What Causes Addiction? Expert Says Feeling “Trapped or Caged In”
A big part of what I do to gather ideas for writing about addiction and mental illness is research. I do a lot of reading, on a lot of topics related to substance abuse and mental health. Indeed, all this comes very close to home for me, as I have suffered both from alcoholism and bipolar disorder.
Today I read an article in The Huffington Post by Dr. Dragos Bratasanu, entitled “Screaming From The Golden Cage: Heal Anxiety, Depression And Addiction By Embracing The Truth.” In it, the author explains his perspective on what causes addiction.
I recommend that anyone who is suffering or has suffered from addiction read it. Still, I will summarize.
Dr. Bratasanu presents evidence that what causes addiction is the advent of some type of isolation, wrought from the inability to function while being true to oneself. Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but I think it’s pretty close to what he is getting at.
Bratasanu refers to a lab rat experiment from the 1970’s. The researcher, Dr. Bruce Alexander, isolated a rat in a cage with nothing to occupy itself. Meanwhile, in another cage, rats engaged in a social life, had good food, and had lots of activities to choose from.
Both the isolated rat and the socialized rats had access to two drinking bottles. One was pure water, the other was pure morphine. The solitary rats almost always chose the morphine, whereas the social rats almost never chose the morphine. Solitary rats became addicted and overdosed, whereas the social rats never did.
“People who become addicted don’t have to be put in cages. It’s enough for them only to feel caged-in a job, in a relationship, in a family or in a country. They will drink or take drugs to cope with the situation. “
“Alcohol or drug dependence is the consequence of not bearing being present in your own life.”
But of all the insightful points Bratasanu makes, one statement, in particular really stood out to me:
“…if you feel trapped or caged in a situation, a job or a relationship, if you cannot bond because of you in life in a social context that punishes you for expressing who you are and for living your truth, you will find refuge in whatever takes your pain away.”
This hit me so hard, I was inspired to write an entire article about it, from my own perspective. I’ve come across similar themes in my research, but I don’t think I’d ever seen it put quite this way before.
But it certainly makes sense. Addiction is often a life-long struggle, and it’s probably because the conditions in one’s mind and environment that contribute to addiction don’t go away. Maybe cognitive-behavioral therapy helps – maybe counseling or support groups help. But the bottom line is, you are the one that creates your own prison.
And maybe you create it for good reason – such as some past trauma. I think we all do to a certain extent. But maybe if we are the builders of our own cages, we can disassemble them as well.
I’ve often thought about how I became an alcoholic, and exactly what causes addiction. It seems I was privy to a number of risk factors – two parents who drank, and a highly dysfunctional family. It’s likely just the perfect storm.
And it’s true, that for a long time, I felt caged. I was trapped in my own head, and my own insecurities. I felt like I didn’t really fit in anywhere in the world that was realistic for me to be. I felt disassociated from nature, and from the person I had intended to be, but had somehow chose not to become.
One friend of mine once told me “You’re the kind of person who will always be lost inside themselves.” Maybe he was right. It seems that over the years, I have just traded one prison for another. Anything I overcame was replaced by another means to keep myself within myself.
Maybe I’m just too damaged to be present in my own life for very long. Maybe I really am not suited for the world as we know it. But I think it’s more that I’ve constructed my own cage, and chose to live in it, rather than face what’s outside. And that cage gets lonelier and more solitary all the time.
It’s hard to say what I could have accomplished had I chosen to life free, despite what others thought about me. What if I had not been so sensitive to criticism, and had been less selfish and self-absorbed? But here I am, with a master’s degree and a self-made writing career. I finally made it.
So why do I still hang out in the emotionally dysfunctional prison cell that I have built in my own mind? Have I just stayed too long at the fair?
At nearly 44, it’s difficult for me to imagine changing in any drastic way. But I think I know now what I have to do in order to make happen. And it’s probably the same thing all of us who abuse substances must do – find our way out of our cages, live true to ourselves, and do so without apology or regret.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
About Dr. Dragos Bratasanu
According to his website:
- Award winning scientist, author, and speaker on 6 continents
- Ph.D Magna Cum Laude in satellite intelligence in Germany
- Winner of the Google Grant for Singularity University 2015
- His team at Singularity University was named by FORBES “among the smartest people in the world.”
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