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©Arlene R. Taylor PhD

 

Addictive behaviors involve a natural brain phenomenon (a habit) that has run away with itself or been taken hostage. In consequence the individual’s easy conscious control over the habit has been reduced. In general, addictive behaviors are utilized as coping mechanisms, and coping is not thriving. Although most, if not all, human beings may be at some risk for addictive behaviors, those who are exhausted from excessive or prolonged adapting may be at higher risk.

The underlying reason for addictive behaviors is to alter your neurochemistry, your brain’s chemical stew, through self-medication. Self-medication may be accomplished directly or indirectly, consciously or subconsciously (refer to Stew Metaphor below).

Although the initial results of the addictive behavior may have helped the individual manage a difficult situation with a perceived positive outcome in the short-term, the addictive behavior often results in increasingly negative outcomes to the individual and to those in the environment over the long-term. 

The following observations regarding addictive behaviors and the cerebral divisions reflect input during conversations with brain-function researchers regarding risks for addictive behaviors based on one’s innate brain bent.

 

alt

Prioritizing Division

Envisioning Divisionalt

Individuals with a bent in the prioritizing division may become involved with addictive behaviors that they perceive may help them to:

  • Achieve goals and/or win
  • Get in touch with emotions and feelings (e.g., functions of the Harmonizing division) 
  • Compensate for perceived past losses or injuries (e.g., cope or block out) due to:
    • Being shamed or punished for a need to set and achieve goals, make decisions, be in charge, direct others, and “win”
    • A lack of opportunity to set goals, develop functional structures, solve problems logically, make logical decisions, or find similar role models.
    • Loss of the “self” through adapting (e.g., utilizing Maintaining or Harmonizing skills long periods of time, or trying to cope with altered physiology due to excessive adapting)
    • A perception that they were unable to be in charge, or win, or realize goals (e.g., financial, educational, hierarchical, organizational)
    • Connect with and/or loosen up clients (e.g., cocktails with a client)

Individuals with a bent in the envisioning division may become involved with addictive behaviors that they perceive may help them to: 

  • Achieve contextual forecasting (e.g., financial markets, global environmental or health issues) when they aren’t able to get others on board or don’t observe results even after years of effort. 
  • Cope with expectations (especially for utilizing functions that derive from the Maintaining division) or compensate for perceived past losses, hurts, or injuries due to:
    • Being shamed or punished for a nontraditional thinking style (may be labeled a misfit), for natural risk-taking, for futuristic views, for a need to envision and make change, for some actual or implied level of dyslexia in reading and writing, for a desire to engage in entrepreneurial endeavors (Extrovert), or artistically creative activities (Introvert)
    • A lack of opportunity to use their abilities to perceive the big picture, to identify trends, or to engage in entrepreneurial (Extroverted) or artistic (Introverted) activities
    • Loss of the “self” through excessive or prolonged adapting in an effort to meet expectations
    • To escape from uncomfortable life situations (e.g., cope, forget, obtain needed stimulation or variety, to obtain a feel-good reward)
    • To enhance their perceived abilities for creative endeavors
    • To make a statement against the established status quo

 

altPrioritizing Division altEnvisioning Division

Ways in which addictive behaviors are displayed may include:

  • Use of socially acceptable substances such as food, nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol 
  • Nicotine to help steady nerves and to increase ability to thinking quickly and/or concentrate 
  • Caffeine to relieve fatigue and increase ability to think quickly and/or pay attention 
  • Alcohol to get in touch with emotions, or to loosen up oneself and/or clients 
  • Taking uppers to boost energy levels 
  • Using anger to obtain an adrenaline rush to obtain more energy and to trigger the release of dopamine 
  • Living a life that is out of balance from doing “good works” to feel better about themselves or to “earn” a reward and win 
  • Excessive time spent:
    • Playing video games
    • Watching TV, movies, videos
    • Surfing the net or texting

 

Ways in which addictive behaviors are displayed may include:

  • Use of socially acceptable substances such as nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, or food 
  • Use of socially unacceptable substances (high-risk drugs) or activities 
  • Overuse or misuse of prescription drugs 
  • Engaging in dangerous and/or thrilling sports activities 
  • Bending or breaking the rules 
  • Engaging in promiscuity or gambling 
  • Reading sci-fi or adventure novels 
  • Becoming involved with stimulating music or exotic dancing as an escape 
  • Living a life that is out of balance from doing “good works” to feel better about themselves or to “earn” a reward and win (if Extroverted) 
  • Excessive time spent:
    • Playing video games
    • Watching TV, movies, videos
    • Surfing the net or texting

 

altMaintaining Division altHarmonizing Division

Individuals with a bent in the maintaining division may become involved with addictive behaviors that are perceived to help them:

  • Achieve standard production levels when these have been threatened (e.g., quota increased with resources, same quota with decreased time/resources). 
  • Cope with or compensate for perceived past hurts or injuries due to:
    • Being shamed or punished for a need for routine, especially in the face of rapidly changing environments or rules.
    • A lack of opportunity to “do” or produce effectively using their routines, with resulting anxiety and frustration, or lack of ability to participate in team/group activities such as sports (extrovert).
    • Loss of the “self” through excessive adapting  (e.g., trying to live and work as a frontal thinker, need for affirmation in order to achieve a sense of being a member of the team or group)

