Addiction is the persistent use of a substance or behaviour in spite of the negative consequences it entails. Addictions often begin as ways of coping and develop into habits. When a behaviour becomes habitual we do it automatically and without conscious control. These habits can often be very damaging to our health and relationships. Addictions can come in lots of different forms. It is possible to become addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, sex or other behaviours that bring us release or reward.
To Manage or To Cure
We usually have a need that is not being met, such as to feel heard, understood, cared for, loveable etc etc which will leave us in emotional pain. We do or use anything that can quieten the pain such as, work-all- hours, alcohol, sex, exercise, withdraw, drugs etc. Because it is not addressing the underlying problem, we develop an intense relationship with our substance or behaviour of choice that offers some relief from feeling the pain, so we do it more. The intensity of our addiction tells us something of the intensity of our pain, and of course it’s very uncomfortable to do cold turkey and return to where we started, if we have not dealt with the original problem. Therapy provides the opportunity to make sense of things such as; if your parents weren’t able to look after you properly that does not mean you are unloveable. It just means they didn’t know how to do that and NOT that you are a bad person! This can be quite a revelation and take a bit of adjusting to, since you may have built your life around the untrue fact that people won’t like you!
– Being addicted could be described as feeling compelled to engage in substance use or a particular behaviour, feeling you have no control or the inability to abstain. It is common when addicted to experience “cravings” or a strong desire or need for the addictive behaviour.
We can become dependent on a substance or behaviour in two ways, psychologically (as noted above) and in some cases physically. In some instances, where there is a substance involved, we can become physically dependent on it. It is possible to become physically dependent on substances such as alcohol, recreational drugs, benzodiazepines, antidepressants and opioids. This means that if you stop taking these substances suddenly you could suffer withdrawal symptoms such as fever, constipation, changes in mood & nausea. This is often called going “cold turkey.”
Sudden withdrawal from some substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines and opiates can be very dangerous and in some cases of heavy or prolongued use can even be fatal. If you are heavily addicted to any of these substances you should not stop taking them suddenly without medical supervision.
How can you help yourself?
Addictions, especially when they have been present for some time, can become such habits that they seem like they just happen. “I decided not to have a drink and the next thing I was in the pub and out of money!” Sound familiar? However, our behaviour has meaning and so understanding what our behaviour means can be very valuable. What can be really helpful is to start keeping a diary record of your addiction. Knowledge is power!
Look for patterns
Some days you may get by without resorting to using the addictive behaviour but other days you may feel compelled or crave the substance / behaviour all day. What is different about these days? Are there days when you crave the substance or behaviour but don’t act on the craving? Looking at these patterns will start to give you insight into your own processes and relationship with the addiction so record your mood and activities along with details of the addictive behaviour itself. The more knowledge you have about what encourages you to drink, take drugs, eat, have sex etc the more power you have over your behaviour. These are often referred to as “triggers”.
– triggers come in many different forms. They can be internal, relating to a thought or feeling, for example, remembering the loss of someone dear to you or feeling relief at reaching the end of the working week. They can also be external or something that happens such as receiving a huge bill, failing an exam and wanting to commiserate or passing one and wanting to celebrate! Triggers can also be interpersonal and connected to our relationships and involvement with others. For example, an argument with someone may trigger you into your addictive behaviour. Once you are aware of your triggers you have more power over how you choose to deal with them and in some cases you can choose to avoid them all together. It may be necessary in some cases to make long term plans to tackle the difficulty which triggers the addiction such as finding another job or making changes to your relationship or environment.
– A craving is the strong desire to engage in an addictive behaviour. This might start off as quite a mild feeling which will increase in intensity over time before tailing off after about 1 hour. It is possible to distract yourself from the craving by doing something else for example talking to someone, going for a walk. The earlier you can interrupt the craving the better as the feeling will be less intense at first. The longer the craving continues the stronger it will get and the more likely you are to act upon it. You may experience these throughout the day so it is good to have a list of alternative activities to keep you busy.
– Changing any behaviour can be a long and challenging process and it is common to relapse into old habits when trying to recover. It is important not to be too hard on yourself if this does happen. It can be easy to do this especially when others around us are desperate for us to change. What is important is to learn from what happened so you can learn to cope with or avoid what precipitated the relapse.
– The support of others on the path or recovery can be invaluable! This might come in the form of friends / family, others who are in recovery or professionals. Asking for help can be an important step to overcome.
Understanding your addictions and their root cause can be complicated and often may need the guidance of a trained professional to help you. If you would like to work with an experience therapist in a safe and confidential place contact us here. Or if you would prefer us to call you back please leave you details here.