Do you have any bad habits? If your immediate response was no, then you might consider that you have a bad habit of lying. The truth is we all have bad habits and sometimes those habits can turn into addictions. In my work with family businesses I frequently interact with people who are addicted to something. Sometimes it’s a functional addiction and sometimes destructive.

I am working with a family in which one of the next generation potential business leaders recently admitted to an addiction to pain medication. Now, personally, I think this is one of the most interesting addictions of our time, because what fuels all addictions is some sort of pain, but usually it’s a psychological/emotional pain. Addictions are cyclical in nature such as the following progression: guilt (or some other negative emotion), triggers, ritualistic behaviors, acting out which lead to an emotional high, and back to guilt.

Let’s say that a high school kid who’s a loner feels a need to join in with the gang (emotional pain) and decides to make his way into the in crowd by participating in a drinking party that he’s heard about at school (trigger).  He finds out where the party is, identifies someone who’s going, and begins to drink (rituals). He drinks more, gets a little tipsy, loosens up and as it turns out he has a lot of fun and connects with others (acting out). As a result, he feels good (emotional high). The “high” of this experience might last for sometime, but after a while, he starts to feel that loneliness again (emotional pain). His memory steps in and reminds him of how good it felt to join in the drinking party. So, he does it again. And guess what! It feels good. Thus, we have the makings of an addiction – a complete cycle.

The most profound statement you’ll ever hear about breaking addictions is this: “The only way to break the power of addiction is to stop engaging in the behavior.”  This sounds trite, but it’s not. It’s profoundly powerful. Let’s say you do stop engaging in the behavior…for a while…and then you do it again. And Voila!  It feels good again! And the cycle repeats. This is a phenomenon that the gambling industry is based upon – it’s called intermittent reinforcement and it’s the most powerful form of addiction. The experts in this arena say that it’s this intermittent reinforcement that leads to learning and once something is learned it becomes resistant to extinction.

This might make you feel a little hopeless, but stay tuned, because in my next posts I’ll discuss breaking the cycle and creating new healthy habits instead.

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