The nervous system possess habits of consciousness and action. These are developmental, and might be (somewhat arbitrarily) grouped under four themes:
These imprints are learned in the first few years of life. They control a great deal of our behavior, emotion, and consciousness. The developmental features associated with the nervous system are among the most exhaustively researched aspects of psychology (especially with regard to trauma).
During the first four phases of childhood development, the four states of the nervous system are imprinted and tuned. This happens by way of parenting, immersion in the environment, genetic predisposition, and various other factors (some of which are still unknown).
A note to the research-minded: Since about 1900, the field of research into human development has evolved into a highly complex arena with many models, structures, and themes. For my purposes, I use a model of development based on the Bodynamic system, which is a synthesis of various other models. This model, as with all others, is only one perspective and is subject to the strengths and limitations of all models. It is a map and not the territory.
The correlations between nervous system states, addictions, and developmental stages are my own contribution (and are based on clinical experience).
Flight response is correlated with belonging (roughly from birth to one month). If an individual does not experience a sense of belonging, he or she will withdraw (psychologically and physically), and will seek ways of adapting through imagination and inner resourcing. (Cold hands and feet are one symptom of this withdrawal, as is adolescent cutting.) In adolescence, this adaptive mechanism makes such individuals prone to hallucinogen addiction, addiction to the imagination, and addiction to the technologies of fantasy.
Freeze response is correlated with need fulfilment (roughly one month to eight months). If an individual is abused or neglected during this period (any period, really), he or she will adapt by surrendering needs or fixating on specific needs (such as food). Surrender and fixation are two aspects of nervous system freezing. Surrender and fixation are two aspects of opiate addictions, which are developmentally predisposed during this period of development. If individuals with lingering vulnerabilities from this stage go on to develop technology addictions in adolescence, those addictions will be focused toward online shopping, text messaging, image viewing (e.g. pornography) and television watching.
The developmental stage of negotiating the relationship between self and other (which occupies the period roughly from 8 months to 1.5 years) involves significant milestones of movement, exploration, personal challenge, and orienting. If an individual does not receive balanced imprinting at this stage, he or she will tend to become hyper-vigilant and hyperactive (not all hyperactivity is derived from this stage, however). One symptom of this adaptation is a craving for excitement and newness. If such individuals go on to develop addictions in adolescence, those addictions are more likely to involve stimulants. If the addictions involve technology, the individual will likely be drawn to stimulating video games, online gambling, and extreme immersive environments.
Between two and four years of age, individuals negotiate their relationship to their own power. It has been well-established that domestic violence and corporal punishment at this age are highly correlated with developmental and lifespan difficulties. Such difficulties are not only psychological: the risk of adolescent and adult obesity is increased (by fifty per cent) by the experience of childhood neglect. The fight response is developed and tuned at this stage. For those who will develop addictions in adolescence, the experience of neglect and abuse of power in childhood creates the predisposition toward alcoholism. This is why the rates of alcoholism are so high in war-torn countries and in cultures where cultural power has been destroyed. In terms of technology addictions, such predispositions are likely to involve addictions to video games involving fighting.
Addiction involves uncompleted impulses and fractured imprinting typically derived from childhood experience (this is not universally the case, but is almost universally the case). The nature of the addiction involves the way in which the addiction completes, temporarily, the unfinished imprinting:
Flight response addictions allow one to fly away
Freeze response addictions enable stillness and solace
Orienting response addictions stimulate action and exploration
Fight response addictions enable the illusion of empowerment
The more childhood difficulty an individual experiences, the more likely the individual is to seek multiple addictions in adolescence.
Adolescence begins with the brain pruning stage at roughly age eleven and continues until the end of the twenties (for the youth of today). This long period of development involves the integration of previous developmental stages in which the environment is the primary influence (parenting, peers, family, and so on). Incomplete or fragmented childhood imprinting re-emerges as adolescent psychological difficulty. Addiction is one method of easing the stress of such unfinished imprinting – by completing it temporarily. (Another method involves cultural inclusion and group formation). In this context, predispositions (such as genetic predispositions) exert a small influence (perhaps ten per cent).