24 Jul How to beat an addiction – new neural pathways
On my 18 month anniversary of quitting cigarettes, I thought that I would share with you some of the things I have learnt about addiction. How do you negotiate the tricky period of time between when you quit one of your addictions, and the time when you are truly free?
You can be better prepared and more successful when you quit something, the more knowledge you have. This can be a physical addiction such as cigarettes, cannabis or any other drug, or a psychological addiction like a toxic relationship. Addiction builds certain neural pathways in your brain. If you are addicted to cigarettes, you are actually addicted to the release of dopamine that happens every time you inhale. If you are addicted to something stronger, it can be a big rush of dopamine all at once. It makes you feel good.
Overcoming an addiction is building a new neural network
The process of cessation means giving yourself time to build a new neural network in your brain. It will be uncomfortable for a while. And because your brain wants to protect you from pain, it will be tempting to go back to the addiction. It is EASIER to just continue what you are doing. You give yourself the little rush of dopamine or other neurotransmitter. It feels good.
You can be free though, if you accept and allow the uncomfortable feelings for a while. Your brain is busy building new neural pathways. Once this happens you will feel a million times better than when you were using your substance of choice.
One way to help your brain to do this is to actively help it to build a new neural network as quickly as possible. If it is cigarettes or cannabis that you are trying to quit, it is helpful to actively engage in activities that feel good. This is because your brain is starved of the feel good chemical dopamine.
Find new rewards to build new neural networks
That is why it is important to find things that give you pleasure. I did this when I was quitting cigarettes. You can light incense, and delight in the scent and experience of the smoke in your house. Or reward yourself with a warm shower at the end of the day, or a lovely cup of tea. It is a great way to constantly reinforce the fact that pleasure can be found in other activities. It really helps to break the connection between pleasure and cigarettes. You can build new neural pathways between pleasure and other things. Just give yourself time.