day to take a walk, go to a park, or be in a place with lots of nature around. Nature radiates the Schumann resonance, which rebalances our brain state, energy flow, and bodily functions. Breathe in the clean air and take off your shoes to walk on earth and the ground. “Earthing” will not only help you feel calmer and more relaxed but will help rebalance anxiety, the overactive nervous system, and other states of bodily dysregulation, which are usually the precondition for developing addictive behavior.
7) Explore Your Interests and Find Your Purpose
One of the most important ways that you can create the life that you desire is to put yourself out there and see what kind of environments, jobs, and hobbies are right for you. You will only be able to do this through actual experience and by curiously trying out things that interest you.
It might take a while to experiment, but you will eventually find the right circumstances where your interests, skills, and desires converge so you can begin to build and live a meaningful, abundant, interesting, and healthy life.
8) Connect to Something Higher
There may be situations in life, such as illness or the loss of a loved one, that take us on an extreme journey of worry, fear, suffering, and grief. Even with all the excellent tools we learn, it can be difficult to cope with these life events and we may be tempted to start an addictive pattern. For this reason, taking care of our spiritual needs and our connection to something beyond this physical reality will be crucial for our ability to live through life’s difficulties in a non-destructive manner.
If we put trust in the fact that everything happens for a reason and that illness and death are a part of life, we can begin to heal and cope with unwanted circumstances. We can start meditating and praying daily to gain assistance and guidance on our life journey.
Life is truly a mysterious journey that takes us through highs, lows, and everything in between. Our culture doesn’t make it easier on us – especially if we are sensitive, introverted, or even spiritual – because it rewards speed, competition, and achievement for which we have to pay a high physical, mental, and emotional price. Trying to keep up with this “normal” but toxic lifestyle can lead us to develop debilitating addictions just to cope with daily stress. We get addicted to coffee, work, instant pleasures, drama, and even difficult life situations because our cells acclimate to the chemical environment that we create for them through our lifestyle.
Once addicted, many people believe they are doomed to stay in the addiction cycle and that the only way to stay sober is to avoid the addictive substance or activity. However, to heal fully, we need to address the root cause of our addiction and take proactive steps to stop the cycle.
We can start our healing journey by becoming aware of our addiction and finding out why we have developed it. Next, we can create habits that help us navigate the ups and downs of life so that we don’t try to escape the present moment with addictions. Connecting to spirituality and the divine within us will be an essential part of our healing journey, since life can often wound us emotionally and mentally, and we have to go beyond the physical route to heal.
And lastly, to become physically and mentally stronger, it is important to prioritize nutrition and diet in your journey to breaking the addiction cycle once and for all. If you need any help in doing so, I offer wellness consultations and premier health reports that can help you establish healthy dietary habits to provide your body with the energy and vitality it needs to rebalance and break its adaptive coping mechanisms through addiction.