Addiction is a difficult condition to understand, whether the problem is alcohol, drugs or nicotine, or behavioral addictions such as gambling, porn, smoking or overeating. Although scientific knowledge of addiction is becoming more advanced, the fact remains that even the best drug and alcohol treatment centers and rehabs continue to have a high rate of relapse.
Judson Brewer, an addiction researcher and psychiatrist at University of Massachusetts Medical School has a different take on breaking bad habits and addictions, which he says are often used to distract ourselves when we’re uncomfortable or restless. In a TedMed talk, Dr. Brewer explains how all habits work much the same way. They are triggered by a situation or event, and are then repeated until they are performed automatically.
Using eating as an example, Dr. Brewer describes how food is used to satisfy hunger (the trigger). Our brains develop a memory and the behavior is repeated. Eventually, our brain realizes that food tastes good and makes us feel better, so we begin to use food as a pick-me-up when we’re feeling tired or discouraged. Emotions become the new trigger and eating becomes an addictive behavior.
If we learn to develop curiosity, Dr. Brewer says, we can tap into a natural learning process and observe our cravings close up without giving in. The key, he says, is to stop trying to force the issue, and instead, notice what the craving feels like in our minds and bodies.
Dr. Brewer described a study in which he and his colleagues at University of Massachusetts discovered that mindfulness training can help people stop smoking – even long-time smokers who have tried to quit numerous times without success.