We all worry occasionally that we do some things to excess, even if it’s just spending too much time on social media! Is it a problem? It depends on what we are addicted to and how damaging it is to our life and those around us.
Over 25% of us smoke, for example, a behaviour that costs tens of thousands of euros in the course of an average lifetime. It can be unpleasant for others and often dreadful for the smoker in terms of the effect on health. Addiction spreads to every kind of pleasurable behaviour: drinking, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs both legal and illegal, gambling, internet, sex, food, exercise and shopping. We can become addicted to toxic relationships or to patterns of unhealthy behaviour within our relationships. Some activities or substances can generate a feeling that is so powerful that life without that feeling may never seem worthwhile again. For example, many gamblers have a big win early in their career and then spend the rest of their life chasing that buzz.
Some addictions cause more damage to our health, our life, our work, our relationships, our finances than others. Whether you need help with an addiction depends on what you are addicted to and how damaging it is to your life and those around you. To put it another way, addiction to running is less damaging than to alcohol!
Why do addictions seem so hard to beat? Blame your brain!
Our brain wants us to enjoy life. When we first do things that give us a real “buzz”, our brain retains a strong memory of this. So, when we have an opportunity to do this again, our brain strongly encourages us to do it by producing a brain hormone called dopamine. Dopamine, which is nature’s cocaine, drives us to achieve our goals in life. However, it can unfortunately drive us to addiction by making us strive for goals that give us only a short term fix. Our brain, driven by the memory of the “buzz” forces us to pursue those activities even when the habit is destroying our lives. The urge is so great that we “do it” even though the consequence will be far worse than the benefit. We may feel remorseful, but the dopamine-laced memory makes us give in again and again.
Not only that, but the warm feelings of satisfaction we get after doing something — eating, laughing, having sex, or achieving some new understanding or skill — are produced by endorphin, another natural substance (which is similar to heroin). Working together these chemicals keep us interested in doing the biological functions that preserve the species, and stretch each one of us to learn and achieve.
In a well-balanced life, a reasonable amount of natural reward is felt by the human every day, but in a life where essential emotional needs are not met and abilities are not stretched, the rewards do not come and life feels flat and meaningless. This kind of life is rich territory for addictions to target, as every addictive substance or behaviour either stimulates a reward mechanism or provides a chemical reward directly. Dangerous activities stimulate production of dopamine, generating a feeling of exhilaration; injecting heroin gives a warm, cosy feeling like the natural feelings of satisfaction you might get after fulfilling any biologically necessary function.
But..addiction CAN be beaten
Addiction can be beaten by many people without necessarily becoming dependent on a recovery group and without having to consider yourself as an ‘addict’ for the rest of your life. To get away from addictive behaviour it is necessary to understand two things:
- the way these reward mechanisms work
- the way life should be constructed in order to receive the natural rewards that make addictive activities less attractive.
How can I help you to stop?
- I can help you to work out and resolve the issue that initially caused them to over-indulge
- I help you to create a true memory of the detrimental impact of the addiction to replace the fool’s-gold memory which keeps them hooked.(For this I use guided visualisation when the person is sitting comfortably and deeply relaxed).
- I help you to plan your life without the addiction.
- I can teach you skills you can use to instantly kill the dopamine surge
When is it time to get some help?
Can you identify with any three of these statements?:
- A lot of time spent thinking about and getting involved in the addictive behaviour – whether it’s drinking, gambling, etc.
- Unintentionally overdoing it – a binge, overdose, etc.
- Needing more and more to satisfy you.
- Withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, tremors, low mood
- Use of the habit to relieve anxiety, tremors etc.
- Persistent efforts but failure to quit (and self sabotage!)
- Negative impact on performance at work, within relationships or socially.
- Continuing the habit even when destroying you physically and/or emotionally
If you can identify with three or more, it is probably time to seek out some help so that you can quit and get your life back on track.
But am I ready to quit?
It is said that there are five stages of change when it comes to stopping a bad habit so it is well worth stopping to consider exactly where you are in relation to this: The five stages of change are pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.
- Pre-contemplation is the stage at which there is no intention to change behaviour in the foreseeable future. Many individuals in this stage are unaware or not sufficiently aware of their problems.
- Contemplation is the stage in which people are aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to take action.
- Preparation is a stage that combines intention and behavioural criteria. Individuals in this stage are intending to take action in the next month and have unsuccessfully taken action in the past year.
- Action is the stage in which individuals modify their behaviour, experiences, or environment in order to overcome their problems. Action involves the most overt behavioural changes and requires considerable commitment of time and energy.
- Maintenance is the stage in which people work to prevent relapse and consolidate the gains attained during action. For addictive behaviours this stage extends from six months to an indeterminate period past the initial action.
If you are at the preparation or action stages, or if you are struggling to maintain new patterns of behaviour, contact me.