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Addictions

Evolutionary Model of Addiction and Recovery Implications

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D.

According to the evolutionary theory, normal but compelling desires cause people to repeat pleasurable experiences. From an evolutionary perspective, acting on pleasurable desires was once adaptive. This is because it ensured our survival (e.g. eating and sexual reproduction). In today's modern world, survival is less of a problem than it was in ancient times. Therefore, acting on every compelling desire for pleasure may no longer be beneficial. Unless someone develops an advanced degree of self-control, most people's natural inclination is to act upon these desires for pleasure.

Unfortunately, in today's modern world we now have pleasurable substances that will kill us. Even worse, these substances or activities can be so compelling they can override the natural, healthy desire for food, sex, and attachment to people. This is because these instinctive desires have become less rewarding. We are vulnerable to addiction because there has been insufficient time for our bodies to adapt to the availability of addictive substances or activities.

Recovery consists of increasing and expanding the rewards associated with relationships and productive activity. Healthier, short-term satisfactions ("having fun") strengthen the ability to eliminate rewards through addictive substances and activities.

Questions for personal reflection from evolutionary model: If I could develop more meaningful sources of satisfaction and joy in my life, could I let go of my addictive pleasures? I may miss the short-term, momentary enjoyment of intoxication or pleasurable activities. But, can't I can gain pleasure from satisfying experiences that are both healthy and enduring?

 

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