Emotional Intelligence and Addiction: Ten Key Points
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” — Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Emotional Intelligence creates or extends that space between stimulus and response, which ultimately disappears for the addict. No one has less freedom than an addict.
1. It isn’t about the substance. We don’t talk about addictive dice.
“The Natural History of Chipping” (the American Journal of Psychiatry) reported a study of 54 long-term heroin users who did what’s called “chipping.” According to Norman Zinberg, then clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard, these users had regularly injected the drug (for up to 23 years in one case) but never became addicted. The explanation: “They had purposefully developed social rituals and ways of using it that permitted stable, controlled use of heroin.” This debunked the myth that heroin was the most addictive drug. As Howard Shaffer, an associate professor of psychology in the department of psychiatry and director of the division on addictions at Harvard Medical School says, “We don’t talk about addictive dice.” He has studied addicts and compulsive gamblers for year.
2. The release of dopamine at the nucleus accumbens is the end reward of all addictive substances.
The release of dopamine at the nucleus accumbens in the brain is the conscious experience of pleasure, the “reward” or the “high.” All addictive substances end here. However, morphine won’t relieve a heroin craving, nor heroin an alcohol craving.
3. Don’t underestimate nicotine.
Studies at the University of Calgari and the University of Pennsylvania are showing that “nicotine affects the brain similarly to the other drugs of dependence” like heroin and amphetamine. Indeed, says John Hughes, editor of the scientific journal Tobacco Control, many alcoholics say it was harder getting off smoking than alcohol. The habituation rate for nicotine is higher than any other drug, approaching 70%.
4. The seat of addiction is the reptilian brain.
According the leading addiction researcher at Harvard, George Vaillant, M.D., the reptilian brain is the seat of addiction. Anything going on in this brain is uber-powerful because it pertains to survival. It is also automatic, outside our control, and sometimes said to be unconscious. “The best intentions in the world don’t help you with addiction” says Vaillant. “Will power is not a prognostic factor in recovery. Addiction resides in what is often referred to as our reptilian brain, and-well, alligators don’t come when they’re called.”
5. Try a little EQ!
If addiction – alcoholism, for instance – has an underlying dynamic of suppressed rage at helplessness, as some believe, and is a compromise between doing nothing, and doing something constructive, as others believe, certainly increasing your EQ skills such as Personal Power, Anger Management, Intentionality and Self-Regard would allow you to consider the latter alternative instead of the former, and to make it happen. And Optimism, an EQ facilitator which can be learned, is the opposite of “learned helplessness.”
6. One of the greatest health benefits of emotional intelligence is avoiding isolation, and isolation figures highly in addiction.
Consider yet another theory of addiction, this time called “excessive appetite.” Dr. Jim Orford from the University of Birmingham proposes in “Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of Addiction,” that behavior such as excessive gambling, sex and eating are normally distributed because most people will conform to social pressure. According to Orford’s model, “the more excessive the behavior becomes, the greater the societal forces are that push the behavior back to the center, to the norm.” (Isolation, of course, removes you from the ‘pressure of the norm’.”)
7. No one ever got addicted who never took the first puff, hit, snort, sip, bite or roll.
And even when we let the genie out of the bottle (taking “the first”), only a small percentage of people actually become addicts. Bertha Madras at Harvard estimates 5-10% of drug players. Cigarettes, however, claim 10-70% to habituation.
8. To me one of the most compelling arguments that an addiction is controllable (regardless of its cause – genetic or otherwise) and therefore would respond to emotional intelligence training is that researchers can pay addicts to quit.
You can’t pay a blue-eyed person to change their genetically-determined eyes to brown. The addict can be motivated to quit with money for instance, and motivation is both a feelings word, and something that requires thinking, the neocortex.
9. Are smokers trying to relieve depression? It’s more likely they’re causing it.
While the relationship between smoking and depression still poses interesting questions (e.g., which causes which; whether a third variable influences or causes both) we know that learned optimism, flexibility that circumvents perfectionism, skills in emotional expression, empathy, and connectedness can all impact depression. Pessimists are more prone to depression, and also more prone to isolation. Studies have shown, however, that teenagers who smoke are more likely to be depressed. “Cigarette use [by teenagers] is a powerful determinant of developing high depressive symptoms,” says Elizabeth Goodman, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics in the division of Adolescent Medicine at Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati.
10. Nobody’s expressed intent is to become addicted.
Their intent is pleasure, or to relieve suffering, to have fun, to fit in, to quel anger, or any number of other things. It’s like a misfired arrow of intent, the addict saying at some point, “I didn’t intend to get addicted, I intended to have a good time/fun/pleasure/peace/comfort…” Intentionality is an emotional intelligence competency which permits you to accomplish what you set out to, not something else.
Susan Dunn, MA, Marketing Coach,
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