It can be so helpful to know that something you feel in your body isn’t necessarily caused by anything physical; it could be caused by your mind.
Addiction is almost always explained entirely in terms of physical effects. It is true that the things we become addicted to, including sugar, all have the potential to become addictions because of the effect they have on our biochemistry, and especially that of our brains.
Of course there are major differences in these effects. Smoking a cigarette is not the same as smoking crack cocaine. Eating sweets is not the same as taking amphetamines. But all of these can become addictive largely because of their various effects on neurotransmitters, which are the chemical signals between the neurons (cells) in our brains. They increase the levels of the neurotransmitters, in time cause resistance known as down-regulation or in some cases they mimic them by duplicating their effects.
People don’t usually become addicted to smoking herbal cigarettes, drinking water or eating celery, the reason being that these things don’t have this effect on our brain chemistry, causing the release of dopamine especially, and endogenous opioids.
Often referred to as reward chemicals, they produce positive feelings of relaxation, confidence, energy and even euphoria. They make us feel cozy, happy and alert. These feelings of satisfaction and security are what we all yearn for, so it’s no wonder we repeat them. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
For exactly the same reasons, some people can become hooked on activities such as gambling, shopping and exercise. The neurotransmitters are generated by our own bodies, and for some people the anticipation and excitement of certain activities creates a rush or ‘hit’ of these chemicals, rather than a steady dose at a steady pace. The experience of sexual orgasm is created by a sudden rush of dopamine, so it’s easy to see why we get so interested in seeking out ways to simulate this excitement.