Addiction is a very complex condition, with many layers, that can take time to unravel. It’s a brain disease that manifests itself through compulsive substance abuse that, despite that harmful consequences, cannot be willfully stopped. People with addiction are intensely focused on using the certain substance or substances in their life, including, but not limited to, alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs,
Most people in the world might believe they aren’t addicted to anything. When we say the word “addiction”, images of illicit drugs and empty liquor bottles come to mind. But, it’s important to realize that addiction isn’t limited to just substances. In fact, experts have discovered that humans can be addicted to anything that has the potential to relieve stress or negative feelings. We naturally are drawn to activities that cause us feelings of happiness and give us immediate gratification. Once the “high” that comes with euphoria wears off, our feelings of remorse and guilt come back. Just like with substance addiction, in an attempt to escape these uncomfortable feelings, some may grow dependent on the behavior or substances that offer relief. Then, enters the vicious cycle of addiction. Millions have developed dependencies outside of drugs and alcohol, including:
- Love– according to research from the Journal of Neurophysiology, the cycle of emotions we go through when we feel love bears a strong resemblance to the emotions we associate with conventional addictions– the switch between ecstasy and desperation or longing. The similarities are so striking that scientist believe love and drug addictions rely on similar psychological, chemical and neuroanatomical processes.
- Shopping– sometimes, people joke about their “shopping addition”, but it’s a very real thing. A shopping addiction is characterized by excessive time and money spent of shopping, but also excessive time spent lying about the activities and hiding purchases. In 2006, an estimated 6 percent of Americans struggled with a shopping addiction and it had increased to 9 percent in 2008. A shopping addiction brings on feelings of helplessness, emptiness, anger, depression and a need to establish a sense of control.
- Exercise– When we exercise, we release endorphins– sometimes known as a “runner’s high”. Endorphins are the same neurochemicals triggered by drugs and alcohol. People with an exercise addiction generally work out for more than two hours a day, opting out of school and work in order to exercise.
Identifying an Addiction
An addiction can arise from different pressures; these pressures may be social, emotional, or environmental. Sudden changes in environment, like losing a home or being evicted, or changes in family, such as a divorce or death, can threaten our sense of security and way of life. Sometimes, when our security and comfort is under threat, we succumb to the painful emotions that prevent us from dealing with the situation in healthy, beneficial ways. Low self-esteem, a dwindling self-confidence and the desire to relieve anxiety can drive us towards unhealthy coping mechanisms. These behaviors can give us a false sense of control and redirect our attention away from our problems. Sometimes, addictions can develop as a way to fit in with our surroundings. It can develop as a way to win people over or to become accepted within an established community or group. These desires to fit in can cause us to indulge in behaviors that we feel will help win approval, even though they’re not healthy for us.
The Process to Overcoming Addictions
The process to overcoming addictions is never easy; it requires conscious work, time and effort to be successful. There are steps we can take to help us overcome any addictions we may face.
Step One: Acknowledge the Problem
The very first step is admitting there’s a problem. When trying to decide if “bad habits” are actually an addiction, ask:
- Does doing the behavior make me feel better, more in control?
- Does not doing the behavior make me feel worse?
- Do I find myself doing the behavior more often and for longer periods of time than planned?
- Am I anxious or uncomfortable if I don’t do the behavior?
- Has this behavior disrupted my life and relationships?
Awareness and acknowledgement of addiction is a necessary step that helps to accelerate the process of change and transformation.
Step Two: Take Responsibility
After acknowledging the problem, it’s time to stop making excuses, blaming other people and blaming circumstances in order to justify our actions. We need to stop explaining away why the addiction is worth holding onto and, instead, acknowledge personal responsibility for the decisions and actions that led to the addiction.
Step Three: Create a New Behavior
Addiction is just a habit that’s been developed over time, though this habit is deeply ingrained into the psych– making it very difficult to change. To eliminate a habit, it needs to be replaced with something else that satisfies the need that was being fulfilled by the addiction. For instance, with a cigarette addiction, going cold-turkey rarely works. Our brains need a new habit that empowers us to replace the old pattern of behavior. Many develop the habit of chewing gum or chewing on a toothpick to replace smoking cigarettes.
Step Four: Take Baby Steps
Rome wasn’t built in a day and addiction isn’t overcome in a night. The process of replacing an addiction with a new, healthier habit involves positive, proactive action. Relapse is possible, which is okay, so long as we acknowledge and recognize what happened and then take corrective action. With success, we should reward ourselves with something special. Addiction is not an easy thing to overcome. It can be a difficult road to travel, though it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant journey. Overcoming addiction can be a challenging experience that requires us to dig deeper and learn more about ourselves, our needs and our coping mechanisms.
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