Individuals with a bent in the harmonizing division may become involved with addictive behaviors that are perceived to help them:

  • Achieve harmony in human relationships (especially when things aren’t going smoothly) or in the environment. 
  • Cope with or compensate for wounded emotions or hurt feelings due to perceived past hurts or injuries such as:
    • Being shamed or punished for a need to connect and/or for a reluctance to confront or say “no,” or to handle conflict
    • A lack of opportunity to develop rewarding relationships with resulting anxieties, or to use their innate skills related to building harmony, trust, and conversation in relationship building, or a failure to achieve a personal connection with a Higher Power a thsey perceive it (introvert).
    • Loss of the “self” through excessive adapting (e.g., trying to function from one of the other three divisions to meet the expectations of others, or a need to “keep the peace,” or to gain a reward and be “accepted by others,” or an excessive need for affirmation and belonging

 

altMaintaining Division altHarmonizing Division

Ways in which addictive behaviors may be displayed can include:

  • Use of socially acceptable addictive behaviors with food, nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol
  • Taking prescription drugs (e.g., for anxiety) 
  • Maintaining rigidity and control (often in an attempt to maintain the status quo) 
  • Following habitual activities, rules, or regulations (often in an attempt to develop a sense of safety) 
  • Living a life that is out of balance from doing “good works” to feel better about themselves or to “earn” a reward of being part of the establishment or group-of-choice 
  • Excessive amounts of time spent:
    • Playing of video games
    • Watching television, videos, and movies
    • With the internet or texting

 

Ways in which addictive behaviors may be displayed can include:

  • Use of socially acceptable addictive behaviors with food, nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol (e.g., to fit in with friends) 
  • Taking prescription drugs to manage anxiety and/or depression
  • Pursuing romantic relationships, or reading romance novels, or attending romantic movies and fantasizing about romance, or engaging in sexual activity looking for “love” 
  • Shopping as in trying on and/or purchasing clothes (especially if Extraverted), purchasing furnishings or knick-knacks for the home, movies/CD’s to feel better about the self (e.g., I am worth buying this...) 
  • Music (e.g., emotional, story songs)
  • Dancing (as an escape) 
  • Living a life that is out of balance from doing “good works” to feel better about themselves or to “earn” a reward of belonging and being loved and accepted 
  • Excessive amounts of time spent:
    • Playing of video games
    • Watching television, videos, and movies
    • With the internet or texting 

 

Comments related to risk for addictive behaviors based on other contributors:

Excessive adaption and alcohol misuse

Alcoholics may be innately more right-brained. As a consequence of excessive adaption for a significant portion of their lives they over-utilize alcohol as a coping mechanism for the way in which their lives are not working for their brains. (Refer to Adapting for additional information). Studies by Benziger have estimated upwards of 80% of Americans are pushed toward left-hemisphere function in adulthood, regardless of the person’s innate giftedness.

Extroverts

PET scan studies by Dr. Debra Johnson have shown that Extroverts have lower rates of blood flow to brain (lower internal stimulation). Because of this, Extroverts crave stimulation to help their brains stay awake. In addition, their dominant brain pathway is activated by dopamine (the brain chemical involved with addictive behaviors and with achieving a sense of pleasure). Consequently, Extroverts may be a higher risk for developing addictive behaviors that trigger the release of high amounts of dopamine. This may be especially true if they are trying to function in an introverted environment, or when close family members and co-workers are much more introverted.

Introverts

PET scan studies by Dr. Debra Johnson have shown that Introverts have higher rates of blood flow to brain (higher internal stimulation). Because of this, Introverts can become overloaded and overwhelmed quickly by too much stimulation. If not managed effectively, this overwhelm can lead to illness. Their brain’s dominant pathway is activated by acetylcholine (alertness, attention). Introverts are at higher risk for sensing they are misfits in a society that rewards higher levels of Extroversion. Thus, Introverts may be at risk for developing addictive behaviors that help them to keep up with expectations of self, society, or others (especially when they are trying to function in an extroverted environment, or when family members and co-workers are much more extroverted) and that mask their sense of being a misfit.

Kinesthetics

Individuals who have a Kinesthetic sensory preference may be at higher risk for addictions related to food (as they are particular sensitive to taste and odors and may be gourmets or gourmands) and beverages. Society currently places a huge “visual” emphasis on how things look (and what comes in through the eyes does not register as quickly and intensely in the Kinesthetics). They prefer a hands-on approach and that option is not readily available in many environments. (Refer to Brain References: Senses and the Brain for additional information.)

Males whose brain bent is not in the Prioritizing Division

Males are currently rewarded by society and culture for possessing a bent in the prioritizing division and for exhibiting skills that derive from that cerebral division. Males who have a bent in one of the other three divisions often try very hard to develop prioritizing-division skills—in the process they may become exhausted and turn to an addictive behavior in order to try to sustain the excessive energy expenditures.

