The concept of being ‘addicted to pleasure’ may sound very vague and not particularly scientific, but actually there is a very real process at work behind such a concept and in many ways you could consider many of our other addictions to be at their root, an addiction to pleasure. Here we will look at what an addiction to pleasure really is, how it comes about, and how to stop it.
What it Means to Be Addicted to Pleasure
The mechanism for this is simple: the feeling of pleasure is caused by a chemical release in our brains of dopamine and serotonin. While the action itself may not be chemically addictive then, the hormones that are produced as a result are and so we keep repeating them to get more. Chronic masturbation, over eating, sex addiction, procrastination etc. all could be described as an addiction to the reward response in our brains. Once this response was conducive for our survival – ensuring that we sought out sexual partners, food and drink in order to stay healthy and to pass on our genes.
Today though, when these things exist in abundance, it is far too easy to overindulge. At the same time this can then become self-reinforcing as we get more and more used to higher levels of dopamine and serotonin and need bigger and bigger hits to achieve what seems to be a normal level – we become desensitized to it and this can leave us feeling depressed and lethargic when we are getting only normal amounts of those hormones.
This mechanism also helps re-enforce many of the other chemical addictions we have – and with smoking, alcohol or recreational drugs we can become addicted to both the chemicals themselves and the feel good hormones that are produced as a result making it even harder to overcome the dependency.
In short these processes can lead to a person developing a specific addiction, or just an ‘addictive personality’ (biological differences might also make some people more prone to this) and this can eventually get in the way of their normal lives as it damaged their productivity and they end up spending too much money, or even damaging their relationships in order to get their ‘hits’.
How to Overcome an Addiction to Pleasure
Of course there are fortunately ways to overcome such an addiction and many people have successfully managed to combat addictions to pleasure in a variety of ways. Here we will look at some suggestions that can help you get your need for pleasure under control and your life back in your hands.
Other Ways to Get Pleasure: If it’s an addiction to happiness hormones that you are experiencing then these needn’t be attained through over eating or other self destructive behaviours and there are many healthy ways to stimulate secretion. For instance exercise and particularly sprinting is well known for leading to the ‘runners’ high’ in which the individual enjoys a rush of endorphins that act as natural mood enhancers. This is of course a very healthy activity and one that is far preferable to many of the more destructive addictive behaviours. Likewise rather than obsessive masturbation, of course a far preferable alternative is to be in a healthy two way relationship. Simply spending time in the company of other people can also be very good for helping you to get into a positive frame of mind and produce many happiness hormones too and so you may want to try and fill up your social calendar (this can also help distract you and make it inconvenient so you can’t watch porn/eat/drink etc.).
Sleep and Happiness: If you are craving ‘comfort food’ or a pick me up then this might be to do with your current state and it might be that you are currently feeling low. For instance if you are craving sugar, or love, then it could be that your current blood sugar is low, or that you are feeling stressed, and so are attempting to self-medicate. A better solution of course is to avoid getting into that position in the first place, which you can accomplish by generally living a healthier lifestyle – getting more sleep, eating more complex carbs in the morning for a steady release of energy throughout the day, and changing careers/relationships if they are bringing you a lot of stress.
CBT: CBT is ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ and it’s the most popular form of clinical therapy at the time of writing. Here the main idea is to change the way you think about certain things in order to change the way that you behave. So for instance if you crave some particular form of comfort or pleasure, then you can start to listen out for the thought processes you get at this point, and then try to change them for things like ‘but I don’t like cake’ or ‘I’ll feel sick and guilty afterwards’ which can eventually change your thinking patterns permanently if done enough.
Eat Right: Rather than eating lots to get the reward signal, you can aim to consume just the right things to get more of that reward signal. For instance eating ripe bananas can help you to get dopamine, while eating complex carbs can ensure you have a steady supply of energy throughout your day.
Learn to Wait: If you aren’t strong enough to just go cold turkey, then you may still be able to simply create more of a delay in getting your gratification. So for instance next time you want cake, or to sit down and watch your favourite TV program, make yourself wait for ten minutes first. This will have the effect of ending the scenario where you get what you want right away and it will teach you to survive with lower levels of dopamine/serotonin etc.
Incremental Reduction: Likewise you can also just gradually lower the amount of satisfaction you get in your day – so if it’s normal for you to watch TV for three hours, then try to make it two hours. If it’s normal to masturbate three times a day, then lower it to two.
Redirect: You can also try to redirect your energy into other areas and to get satisfaction and pleasure from those. The feelings of reward and pleasure can also come from having a productive day or from achieving something you have wanted to for a while. So maybe start up a project, or start working towards a new career goal. Then when you get urges for gratification, try to direct those into your creativity or productivity. Freud claims that many of man’s great works come from redirected libido, while Napoleon Hill in his book ‘Think and Grow Rich’ similarly suggests that ‘sexual transmutation’ (in other words redirected libido) can help us to achieve great things and great focus that we couldn’t otherwise. I’m not sure I would go that far, but certainly there is something to be said for learning how to harness any energy you have and direct it into something productive rather than destructive.
Discipline: You can also train to improve your discipline in general and learn to make yourself ignore bodily urges in order to accomplish tasks. Joining a class like Karate for instance can help you to accomplish this, as can holding it when you need the toilet, or enduring cold showers. Eventually you learn the kind of mental hardiness that allows you to say ‘no’ to your urges for pleasure.