This article is Part 1 of an ongoing series of articles under the project, ‘Addictions: Breaking Bad’
Looking in: What is Addiction?
The need for comfort and peace is innate, embedded in our very being. Life and the struggle in its challenges hinder the journey in achieving that peace and happiness we so deeply desire. It is as we cope and deal with these struggles, addictions come into play. Addictions extensively come from wanting and needing an escape from the current circumstances that surround a person. Many go through depression, anxiety, fear, anger, frustrations, familial discord, and a host of other problems that lead a person to finding comfort and ease in a few minutes of pleasure – whether it is good or bad.
Awareness is the first key to break free from addictions. From the outside looking in, often times those of us who are addicted to certain vices, are looked at with disdain, disgust, contempt or even perplexity. More often than not, those who are addicted to something – particularly to visible addictions like drugs, alcohol, pornography – are commonly thought of as weak, disturbed or misguided, and as someone who is unable to control themselves. As for intangible addictions, like technology addictions, the person is seen as lazy, sluggish or anti-social. Nevertheless, far more important than trying to get someone to stop an addiction, is getting to the root of the problem and finding solutions to what brought on the addiction in the first place.
Before we get to the crux of the matter, what comes to mind when one hears the word “addiction”? A person falling down drunk, or selling their body for a “fix” comes to mind. Addiction is a serious issue that prevails in our society but behind this agreement, there are several questions. From sex addiction, shopping, food, technology, drugs and alcohol addiction, almost every individual has some or the other personal vice. And behind every addiction is a human being trying to escape the torment.
Addiction is a complex disease that has a psychological effect causing behavioral problems that take a toll on the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of an individual. Addiction does not only refer to dependency on drugs and alcohol, but rather involves an inability to stop activities such as gambling, excessive gaming, listening to music, etc. It involves an intense craving for something and loss of control over its use which results in adverse consequences.
Chronic stress, preexisting history of addiction, preexisting mental illness or trauma, are some of the most common roots of addiction. For some, addiction is an adaptive response. For most, changes can be daunting. While we slowly learn to adapt and cope with them, for some, adaptation is not easily achieved, and they look elsewhere to cope with their changing home or work life. This is when they resort to shoplifting, sex, drugs, alcohol or other deviant behaviors. Engaging in these behaviors lead to a “high” which they then start chasing. It is human nature to want more of something that feels good.
Addiction can also be an automatic response. When we have a negative thought or emotion, we automatically reach for whatever rids us of that feeling. For a person who does not engage in deviant activities, they get this “high” from being around loved ones or from things that happen in everyday life.
There can never be one single cause of addiction. It is amalgamation of several issues like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder along with possible personality traits. Often, mental or personality disorders are left undiagnosed, and the person might indulge in addictions just to make themselves feel better for a short term. Another reason is to want to feel “numb” – to not want to experience sadness, hopelessness, fear and anxiety. For those suffering from depression, deviant behaviors like engaging in recreational drugs or alcohol can lead to a euphoric feeling that becomes irresistible and must be continually repeated, thus leading to an addiction. Personality traits such as risk-taking individuals are more prone to addiction related problems because, as they get used to taking risks, they provide less of a “high”, and thereby may resort to other addictions.
Having a family history of addiction is a very crucial cause. If a family member, especially the parents suffer from an addiction, then it is very likely that other members of the family will also have similar addictions. This is most prevalent in cases where the parents indulge in smoking, alcohol or drugs. Growing up in an environment where addictions are normalized result in children with addictions. It is likely that in these cases, the child felt neglected and unimportant, therefore resorting to these behaviors. Addictions are learnt by children. When they see their elders turn to drugs or other behaviors when dealing with a stressful situation, they too will then resort to similar coping techniques. We can argue that as the child grows up they will realize that addictions are bad, they have already been predisposed to becoming a person with an addiction and are likely to go down that path.
Addictions can also stem from traumatic events like sexual, physical or verbal abuse, death, military service, homelessness, divorce or a volatile childhood experience. In an effort to cope with negative memories, thoughts, and feelings associated with traumatic events, many people resort to addictions. They get a brief euphoric sensation and are able to forget it for some time only for the negativity to return. One can argue that childhood trauma may be the most significant cause for future addictions. There is a higher chance that they did not get the services they required during that time and had no advocate. As a result, the effects of prolonged negative and repeated events fester and result in compulsions and addictions during adulthood. Trauma such as child abuse and neglect has also been associated with compulsive sexual behavior and compulsive eating later in life.
Ink of Faith conducted a survey on addictions, and according to the respondents, Anxiety and Depression are the most common factors that drive an individual to indulging in an addiction:
Other causes of addictions are lack of self-esteem, poor boundaries, high generalized anxiety, lack of personal connections and disconnected body and mind.
The Vicious Cycle of Consumerism
If we were to reflect upon questions such as:
Why are addictions on a sharp rise now more than before? and
Why are new addictions forming, ones unheard of in previous generations?
The answer would be: Consumerism
In simple terms, consumerism is to make people increase their consumption of goods and services from the marketplace, to which they become dependent on to obtain happiness and satisfaction- consequently feeding the consumer market and sales, and so the cycle continues.
So how does this relate to addictions and its increase?