Females whose brain bent is not in the Harmonizing division

Females are primarily rewarded by society and culture for developing and exhibiting skills in the harmonizing division. Females who have a bent in one of the other three divisions often try very hard to develop skills in the harmonizing division because that is how they get rewarded. In the process they may become exhausted and turn to an addictive behavior in order to try to sustain the excessive energy expenditures and dampen a sense of being a misfit.

Individuals who prefer same-gender partners

Individuals are primarily rewarded in many cultures, societies, and religions for preferring partners of the opposite gender (e.g., no one is believed to be 100% one way or the other in preference). These individuals may become involved with addictive behaviors in order self-medicate, to help themselves feel better about the disconnect between who they are innately and societal expectations and rewards (refer to Stew Metaphor that follows).

Individuals outside the Male-Female Continuum

Individuals whose brain function falls outside the typical Gender Continuum (or Empathizing versus Systemizing styles)—estimated to be 5% of the general population—may turn to an addictive behavior for self-medication. This in an attempt to help themselves feel better about the disconnect between who they are innately and societal expectations and rewards. (Refer to Brain References: Gender Differences for additional information about males and females and their similarities and differences.)

Stew Metaphor

Think of your brain as a pot of chemical stew and you are the chef who adds seasonings. The seasonings result from what you ingest, think, and do. All humans continually self-medicate to alter their brain’s chemical stew in order to:

  • Obtain a “reward” (e.g., proactively feel better about themselves and/or about what is currently happening in life; remember that Dopamine is the brain chemical designed to help one feel better and move from bad to less bad or from okay to good and this does not necessarily cause "pleasure" per se)
  • Obtain relief from pain (e.g., physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, intellectual, social, financial)
  • To manage boredom (a sense of being bored often has to do with a lack of stimulation and an inability to recognize how many ways there are to obtain needed stimulation)
  • Experience a general sense of well-being by achieving a preferred “seasoning”
  • Fit in with a chosen group of associates

You can season your brain’s chemical stew directly or indirectly. Following are examples:

  Direct Seasoning Indirect Seasoning
  • What you eat
  • What you drink
  • Medications (prescriptions or over the counter medications) 
  • Vitamins, minerals, and enzymes
  • Drugs (e.g., cocaine)
  • Substances you sniff (glue)
  • Substances you inhale (tobacco smoke)
  • Substances you chew (nicotine)
  • Thoughts you think
  • Risk-taking activities (e.g., gambling, sky diving, stealing, playing the “choking game”)
  • Maintaining strong emotions (e.g., anger that triggers the release of adrenalin followed by dopamine)
  • Physical exercise
  • Sexual activity
  • Behaviors that involve competition
  • Watching TV, movies, and videos

 

Healthy Self-Medication

The goal is to learn to self-medicate in ways that result in positive outcomes to your life and to the lives of those close to you. To do this you will need to implement two key strategies:

  • Alter the way you season your brain’s chemical stew by developing healthier and more functional behaviors

Remember: the most common cure for one addictive behavior is to substitute another addictive behavior; one that will result in a similar type of seasoning to your brain’s chemical stew.

  • Teach yourself to like the new seasoning

Remember: failing to learn how to manage cravings (your brain demanding that you give it the old seasoning) is a common cause of relapse.

In order to resolve addictive behaviors successfully, it is important to identify reasons that prompted you to attempt to alter your neurochemistry using the specific addictive behavior.

In addition, old routines can trigger cravings for the old behavior. Identify and alter as many old routines as possible to minimize cravings (e. g., different vehicle, cup, schedules, chairs, environments...)

In order to achieve long-term recovery, it is important to develop and live a high-level-wellness lifestyle in balance (e.g., eat nutritional food, drink plenty of water, exercise, get sufficient sleep, work, play, have fun...). For every of exhaustion, the brain tends to experience a corresponding period of depression that challenges it at its points of vulnerability.

12-Step Programs (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous)

There have been reports that prior to Bill Wilson founding AA, he spent time in Switzerland with C. G. Jung who reportedly told Bill that alcoholism was “false spirits” and that the individual would need to reembrace his/her spirituality. (M. Scott Peck also reportedly had a similar view.) Arguably Alcoholics Anonymous has been the most successful model for helping individuals to deal with alcohol addictions.

Many early-in-life alcoholics may be individuals who are Ambiverted or Introverted and who have a brain bent in the harmonizing division. They have, however, perceived pressure from their environment to give up their spiritual identity and connection in favor of more extroverted and/or more left-brained activities. Since spirituality is an authentic Introverted harmonizing-division experience—and to a somewhat lesser degree an envisioning-division experience—this loss is more painful to these persons that it would be for far more extroverted individuals or persons whose innate energy advantage is outside the harmonizing division.

Thus, many of these individuals are thought to use “spirits” in an attempt to cope with the loss of this authentic sense of spirituality. And if the individual has a genetic predisposition or epigenetic cellular memory for coping through the use of “spirits,” this may contribute as well.

 

 
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