Whenever an addiction develops, it always begins with exposure and curiosity. While curiosity at this stage seems harmless, it can easily lead to continued exposure and engagement, which can then lead to a potential addiction.
Curiosity alone is not dangerous, its often the mechanism which sparks direction, interest, and exploration of many wholesome, worthwhile, and fulfilling aspects of life. However, misguided curiosity is typically the catalyst for returning to something harmful, thus opening the door to a more frequent or intense participation in actions or behaviors which can result in addictions.
Lets take, for example, the first time someone is exposed to a cigarette. That first puff, if inhaled, is entirely rejected by the lungs. Fits of coughing happen immediately, as the body attempts to reject the foreign smoke. Typically, there is a quick reaction of dizziness, feeling light headed, and slightly energized. The user may also experience a rejection of the taste of tobacco, and may become slightly sick to their stomach. With such an array of experiences, the user is left to consider that the experience is quite different from what they have ever experienced in the past. While some of the experience was negative, other aspects of the experience was desirable. If the experience is immediately rejected, it is unlikely that the user will return to the behavior. However, if the experience was interesting, coupled with social support, and in some ways found to be pleasurable, the user will likely use curiosity to smoke again in the near future. As we know, Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances, and so just a few curious experiences with smoking can quickly develop into an addiction.
So what do we do when we become exposed to something which we already believe to be harmful or negative, yet we are left curious about it?
Let me recommend 5 ways to effectively manage curiosity.
- Your curiosity is coming from a valid source within you. You need to be able to identify, explore, and rationally explain what it is about the exposed experience that makes you curious about it. Understanding yourself in these situations can more fully inform your subsequent actions.
- Talk to a trusted family member or friend. It is much easier to explore decision making at the curious stage rather than the addicted stage. Being able to process your experiences and curiosity while your decision making is still flexible allows you to make choices before you feel constrained by the addiction.
- Educate yourself about the experience, as well as what happens as people more fully experience re-exposure over time. Some long term outcomes can be desirable, while other aspects can be detrimental. Either way, at this point in the process, you still maintain a high degree of maneuverability in decision making.
- Seek out an expert on the topic. If you are considering going down a particular path in life, consulting with someone who has already been down that path can assist you in understanding what lies before you. A guide can warn you of danger, help you explore your curiosity in a safe way if possible.
- Understanding that your curiosity can be just that, curiosity. Wondering about something, considering what an experience is like, even using visualization or fantasy regarding an experience or potential experience is entirely acceptable, and healthy applications of our curiosity. Its when we begin to do things against our better judgement that it moves out of the realm of curiosity.
I hope that those who are in the initial stages of exploring experiences can more fully understand what curiosity is, how to respond to it, and how to effectively manage it in order to avoid potential future addictions.
Anthony T. Alonzo, DMFT, LMFT, CFLE