Updated: Oct 8, 2020
Which came first, addiction or lack of purpose? Research would indicate that lack of purpose came first. Addiction has been associated with a lack of spirituality, meaning in life, a sense of purpose, relationship with God or other higher power, or religious stability. But why? How does a lack of purpose lead to addiction?
First, let’s examine the causes of addiction:
Genetic predisposition. Data shows that if a relative has a habit, you are likely to have that addiction. Not only that, but research has discovered there are specific genes for specific addictions. More research must be done, but someday we will know if you have the alcohol addiction gene or the gambling addiction gene.
Nutritional and hormonal imbalances. Without proper nutrition, the body doesn’t have the right ingredients it needs to fuel the brain. Part of that fuel is hormones; if you don’t eat the right foods, your body can’t make the hormones it needs. If the brain isn’t properly fed, it can affect our mental health and lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
Traumatic events. Trauma can result in psychological distress - when you are unable to cope with an event emotionally, mentally, or physically. An addiction can become a way to deal with the traumatic event.
Difficult social, economic, and environmental circumstances. Difficult social situations include social isolation and loneliness, damaging relationships, and lack of community. Challenging economic and environmental times include work, income, education, natural disasters, living conditions, etc. These can be detrimental to your mental health, leading to addiction.
Mental health. Research has shown that if you have a mental health issue, you are twice as likely to have an addiction. If a person has a mental health issue and an addiction, it is considered co-occurring disorders. In 2015, 8.1 million Americans had a co-occurring disease. In this case, addiction is possibly used as self-medication or a coping mechanism.
None of these common causes are a lack of purpose, but life is never that simple. The first four causes can all lead to the last one, mental health issues. As stated earlier, you are twice as likely to have an addiction if you have a mental health issue. Why do individuals have mental health issues? Lack of purpose.
Studies have shown that people with a sense of purpose have healthier behaviors, can manage stress better, have increased cognitive function, and have higher life satisfaction. There was also a study among young individuals that showed that having a purpose leads to a positive self-image. Furthering the point that having a set purpose can help anyone with an eating disorder overcome that addiction.
One study showed that four different parts of life are crucial to fulfilling one’s purpose. Those four parts are 1) physical and mental well-being, 2) belonging and recognition, 3) personally treasured activities, and 4) spiritual closeness and connectedness. Notice they are the exact opposite of the causes of addiction?
Physical and Mental Well-Being. This physical part includes having your hygiene needs met and prevents nutritional imbalances. This section includes the mental and emotional part of health, which is the opposite of having a mental illness.
Belonging and Recognition. This social part means having someone to love and care about, which is contrary to difficult social circumstances.
Personally Treasured Activities. This part allows the individual to work creatively, perform meaningful tasks, and experience nature and culture. Having meaningful activities is the opponent of difficult economic or environmental circumstances.
Spiritual Closeness and Connectedness. This spiritual part refers to having something or someone outside of yourself that shelters and strengthens you and an abstract experience of being listened to and taken seriously. For those of faith, it represents God or another higher power.
For the most part, you can put these aspects of purpose into the five health dimensions - spiritual, emotional, mental, social, physical. Each section has to be taken care of for you to be fully healthy. That includes spirituality. Having a purpose combats all causes of addiction.
Check out these videos for further exploration:
Prager U: Why are so many young people Unhappy?
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