Episode 073: Why Strong -Willed Children Are More Likely To Become Addicts

Listen here or READ the post below.

When I’m not at home or being a parent, I get to be a dental hygienist.  To keep my license current I have to take a certain amount of health science classes each year.  In one class that I took on the brain and addiction, I learned that strong-willed kids are far more likely struggle with addiction. As a parent of a strong-willed child and aunt to many more, I was really concerned. So today and next week, we’re going to learn more about addiction and why our strong-willed kids struggle with it more.

Here’s my interview with Mike Fitch, CMHC about addictions.

Mike Fitch CMHC

A lot of my clients struggle with addiction.  It is just becoming so common. We are constantly surrounded by things that we can get addicted to.  We’re not just talking drugs today but also food, porn, and electronics.

What’s saddest to me is how often people are very innocently exposed to addiction and get trapped.

In fact, a recent study stated that kids will be exposed to porn by age 8-10 and struggle with a full-blown porn addiction by age twelve!

We want our kids to be happy, healthy adults and it’s SO MUCH Harder to be happy and healthy when you’re constantly thinking about your next “fix”.

This post will cover what an addiction is, what’s happening in the brain, and why strong-willed kids are more likely to struggle with addiction.  Next week we’ll talk about prevention, early warning signs, and treatment.

The BRAIN

Why we get addicted to things.

Addiction has so much to do with our ancestors. Millenia ago, our ancestors were only able to survive if they were able to eat, explore, avoid predators, and procreate. To aid our ancestors, the brain developed three hormones that in appropriate amounts help us feel good, but in high amounts, can become highly addictive.  Those three hormones are:

  1. Adrenaline-the fight or flight hormone. Gets your heart rate higher when faced with a dangerous situation.
  2. Dopamine-the feel good hormone released when eating high calorie foods or during sex.
  3. Endorphins-the pain reliever released when injured or on long distant runs.

In our ancestors time, these hormones were needed almost daily in order for an individual to survive. Now, our survival isn’t so complicated and these hormones are too easy to release and too easy to become addicted to.  

Are these hormones bad?

It’s good to feel each of these hormones to some level, when it encourages healthy activity.  The problem that we run into is that we’ve found ways to release these hormones in unnaturally high amounts. Easily.  With the easy access, we keep crave more and more of these hormones.

What causes us to  want a release of these hormones?

There are some uncomfortable emotions that we seek to reduce the pain of emotions by finding something that will release a high amount of adrenaline, endorphins, or dopamine.

What emotions make turn to addictions?

We use an acronym to remember the emotion that cause people to turn to addictions to feel good.

The acronym is BLAST

Blast stands for:

Bored

Lonely

Angry

Stressed

Tired

Each of these emotions are so uncomfortable to our brains, that our brain starts telling us to seek out a hormone to alleviate the discomfort.

That’s why you start looking in your pantry for a high-calorie food when you’re stressed or bored.  Your brain is begging you to find relief from that uncomfortable emotion.

It’s important to find healthy ways to release the hormones in our brain, but it’s quicker to relieve a BLAST emotion with food, sex, electronics, etc.

New neural pathways

Everyone’s brain is made up of millions of little pathways for information to travel on.  These pathways are called neural pathways.

What many people don’t realize is that addiction lays down new neural pathways that support addiction rather than supporting health.  The new neural pathways send information that you are “starving” for more and more of whatever you’re addicted to, even if you really could survive without it.  These neural pathways also tell your brain that you are so “starved” that you should abandon your values/principles in order to get what your brain is craving.

This is why you’ll eat that dessert, drink that extra glass of whine, or watch one more episode of your show on Netflix, even if it isn’t really healthy for you.

Also, once you’ve experienced an easy shortcut to feel one of the hormones, your brain starts to crave that more than healthy alternatives.

Here’s an example of how your brain might work with new neural pathways

Scenario 1

Let’s imagine you’re walking down the street, you walked past a sandwich shop, you see a half-eaten sandwich.  Do you stop and eat it? No you don’t. You wouldn’t eat it because it belongs to someone else, it might be yucky, etc. Your choices are governed

Scenario 2

Let’s change the situation a little bit.  Let’s say that you walk past the same sandwich shop, you’re starving, and you have no prospect of food.  You see a half eaten sandwich on the table. What are you going to do now? Most likely you are going to throw your morals and values out the window and grab for that sandwich.

A similar thing happens in your brain when you are struggling with addiction.  Your brain tells you that you’re “starving” for your addiction and you throw out your values in exchange for satisfying your craving.

Here’s the good news.  If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, you aren’t trapped forever.  The brain can be rewired back to healthy thinking. It takes a lot of time and effort. Which is why I say:

“The best way to fight addiction is to prevent it in the first place. “ -Mike Fitch, CMHC

Who struggles most with addiction?

Those with ADHD:

Individuals with ADHD kids Don’t think before they act, rather they act before they think.  It’s simply the way their brain is wired. Therefore, they’re often neck deep into addiction before they realize it.

Also, those with ADHD have an unnaturally low level of dopamine.  As a result, their brains are constantly seeking a way to increase their dopamine levels.  When they experience an unnatural high of dopamine, it just feels so good to them that they want to repeat what they did over and over again.

Strong-willed kids:

Unfortunately, one of the characteristics of a strong-willed child is that they want to do things their own way.  If you tell them to avoid things that may be bad for them, they may want to do that thing just so they can feel control in their own lives.

Strong-willed kids also tend to experience emotions more intensely than other kids.  

They may turn to addictions as a way to escape their emotions, as a coping mechanism.  

Those with mental health issues:

Those with depression or anxiety are at a very high risk of struggling with an addiction.  The struggle with their mental health disorder is so great that they turn to addictions in a way to self-medicate.

What are the most common things our kids will get addicted to:

  1. High-calorie foods:
    Our ancestors would survive longer if they ate high calorie foods.  So the brain would release dopamine to encourage them to eat high calorie foods more frequently.  Our brains still release dopamine when we eat high calorie foods. The danger for people in our day is that we don’t need high-calorie foods in the same way, yet we constant access to those foods.
  2. Sex-
    In all its forms, physical or digital. Our species would not have survived if we didn’t reproduce so our brain released all sorts of good feeling hormones to encourage you to have more sex.  But much like high-calorie foods, we have access to things that give us an unnaturally high release of the hormones with little effort.  Sexual addiction is called the new drug because it is genuinely classified as a new d rug internationally.
  3. Electronics
    Video games and television are designed to release a lot of the “feel good” hormones.In a video game, every time you level up you get a spike of dopamine.  The player also gets to create an alternate reality with digital friends, digital success, digital strength, all the things that they want to be in life but may struggle with because their strong-willed personality might get in the way. It’s an unnatural way to feel all the things to seek in life.When you’re watching a show, your brain releases feel good hormones that are so much more enjoyable than living without the hormones in real life. Also, TV shows the cliff hangers release some adrenaline and makes us want to watch the next episode. That’s why Netflix binge watching is an issue. In short, electronics feel better than living your real life. It’s an escape.

If you feel concerned that you or your child struggle with any of the addictions mentioned above, make sure you check out next week’s episode to learn more about:

  • Good prevention techniques
  • Early warning signs
  • Early intervention
  • Long-term prognosis

Happy Parenting!

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