The main goal of consumerism is to get people to ‘depend’ on things, which means that without it, they feel empty or feel like they are not attaining their desired goal. This means people keep going back, keep buying, spending, splashing out in order to feel fulfilled, accomplished or stay connected with the world.
Societies worldwide are now built to support this idea of consumerism. Everything from entertainment, to eating out, socializing, is marketed in such a way that it creates a ‘fear of missing out’ dependency and need for it in people’s lives.
There was a point when the most common and widespread addiction was smoking, cigars or cigarettes. But now the area has broadened. One can get addicted to alcohol because it’s sold in every big and small corner shop, and gambling because they can access it in most ‘entertainment’ buildings. The scariest thing is anyone can be addicted to ‘small’ things like sugar and junk food. Again, because it’s carefully designed and marketed to pull us in, to make us feel like this thing will give us a moment or two of happiness. Before we know it, our reliance on it- the chocolate bar once consumed as a treat- has now become a form of coping, ‘comfort eating’ or ‘self-care’ – we don’t just eat one, but two or three because it’s now all about instant gratification.
In a world where one can practically do anything with one touch of a button, the idea of delayed gratification is foreign to many, and instead, everything must be done now, satisfied now. Everything has to be quick and instantaneous- there is no time to wait, think, or to weigh up a decision. When we look at our daily lives, it’s so much easier to grab a hot cup of instant coffee, than to make a smoothie that requires chopping, slicing, and blending. It takes less effort to make ourselves instant noodles rather than cook up a wholesome meal. It’s quicker, when you’re feeling low and stressed, to watch a comical YouTube video, than to take out the Quran and contemplate on the ayahs. It’s all at our fingertips. It’s easier. But the temporary feeling these habits give us will fade away. It is the healthy and conscious choices we make that will no doubt help us in the long term.
That is the thing with addictions: it’s easy to keep doing something when it gives us a quicker and instant fix, rather than face the discomfort head on and do what is harder, but better for us.
Islam and Addiction
Allah created us with a soul, and that soul has a specific purpose to fulfill in this world – to worship none but Allah alone and do what pleases Him. Unfortunately for many people, pleasing the self comes before pleasing Allah. Satisfying needs and desires of the body, the fulfillment of ‘wanting it now’ overrides what Allah and His Messenger have prescribed for us.
Our souls have 3 stages:
- Nafs al-Ammarah (soul commanding to do evil or evil-inciting soul)
- Nafs al-Lawwamah (self-reproaching soul)
- Nafs al-Mutma’innah (tranquil, peaceful soul)
The ability to get ourselves to the tranquil, peaceful soul- the soul content with the Decree of Allah, His prohibitions and His commandments – is what we need to be striving for. Allah tells us:
ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ ٱلْقُلُوب
“Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.” [Surah Ar- Ra’d: 28]
Addictions delude us into thinking we have reached this stage of tranquility and peace, when in reality, all it does is place a barrier for us. Our goal is to break free from addiction, thus opening the doors to a truly peaceful soul.
Ibn Mas’ud reported: Prophet ﷺ drew a line with his hand and he said:
هَذَا سَبِيلُ اللَّهِ مُسْتَقِيمًا
This is the straight path of Allah. Then the Prophet drew lines to the right and left and he said:
هَذِهِ السُّبُلُ وَلَيْسَ مِنْهَا سَبِيلٌ إِلَّا عَلَيْهِ شَيْطَانٌ يَدْعُو إِلَيْه
These are other paths and there is not a path among them but that a devil is upon it calling to its way. Then the Prophet recited the verse:
وَإِنَّ هَذَا صِرَاطِي مُسْتَقِيمًا فَاتَّبِعُوهُ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا السُّبُل
“Verily, this is the straight path, so follow it and do not follow other paths.” [Surah Al-’An’am: 153] [Ahmad]
As human beings, we have desires, and Islam prescribes ways to fulfil them without them taking control of our lives. Any God-fearing person who follows the Islamic way of life must strive to adhere to the sacred commandments, where their behavior doesn’t inflict harm upon themselves or to the society. Islam focuses on all aspects; human beings have a responsibility towards themselves, their families and their communities. Addiction is an affliction that harms the individual, the family and the community. Substance abuse addicts or individuals at high risk of addictions should adopt a religious way of life as a treatment measure. A majority of substance abuse treatment programs have known to incorporate some form of spirituality.
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ ٱلْجِنَّ وَٱلْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُون
“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.”
[Surah Adh-Dhariyat: 56]
Allah gives us clear guidance in His book when He says in the ayah above what is our exact purpose in life. Since worshipping Allah alone, having taqwa and God-consciousness are important principles of faith; this creates a stepping stone for change, a stepping stone for us to become aware of what our purpose is, and a stepping stone to gain control. By remembering that as humans, we weren’t just thrown into this world without a purpose, we should then take the bull by the horns and steer our life towards a meaningful direction. It is with the help of Allah, His Mercy and His Guidance that we can truly make a change. As the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.
- Joint Article by Wafa Jameel (Clinical Psychologist), Umm Hafsah Rumaisah, and Madiyah Rana
Note: This series of articles involves and is written in consultation with clinical psychologists and other industry professionals.
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