There’s a lot of debate and research into the different causes of addiction. None of them are any more or less legitimate than others, but all should be given equal credence so they can be addressed and understood properly.
Underlying mental health issues like anxiety and depression are very well-documented causes of addiction. Even people who have never struggled with addiction themselves are mostly aware that these two things can be huge contributing factors to a chemical dependency or a process addiction (like gambling or sex addictions).
What Attachment Really Is
To understand the link between attachment and addiction, first we have to make sure that we’re on the same page in regards to the word attachment. There are a couple connotations to this word.
- The negative connotation implies an attachment to another – this could be anything. A situation, a person, a thing, a feeling, a drug – anything that you enjoy or that brings you pleasure or relief. An attachment means that you are so infatuated by whatever the thing is that it starts to negatively impact the rest of your life if you aren’t able to have that thing.
- The positive or neutral connotation of attachment isn’t what we’re going to be dealing with in this article. This would be a literal form of attachment – two things bonded together. This could be two people in a very tight relationship who some people think are inseparable, or the way an orange is attached to a peel. They can survive without each other, but they are, in the most legitimate sense, attached.
Negative attachment becomes negative because the attachment distorts your sense of reality and your enjoyment of life when you’re not around the object of your attachment. If you’re attached to a person, your other relationships dwindle because you’ll be comparing everyone else to that person. If you’re attached to a feeling, you’ll become unhappy during your daily life because you’ll constantly be seeking that feeling.
What Does Attachment Have to do with Addiction?
Attachment and addiction are inseparably linked. In fact, in some spiritual doctrines, the two words are used completely interchangeably. An addiction is a pleasure-seeking behavior that gives you relief, euphoria, excitement, or any other enjoyable feeling, however temporary it may be. Addiction is mostly identified when the pleasure-seeking behavior becomes so intense that it causes negative experiences in the life of the addict.
Buddhism is probably the spiritual system that deals the most with the issue of attachment and addiction. Addictions are, according to the Buddha’s definition, simply attachments. Buddhism speaks often about clinging and attachment to various things – to behavior, to objects, to emotions; it also speaks in broader terms about addiction to form (the manifested, things that are), to relationships, to ideas and perceptions, and to our bodies.
Some might wonder how it’s possible not to be addicted to something like your body, considering you are pretty much entirely comprised of your own body. The Buddha taught that, just like everything else in the universe, the body is temporary and fleeting. It is a physical form that will one day disappear, just like we will, and it’s the attachment to the idea of permanence that creates problems.
To expand this to addiction, you must first recognize the significance of trying not to be attached to your body. Your body is with you every single moment of every day for your entire life; it’s entirely natural to be attached to it. As far as you know, your body is you. That’s not something you can detach from overnight.
Looking at Addiction Through Unattached Eyes
Recognizing that your body isn’t eternal and isn’t going to last forever is one of the best ways that you can develop a new outlook on addiction. Your desire for the fruits of your addiction – drugs, sex, gambling, or whatever – are the result of an attachment, an attachment to the pleasurable feeling or reward that the activity brings you.
Think for a second about why you want to give in to your addiction. You want to seek pleasure, yes? You might argue that, if the body’s not permanent, shouldn’t we constantly seek to experience as much pleasure as we possibly can at all times?
The answer to this is yes – but in a different way than you’re probably expecting. The nature of addiction is that the addict spends many hours wanting their drugs, their sex, their ride to the casino. This means that, for every moment they spend craving or wanting, they are spending a moment of their lives in displeasure, unhappy or discontent.
Now that you look at it this way, you realize how silly it is to waste hours upon hours of our lives hoping to get something or wanting to change the moment, instead of just learning to enjoy the moment. If there was ever one thing it was healthy to be attached to, that would be the full enjoyment and engagement of the present moment.
If you’re attached to the present moment, desires and cravings will never arise. The current moment, any moment, all moments are worthy of your full and utmost attention. The current moment is all you’ll ever have! So, think – do you want to spend the current moment desperately seeking to pull yourself towards another moment that you might be able to use drugs or have sex in? Or do you want to enjoy the current moment, however humble, for what it is and appreciate the pleasures that life provides you with as they come?