She sat down in my office and told me a story about a life wasted in loneliness, depression, anxiety and disordered eating. “I’m broken. I can’t live like this anymore.” I’m sure she was hoping I could order a lab test to identify what was wrong with her, or give her a supplement to correct a missing brain chemical, or design the right diet to fix everything. After listening to her story and asking her specific questions about her life then and now, I looked at her and asked: “What if I told you that you are addicted to depression?”


That’s a hard pill to swallow. Let’s back things up a bit.



Who on earth would want to be addicted to depression?! That’s not fun like sugar, alcohol, or heroin. Surely that’s not even a thing — a junkie passed out in an alley with a needle in their arm…now that’s real addiction.


The thing is, addiction isn’t defined by the substance, the amount, or the frequency of use. Addiction is defined by consequences.


Continuing to do something in the face of negative

consequences is textbook addiction.


Addiction is anything you do repetitively to get some sort of relief, that you can’t stop doing despite the havoc it wreaks in your life and your best of intentions to quit.




Nobody says “I want to be a heroin addict when I grow up.” Nobody wants to spend all their waking hours frantically searching for drugs, sleeping with strangers on dirty mattresses to make drug money, picking their face off, or hurting the people they love the most. And yet, that is exactly what every day looks like for a heroin addict.


The vicious merry-go-round of a drug addict in a nutshell:

  • Their whole life {people, places, thoughts, behaviors} is designed to get that drug
  • They do crazy shit that is completely out of character for who they really are
  • They vow to never do it again — only to find themselves with a needle in their arm moments/ days/ weeks later
  • They feel powerless to stop and ashamed of this powerlessness




Brain Design

The brain is moldable. Science-types call this neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is brain’s ability to form and reorganize its structures in response to input. Neuroplasticity is neither good nor bad. It’s just a mechanism that let’s us adapt to and survive our environment and it’s operating all the time.


The brain sucks at a lot of things, but it is a great data processor that excels at efficiency and patterns. It has to, or it would explode with the 400 billion pieces of information coming at it every second. It has to make things real simple, real quick and it does that by rearranging neural pathways {nerves + chemicals + receptors} to make the things you do frequently as easy and as automatic as riding a bike.


When input happens with any frequency, the brain — just doing what it was designed to do — makes a neural insta-pathway by adjusting the number of neural connections and receptors to make that chain of events automatic. Once automated, it no longer requires effort or conscious thought from you.



Brain: “Oh, I see, we’re doing THIS now — let me build a pathway to do that for you so that you don’t even have to think about that any more. ”

Your brain now feels very proud of itself.



Neural pathways are physical structures — physical nerves, releasing physical chemicals to hit physical receptors. They are not magical unicorn farts that you can evaporate with a gratitude journal. And they happen faster than any intention or willpower.


Chemistry of Addiction

  • Chemical {ex. Heroin} hits a receptor
  • Heroin hits the receptor often enough that the brain rearranges around the heroin
  • Brain now needs heroin to feel normal and safe
  • Brain makes more receptors to handle the incoming heroin more efficiently… and now needs more heroin to feel normal and safe
  • Brain designs whole life to get the heroin it needs to feel normal and safe


When a heroin addict is seeking their next hit, they aren’t being an asshole — their brain is in survival mode just trying to maintain homeostasis. Whoever that person was before the drug is not in control anymore… the drug receptors are. Demanding to be fed, those receptors will make that person do things that they don’t want to do…that create painful and even dangerous consequences…that they can’t stop doing.




Emotions are chemicals. Each emotion we experience has a specific combo of chemical + receptor. We’ve learned to label the experience that happens when the chemical hits the receptor as — anxiety, joy, depression, anticipation etc. But bottom line, emotions are chemicals hitting receptors. Remembering the concept of neuroplasticity — anything experienced with frequency will create a hardwired neurological sequence. It creates your brain’s normal …that it will attempt to maintain at all costs.


The concept of emotional addition was introduced to me by Bizzie Gold, whose brainchild The Break Method focuses on uncovering these unconscious chemical patterns that are auto-piloting your life, strategically starving them off, and re-building intentional pathways that support who you really are and the life you really want. I’ve never seen anything like it for getting to the bottom of lifelong self-sabotaging chemistry.


