How People Can Be Addicted To Suffering

Recent studies have began to show how the chemicals in our brains can contribute to addictions to our emotions.
How people can be addicted to suffering
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Addictions are often thought of as actions and things we engage with outside of ourselves that eventually get us to crave them more. But not all addictions are external, some are internal. 

Emotional addictions can happen either with positive emotions or negative ones. Addictions to negative emotions often get labeled as addictions to suffering.

Now, feeling emotions is not bad, in short term the use of fear can help us out of a dangerous situation through the fight or flight, and freeze response; anger can alert us that a personal boundary is being crossed, and grief can help us move on after a loved one has died. 

The problem comes when negative emotions are continually experienced in a loop, which then creates a vicious cycle. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) aside from creating cycles, negative emotions pose the ability to alter brain functions, which as consequence may play a role in an individual’s behavior and mental health.  

The APA also states that when it comes to addiction, it is not a single thing that contributes to it but a myriad of situations that can come from either outside or inside of ourselves. 

In this article though, we will talk about the possible chemistry and brain functions that may create and maintain addictions when it comes to the emotions of fear, anger, and grief. 

Fear can contribute to addiction
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Fear may maintain an addiction

In an article for Fox News, Abigail Marsh, an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University, stated that "Fear is the expectation or anticipation of possible harm.."

"This expectation or anticipation usually comes from a fear that is learned or taught, but fear is also instinctual",

                                                                              - Dr.Theo Tsaousides 

Now, what happens when you experience fear? According to Marsh, the brain (amygdala) releases a chemical called glutamate that sets off other responses in the body. 

Glutamate plays a central role in processes underlying the development and maintenance of an addiction.

Tzschentk and Schmidt's study established that the processes in which glutamate  had a role were "reinforcement, sensitization, habit learning, and reinforcement learning, context conditioning, craving, and relapse."

What happens in our brain when we experience fear?

Glutamate, which is produced in your brain, interacts with other chemicals including dopamine, to create and maintain addiction. But, the risk of actually suffering from an addiction to fear only comes when this feeling is experienced constantly.

Dr.Tsaousides explains how fear that is felt constantly impacts people, stating that chronic stress, free-floating anxiety, constant worry, and daily insecurity can quietly but seriously harm your physical and mental health over time.

Take someone with social anxiety for example. One of the things a person with social anxiety worries obsessively about is being judged and watched by others. The fear of being watched and judged keeps the person in a state of wariness, which in the long run depletes the person's physical and mental energy.

This is because the body is in a constant state of alertness and stress which it cannot relieve itself from. It functions in an imbalanced state and puts pressure on certain processes that it's not supposed to put pressure on. 

Anger rushes can become addictive

When it comes to anger, epinephrine and non-epinephrine are the chemicals responsible for it.

According to World of Chemicals, Epinephrine or adrenaline is released by the adrenal glands and lets the amygdala know to send signals which speed up your heart rate and display other signs of you becoming angry.

World of Chemicals also states that non-epinephrine is the adrenaline rush and it monitors your heart rate and blood pressure, it is also responsible for the decision making relating to handling the situation in a positive or negative way.

Ok, but how can anger become addictive? According to an article written by Jean Kim M.D., anger becomes addictive when it begins to feel comfortable and good to get the rush that comes from it to boost your ego or as a regular emotional avoidance strategy. 

For example, always turning to angry outbursts such as screaming, stomping away, or rolling your eyes and actively ignoring other people whenever things aren't going your way or someone tries to talk to you about something you did wrong.

Grief, addicted to suffering
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Effects of constant grief on your emotional state

Behind grief is a chemical called adrenocorticotrophin. PsychCentral explains how, after adrenocorticotrophin is created in the pituitary gland, it then travels to the adrenal gland and causes cortisone to be produced.

Cortisone, the stress hormone, can then make the body create and feel other emotions, such as fear and sadness in an endless loop

An example of negative emotions being reproduced in the body continuously can be seen through catastrophization.

Catastrophization is a cognitive distortion that prompts people to jump to the worst possible conclusion usually with objective reason to despair.

This "objective reason to despair" usually leads the person to keep the thought cycle going until it becomes a habit. By this time the brain is used to it and it can be said that it is already addicted. 

If this process extends to many months it results in very high levels of cortisol in the blood causing the immune system to weaken.

Stress and dopamine can make you addicted to your emotions

The fear, anger, and grief hormones don't act alone though. A common denominator created when these emotions are being felt is stress and by default, its hormone, cortisol. Another common denominator is dopamine or the "happiness hormone".

What do dopamine and cortisol do to create addictive emotions?

Stress to Strength, states that stress and drugs have been shown to have similar side effects like increased heart rate and blood pressure, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and other effects. 

Stress can be addictive to some people because of the adrenaline rush that is created in the brain when it secretes cortisol, adrenaline, and non-adrenaline. 

When it comes to dopamine, an article by Crystal Raypole published in Healthline, states that dopamine's role is in reinforcing enjoyable sensations and behaviors by linking things that make you feel good with a desire to do them again. 

Raypole explains that these enjoyable experiences activate the brain's reward system which releases dopamine and leaves you with a strong memory of the pleasure this prompts the person to make an effort to experience it again.

As with any other chemicals in our brain, if cortisol and dopamine are consistently created and produced in unbalanced ways we may end up being addicted to our emotions.

Breaking Addiction to suffering
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What can you do to get out of emotional addiction?

There are many things that you can do to start your journey of recovery from addiction. The list below gives a few options of what you can do to get out of emotional addiction.

1. Get help

Getting help by going to a professional will help you get more insight on how to proceed if you do have an addiction. These professionals are trained with tools that the rest of us do not have or don't know about.

Now, we have to admit that not all therapists are a good fit for us so, take the time to find the one that you feel understands you and can help you. 

2. Journaling

This is definitely a favorite among a lot of people. Journaling helps the writer express their feelings. Once you put it on paper, the energy is released and you don't feel that burden anymore.

It also helps you look back with a clear mind, analyze situations, and see yourself in a different light. Through this process you can see what it is you need to work on, what's truly bothering you, you can become more aware of yourself and you can see your growth develop over a period of time. 

Journaling also helps you observe your thoughts and detect the triggers that make your mind or actions go to a dark place. Once you are aware of that, it is easier to catch yourself and redirect your thinking to or transform it into something more positive. 

3. Meditation

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH) states that research on meditation may help with physical symptoms as well as some psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, anger, distress, and stress. 

People who have been meditating for a while have said that it does improve their focus, improve their memory, helps them become more aware, and helps them be calm and peaceful.

Meditation comes in many different ways, so if you want to try this know that you don't have to limit yourself to just sitting in a room quietly with your eyes closed. 

4. Gratefulness

I'm sure you have heard how being grateful or giving gratitude can make you feel better and also make us aware of all the good things we have.

Resources to Recover (RTOR), a site dedicated to helping families with mental health conditions find resources, states that "gratitude increases neural modulation in the brain which regulates negative emotions."

RTOR continues by saying that gratitude can contribute to "help cure insomnia, reduce stress hormones, and positively impact bodily functions, memory, and emotions."

Keep in mind that studies such as these required the participants to practice gratitude on a daily basis, if you want to try practicing gratitude or any of the other methods try to work your way up into doing them daily to get the most benefit out of them. 

Doing your own research and following these steps will get you on your way to overcoming your emotional addiction to live a freer and happier life. 

A writer with a love for hot chocolate and rainy days. Has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and is experimenting with fantasy writing.

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