What’s the primary driving factor behind our addictions and attachments?

The one word answer is dopamine.

Many of us would have heard about it as it is the principal hormone responsible for inducing pleasure in us. Dopamine is not only responsible for pleasure but also contributes to learning and memory. As a result, the brain records the stimulus and keeps craving for it.

Addictions and attachments activate the reward center in our brains using a shortcut mechanism. This leads to our brain getting flooded with enormous amounts of dopamine within a few moments. Due to this, the brain gets easily hooked to engaging in the addictive behaviors again and again. As the brain gets desensitized to dopamine levels, it craves for more dopamine, thus starting a feedback loop that drives us to keep repeating the same behaviors.

In nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort, but addictive substances, stimuli and behaviors provide a shortcut, flooding the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. With repetitive indulgence, the pleasure takes a backseat and obsession and compulsion kicks in.

It is useful to understand the underlying causes of addictive behaviors so that we can better decipher our motivations behind indulging in these poisonous behaviors. As the 1980s slogan suggested — to ‘just say no’ is not the end-all solution. Instead, we can let go of our craving for dopamine by saying ‘yes’ to other things.

We need to let the obsessive and compulsive behaviors fade away by doing constructive activities that add meaning and value to our lives and others’. We can spend our time trying new things and gathering unique experiences. Most importantly, we need to accept the simple truth that life is not all about chasing things that bring pleasure to us. No matter how enticing and exciting they may seem, pleasures are fleeting and hollow.

We need to get used to the peaks and valleys of life and distance ourselves from the shooting spikes of pleasure. Instead of confining ourselves to the ephemeral ‘highs’ of dopamine, we can instead invest our time and energy in expanding ourselves by finding avenues that bring long-term, sustaining joy in our lives.

If you would like to tackle any addiction or attachment that is currently posing as a challenge for you, please consider reading The Detachment Manifesto.