How Addiction Works          (part I of V)

How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.

—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The Pleasure-Pain Principle

The main underlying principle that drives behavior is the pleasure-pain principle.[1]

We are designed to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.

This is so intrinsic that absolutely everything we do in each and every waking moment is guided by this principle alone.

We are fully capable of enduring pain to fulfill a greater pleasure, like going to work for a paycheck; however, we cannot escape the pleasure-pain principle.

The mind defines pain and pleasure as follows: pleasure is sensually pleasing (feels good) and familiar (puts us in our comfort zones).


Pain is the polar opposite—

it is sensually painful (physical pain) and unfamiliar. Fear of the unknown is psychologically painful.

They are both recorded and categorized by the subconscious mind hierarchically,

with the strongest feelings at the top and the lesser ones at the bottom.


The subconcsious applies pressure to pursue identified pleasures by activating certain neurochemicals, and this pressure is mentally painful.


There is more pressure from the subconscious to pursue greater pleasures.

This pressure is activated by neurochemicals that cause degrees of fixation.

Let’s say one day you go with your friends, Harold and Kumar to eat lunch at a White Castle burger joint. While eating the burgers, you realize that you love White Castle burgers above all other burgers.


The next time you get hungry, White Castle comes to mind automatically.

Your subconscious begins to apply pressure in the form of an intense craving.


This pressure is achieved by the suppression of specific feel-good brain chemicals known as SDNEs.[2]

The message is clear:

without White Castle, the craving (pain) will persist,

but with White Castle, good feelings (pleasure) will triumph.


To an addict, the absence of his or her DOC is conceived of as the ultimate pain (to be avoided).

The subconscious can manufacture and simulate feelings of actual death, triggering extreme and extraordinary actions to prevent or counteract these feelings.


The addict cannot reason out the difference between a manufactured fear of death and a real one.


We can intellectually know we’re not dying but still feel the same amount of fear and anxiety.


The pain portion of the principle is now fully present and active, as death is pain.

The pleasure portion of the principle is also fully present and active, because survival is the only way to experience pleasure again.

We survive not only in order to avoid pain but to pursue pleasure again.


Some argue that an unfulfilled craving for drugs is not a matter of survival—that the addict has a choice.


However, it is essential to understand that the subconscious has access and authority to create the exact same—not similar, but the exact same—survival sensations within the mind.[3]


This is not subject to personal thought or opinion;

the manufactured sensation is identical to that felt in an actual life-and-death situation.

The mind defies logic and reason and relies on sensation only,

releasing the same neurochemicals in both the drug-craving scenario and the near-death one.


Repetition and Association

The subconscious categorizes an event as painful or pleasurable through repetition and association.[4]


Repetition is easy to understand:

the more you do something, the more conditioned you are to it. It becomes familiar, and we feel comfort and safety in that which is familiar.

Association is the feeling we connect to something: ice cream is good;

waiting in long lines are bad.

The subconscious puts pressure on us to attain ice cream and avoid long lines.


Smokers I have treated often tell me that smoking relaxes them.

They will take a break from a busy day or a family drama and have a smoke.

Over time, the repeated behavior conditions them to want to smoke—

the calm, relaxing feeling is now associated with smoking, since they often occur together.


Each time they break for a smoke, they leave their worries behind and relax for several minutes.

Because the act of smoking repeatedly happens along with the break, the created association is that smoking relaxes them.


Because both are simultaneously present, an association develops, creating the illusion that smoking is the source of the relaxing.


This conditioning is even more powerful than the addictive carcinogen of nicotine.


Repetition and association create familiarity, and familiarity is pleasure.

Drug repetition and association are self-perpetuating and almost instant from the start.

Drugs feel good, so we use them repeatedly (repetition).

We have a positive experience overall (in the beginning), so we link the good experience to the drug (association).


The imprint within the mind/brain becomes indelible: “Drugs are good!”

Conditioned by Pain and Pleasure

It makes no difference whether a familiar thing is defined by the conscious mind as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.

The subconscious has its own definition;

it only knows what it’s been taught through repetition and association,

and it will keep applying pressure to pursue pleasurable things.


We cannot remove bad habits or conditioning; we must replace them.


They are replaced by the same process: repetition and association of a new behavior.


The dominant subconscious mind does not care what is intellectually considered healthy or unhealthy, good or bad.


It will continue to apply pressure to pursue pleasure as it defines it (feels good and familiar).


Eventually, the drug life becomes bad, but the subconscious still wants it.


It wants it because it is familiar and remembers when it felt good and believes that the good times will return.


Nearly all addicts are convinced that if they just do their drugs better or use more, they will have the good experience again.


The Brain

There is a certain amount of irony to drug abuse, as drugs are not the source of the feelings you get from them—you are!


The brain already has the needed ingredients to hallucinate, feel good, become impaired, and so on.

Drugs interact with existing feel-good brain chemicals, causing the brain to release more of them.


All of the good or bad, hallucinatory or delusional, and beautiful or frightening features of a drug experience are created by our own existing brain functions.


When you feel good while receiving a birthday present, your brain is releasing feel-good neurotransmitters, such as the endorphins serotonin and dopamine.

When you feel bad because someone stole your car, your brain is suppressing those same neurotransmitters and giving you too much of others, like glutamate and adrenaline.


Clearly, there are nondrug methods of releasing feel-good chemicals,

but the amounts are highly regulated by the brain, and we naturally want more than our neurochemistry will release.



Chemistry 101

Drugs are exogenous molecules,

originating from outside the body.

An endogenous molecule is one that naturally occurs within the body.


When an exogenous molecule enters the body, the brain reacts to it by releasing or suppressing its own endogenous chemicals.


For example,

when heroin molecules are administered,

they trick the brain into releasing excessive amounts of endogenous pleasure chemicals.


The release of organic and naturally existing molecules in our brains is either intensified or suppressed by drug use.


Nothing new is added to create those feelings.


Drugs simply interfere with the “normal” amounts released by either increasing or suppressing them.



We’re just getting started.

Keep your boots on cuz we’re going DEEP into the rabbit hole now!

We’re gonna go WAY beyond the practical-science to unravel the mystery of addiction before we learn how to SOLVE it.


Bring a lunch and take your vitamins—you may need to be at your best to go where this tunnel takes you!

Knowledge is power…


[1] Sigmund Freud

[2] Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins: explained on page 25

[3] Cortisol is the chemical released by the hypothalamus in survival situations. There are many indications that cortisol is released during drug cravings and withdrawal and that the parts of the brain responsible for rational thinking are shut down in extreme, survival-based, life-threatening situations.

[4] Kappas PhD and others

Deprecated: Directive 'allow_url_include' is deprecated in Unknown on line 0