When you have an addiction, such as alcohol, smoking, gambling, drugs, shopping, sex, or pornography, you find that you no longer run your life – your addiction does.
An addiction is a compulsive habit that is difficult to control, despite having harmful consequences.
How do Addictions develop?
Addictive habits often develop insidiously. Initially, you may:
Feel in control of that particular behaviour
Participate in it mainly with others in social settings
Limit the amount of money and time spent
Compare yourself favourably to those who are ‘worse’ than you
Over time, however, you may find that you:
Lose sight of your priorities and goals
Lie to others to conceal your activities
Lie to yourself to justify your behaviour
Find that ordinary fun is no longer fun
Constantly think about engaging in your habit
It is often very difficult to give up an addiction, even if you really want to do so. One reason for this is that addictive habits become strongly ingrained and almost automatic. They are associated with changes in brain circuitry that affect how we process pleasure.
Recognising an Addiction
It can be hard to recognise when a habit develops into an addiction. For instance, when others confront you about that particular behaviour, you may be quick to minimise or disregard their concerns. You may also believe that your habit is the only source of relief from low mood, stress, loneliness, or anxiety.
Alternatively, some people do recognise their addiction, but believe that they lack the willpower to make changes. You may have previously attempted to limit or eliminate your addiction, only to fall back into old habits after days, weeks, or months. Don’t be too discouraged by this. Relapse is a common experience and may happen several times over before you are able to finally overcome the addiction.
It is important to understand that although giving up an addiction can be difficult, it is not impossible. Many people have recovered from addictions with the support of evidence-based psychological treatments. Treatment may involve:
Gaining an understanding of the factors involved in the development and maintenance of your addiction
Developing strategies to cope with addiction urges
Addressing emotional issues such as anxiety, low mood, or stress
Preparing for future situations that may trigger elapse
Building a valued and fulfilling life
Stages of change
Most people who give up addictions go through a number of stages, originally defined by Prochaska and DiClimente (1986):
These folks may or may not realise they have an addiction, but they have no intention whatsoever of giving up their addiction.
There is some conceding that the addiction is a bit of a problem, but then, these folk still don’t really want to take action, and can’t imagine how they could.
Now there is some serious recognition that something has to be done. Hard decisions are pondered.
Change territory – this is where time and energy are expended – this is where heroic commitments and effortful changes are made, usually with good intentions.
A very important stage, holding fast to commitments even after the novelty has worn off. Preventing relapse and consolidating gains.
Yes relapse is a stage, don’t be too discouraged. Most people go through this entire 6-stage sequence several times in the process of leaving serious addictions behind, forever.
When you come to us for assistance, together we will work out which stage you might be at, and we will tailor our help to work with you accordingly.