The role of these chemicals is to reinforce natural, life-enhancing behaviours, so that activities such as having sex and eating food feel rewarding. An addiction is like a parasite that exploits this natural and beneficial reward system. It does this by rewarding us for behaviours such as smoking and overeating (especially sugar and processed wheat) that are actually bad for us.
The popular view of addiction is that when someone tries to quit, their brain, which has become accustomed to these chemicals, misses its fix. Your brain has had its regular dose of some version of the chemistry described above, possibly for many years. When you take control of the addiction, that chemistry stops happening. The brain chemistry gets upset, and you experience the misery, the agony and the general mayhem of physical withdrawal as a direct result. You crave, you rage, you grieve and your life seems to fall apart.
There’s a problem with this, though, and the problem is that it doesn’t take into account the impact of the ways we think, the attitudes and beliefs we hold in our mind. This impact is huge, and to get some idea of how huge it is, let’s take a look at some research.
A group of smokers who had volunteered to take part in a study were asked not to smoke for 12 hours before coming into the research centre where this study was being conducted. Each one was interviewed and asked many questions about how they were feeling and how much they wanted to smoke a cigarette.
They had already been identified as being ‘highly dependent smokers’ so, as you can imagine, there was no doubt they really did want to smoke. After 12 hours of not smoking at all, they were beginning to experience symptoms of withdrawal such as irritability, restlessness, anxiety and strong cravings. After the interview, they smoked a cigarette and then described how much better they felt, and how satisfying that cigarette was for them.
So at the end of all this there was a great deal written down about the thoughts and feelings of the smokers before and after smoking a cigarette.