According to Bizzie, “Your life is being run by an 8 year old” — i.e the emotional chemistry you experienced with the most frequency between the ages of 8-14 sculpted your current neural wiring. Your brain’s emotional/chemical environment during this period imprinted on your brain in a way that, to this minute, affects every aspect of how you think, feel, and act. These neural pathways got built without your awareness — and now continue to run every facet of your life without your awareness.


This isn’t you-create-your-own-reality-law-of-attraction bullshit 

— it’s fucking neuroscience.



That chemical experience is your brain’s normal, no matter how fucked up and unhelpful it is — anything outside this is experienced as uncomfortable and even threatening to life as your brain knows it. {This is one of the reasons that “happiness” or “gratitude” can go very wrong in a depressed brain.}



Patient Story: 20 yr old C came in with a previous diagnosis of Bipolar. The family was at their wits end with the amount of chaos that C’s behavior was creating — they felt that the next step was institutionalization. From the ages of 6-13 C woke up daily to a household of violent chaos. C’s brain was sculpted to chaos. Now years later, in a situation like a peaceful family dinner, it wasn’t abnormal for C to get up and throw a plate across the room. To C’s family, this was unacceptable…even pathological behavior. To me, I could see that C’s brain was just trying to create homeostasis — to return itself to the only normal it knows….chaos. C’s solution was not prescription meds and institutionalization — it was dismantling the chaos circuitry in the brain and sculpting a new normal.



Patient Story: 40 yr old A had struggled with suicidal depression for 20+ years. A often spent weeks in bed because she felt physically exhausted, worthless and like nothing mattered. Around the ages of 6-9, the world continually let her down and her young brain got wired to disappointment. Now as an adult, her brain {being the efficient little helper that it is} had set her life up to make sure she got a steady drip of disappointment all day long. We identified all the triggers that got her a “hit” of disappointment, and all the things she did in response to disappointment — which basically summed up her current life. Two of her biggest struggles had been physical exhaustion and spending days in bed, and then episodes of bulimia — both of which had been attributed to her “Depression” {or excuses, procrastination and lack of willpower by some life coaches}. But they were really just part of her “disappointment” addiction cycle. A self-fulfilling vicious cycle — which stopped after clearly identifying all the factors in the cycle and applying the right tools.



For C and A, anything focused on treating the labels of Bipolar or Depression , or helping them to stop throwing plates or throwing up food could never work long term. The behaviors weren’t the problem and they weren’t a disease — they were the brain’s solution to feel normal and safe. Without addressing the wiring — just like the heroin addict — they will eventually end up with the needle back in their arm wondering how the fuck they get back here again.



The behaviours weren’t the problem, and they weren’t a disease —

they were the brain’s solution to feel normal and safe.




The sad and frustrating part for me is that in the mental health field, people are given damaging labels that simply aren’t true and most approaches are trying to intervene at the wrong end of the cycle — failure is inevitable. Like a heroin addiction — there is an insidious chemical drive happening here that is more primal, stronger, and faster than intention and willpower. Most of this emotional addiction cycle is happening under the radar of your awareness. Often times you don’t realize it’s happening until it’s over — until you are sitting there with a needle in your arm, broken plates, or your head in the toilet.


Just like a drug addict’s behavior is sneaky, the mechanisms by which your brain makes sure it gets supplied with its emotional addiction are sneaky. It will get you in to relationships, jobs, and other situations that trigger that emotion. It will tell you horribly, nasty things — that aren’t true, but feel true — to trigger that emotion. With the situation of depression — it may not actually be depression that you are addicted to…it maybe any number of things that sets you up for a vicious cycle of feeling powerless in your own life. I’ve seen people struggling with depression and anxiety addicted to abandonmentrejection, feeling unloved, freedom, being trapped and boredom.



If you feel like you are stuck. Like you keep doing things you don’t want to do, or getting results that you don’t want to get. Like you seem to attract the same shitty person over and over again. Like you are powerless and worthless. Or like you might be a crazy person. There is an emotional addiction calling the shots for you right now. And you don’t have to live like this anymore.



That was a lot. Here’s the Emotional Addiction for Dummies version:

  • Emotional addiction is as real as heroin addiction
  • It’s driving your thoughts, feelings, behaviors and choices — under the radar
  • It’s an attempt to feel normal and safe
  • You can’t change it by addressing the end of the cycle {the behavior and consequences} — you have to break the current wiring and build new wiring




The good news: It’s not your fault

More good news: You can change this. Quickly.


The bad news: You are participating in the maintenance of the cycle

More bad news: You have to become 100% responsible for your brain sculpting now