What’s Your Substance Abuse?

What’s Your Substance Abuse?

How addictions aren’t limited to alcohol/smoking, but also to phone/person/activity

By Aditi Raman Shridhar
If you are judgmental of anybody addicted to cigarettes and alcohol, think again. Their addiction might be a lot lesser than say your addiction to anger or sadness, to your spouse, your work, or even to your smartphone, food and guess what – sugar!

We are very quick to label the word addiction to alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. However, addiction is a psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical or drug or to stop doing a certain activity even though it is causing psychological and physical harm. Activities such as gambling, working, eating, sex, or any activity that an individual is compulsively unable to stop doing is an addiction. This is called behavioural addiction.

In fact, a group of monks in a Tibetan monastery once commented in a meditation video on YouTube that even meditation can become an addiction for some people. This is because we human beings are always looking for an ultimate feeling of satisfaction, the high, the rush as many call it, the ultimate feeling of bliss and we partake in activities or consume substances over and over again that even remotely make us feel that high.

There is a reason why the drug you consume or the activity you cannot stop doing make you an addict, because there is scientific evidence that the addictive behaviors share key neurobiological features: They intensely involve brain pathways of reward and reinforcement, affecting motivation, which involve the neurotransmitter dopamine. The behaviour involves an intense compulsion and craving to ‘feel good’, ‘relieve stress’, ‘improve performance’ and can even be triggered by curiosity and peer pressure.

In today’s column I am going to take you through some commonplace addictions that many people don’t know about and compare them to the effects of known substance abuses such as of cocaine.

  1. Sugar – Sugar is hidden within so much that we eat that our brains have actually become hard wired to crave it. Sugar addiction works in the same way that any addiction, say to cocaine, other hard drugs, gambling and alcohol, works. It fiddles around with our dopamine receptors. Dopamine is the ‘Happy’ hormone chemical in our brain. If you have gone for that slice of cake or a sugary drink or a sweet lemonade to feel better or have more energy, you will understand what I am saying.
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Hypnotherapist Marisa Peer explains that thousands of years ago, when we as hunter-gatherers found sugary foods such as honey, it was a rare phenomenon. Therefore, this scarcity triggered in our brains that we must have as much of it as possible to store fat for the upcoming winter. Therefore, we consume much more than if we thought it is readily available.

Sugar produces massive amounts of dopamine and indeed makes you happier. Sugar also produces more energy in the body. And whenever we are fatigued we look for that quick dose of sugary drink or sweet that will pump up our energy back to normal. Health expert Eric Edmeades calls sweet-toothers as sugar-hungry zombies. He says that sugar works in a rude way with our bodies. The more sugar you consume, the more your dopamine receptors becomes desensitized to the effects of sugar. This means that in order to get the same high and energy rush you need to consume more sugar. And the cycle continues.

  1. Sex – Similar to drug or alcohol dependence, being addicted to sex also has the potential to negatively impact a person’s physical and mental health. relationships, quality of life and safety. According to Psyhology Today magazine, sex addiction is somewhat common but it is not often diagnosed. It is believed that a person with sex addiction will seek out multiple partners though this is not itself a sign of disorder. It is understood as an addiction when involve watching more than an hour or two of pornography, or deliberately create sexually stimulating situations. Some symptoms of this addiction are chronic, obsessive, compulsive sexual thoughts and fantasies, compulsive relations with multiple partners including strangers, lying to cover behaviour, involving in sex more than any of the other activities in a day combined, inability to stop making sexual encounters with partners, and feeling guilt or remorse after sex.

Some people also use sex addiction as a way to explain infidelity in relationships. It is important to note here that sex is a healthy human activity and enjoying it is normal. In addition, differences in the level of sexual interest between two partners is not an indication that one partner has an addiction. It is only when a person is unable to carry out a normal life with his daily hobbies, fun and entertainment, relationships and work without compulsively getting affected by sex, then it borders towards the sign of disorder.

  1. Person – Stanton Peele writes in his book Love and Addiction that, “We often say ‘love’ when what we really mean is a sterile, ingrown dependency relationship with another person serving as the object of our need for security.”
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Are you really in love with your partner or spouse or are you feeding off them for your own emotional or other forms of securities? Someone addicted to love or a person develops an unhealthy attachment to the passion and enthrallment of the beginning of a relationship, he asks. A person only addicted to another person and love usually has a long history of short romantic relationships and ends the relationship shortly after the excitement dwindles.

Another way someone can exhibit problematic behavior in regard to love is being addicted to an individual. Although the term codependency is overused, true codependency is an unhealthy attachment to another. Although it can happen in any relationship (mother /child is a common dynamic in codependent relationships), it is most common as a partner dynamic. One partner (or perhaps both) becomes dependent on the other for his or her positive emotions.

Peele calls out to all people in committed relationships to ask themselves – Does each lover have a secure belief in his or her own value? Are the lovers improved by the relationship? By some measure outside of the relationship, are they better, stronger, more attractive, more accomplished, or more sensitive individuals? Do they value the relationship for this very reason?

Do the lovers maintain serious interests outside the relationship, including other meaningful personal relationships? Is the relationship integrated into, rather than being set off from, the totality of the lovers’ lives? Are the lovers beyond being possessive or jealous of each other’s growth and expansion of interests?

Are the lovers also friends? Would they seek each other out if they should cease to be primary partners?  Peele goes on to say that these are ideals, and all relationships show signs of addiction. The questions, however, help determine if a relationship is predominately addictive.

Although many relationships are more addiction than love, there is a great deal of agreement on what constitutes a healthy relationship. First, the love is non-possessive, or at least minimally so. Second, healthy love fosters growth, rather than stagnation or regression.

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Third, healthy love is based on mutual respect that results in a partnership. Finally, healthy romantic love strives to be unconditional.


Some other forms of addiction are to your smartphone, office work and travel that may seem mundane activities but have the potential to create havoc in your lives if you are overdoing it. Travel is also an addiction for many who want to escape their current reality. Do not confuse this with those passionate for travel. A passion for an activity is different from an addiction. An addiction has the tendency to make you sad after the activity you are doing is over and it disrupts your other aspects of life such as health, happiness and relationships.


Good news is that addiction of any kind is a treatable condition and complete remission is entirely possible. Recovery, however, is often a long-term process that may involve multiple efforts. Relapse is now regarded as part of the process, and effective treatment regimens address prevention and management of recurrent use.

Since success tends not to occur all at once, any improvements are considered important signs of progress. Unfortunately, hoping to completely let go your source of addiction is impossible as it leads to an equally bad and negative feeling of withdrawal symptoms during which the individual feels intense physical and mental pain, frustration and even fatal panic attacks. Going slow is the key.

Whatever be the object of your addiction, understand that you are only looking for a ‘feel good’ factor and anything you put your mind to can make you feel so. Hence, being careful about choosing it is the answer to your problem.

Distributing your interests among healthy activities, such as music, exercise, mediation, group interactions, creative hobbies are best ways to get started. They give you high feelings of satisfactions in small doses. You can choose dance, watching movies, going for a run in a park, talking to some positive people, following the stock market, playing the cello, simply anything that makes you feel good.

Hope you recognise your addiction and let go of it as soon as possible and be open to a better, happier and higher quality of life. Until next week.

Aditi Raman Shridhar is an Indian writer and wellness expert.

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