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Addicts have had the bad luck to learn they can solve the feeling (soothe their pain away) instead of solving the problem because that’s all they could do the first few times they ran into the problem, or because that happened the first few times they met the problem. A few times is all it takes for a habit to start forming. The more you follow this habitual pattern of behavior, the stronger the habit becomes. It doesn’t take long for the habit to become automatic — in other words, to occur without the conscious mind even being aware a choice has been made. To add insult to injury, both substance addictions and behavior addictions have a genetic component. There are genes that predispose someone to turn to a substance to soothe feelings. There are genes that predispose people to turn to repetitive behaviors to soothe themselves.

Ask any addict or alcoholic and a high percentage of them have AT LEAST 1 family member with use, abuse, or addictive disorders. My Grandfather was an alcoholic, for instance, and before that, my Great-grandmother overdosed on morphine (that is not as rare as you might think!)

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In addition to predisposition, there seems to be evidence that our genetic structures change in response to behavior. Our epigenetic material changes to encode habitual behavior into our genetic instruction sets, once the habits are formed. So addicts end up addicted both mentally and physically — in both thought patterns and the instructions that encode the memories of solutions that appear to work. I believe that we all use habitual thoughts as a shortcut to solve common problems we face. Sometimes people call this muscle memory. Driving a car sometimes seems to happen automatically. You arrive someplace and can’t remember the trip. Sometimes these habits seem benign. You can’t wake up in the morning without a shower or coffee. These habits solve particular problems without harming the individual.

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