It is not hard to see how we get addicted to things, especially things that feel good. As humans we tend to seek happiness in every moment, from our work to our shopping errands, from our our food and drink, to indulgences like a glass of wine. In the labyrinth of our typically fast-paced lifestyles and inter-twined relationships, sometimes we do need to loosen up and indulge. We must consider, however, the frequency and impact of these indulgences.
Are you addicted to your coping mechanisms?
- Do you often excessively and repeatedly absorb yourself in a specific activity that might in itself or in excess be self-destructive (e.g.drugs, alcohol, smoking, binge-eating, shopping) in times of emotional turbulence?
- Do you find that the times you are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other possibly destructive behaviors are when you feel the most satisfaction with your life?
- Do you resort to substance use/abuse to cope with constant feelings of humiliation, anxiety, shame, guilt, and/or isolation?
- Do you seek for or replace companionship with drugs/alcohol/smoking/binge-eating, etc. in times of loneliness?
- Do you find it extremely difficult to disengage yourself from these activities when you are under stress?
- Do you find it extremely difficult to disengage yourself from these activities even when you are not under stress?
If you answered yes to more than one of these, especially the last one, it is likely that you are or could become addicted to these self-destructive behaviors. Addiction takes root when we subconsciously transfer power to a habit instead of ourselves. We think, “I’ll feel better when I get to…” and don’t realize that the object itself may interfere with our overall health and autonomy. Instead of providing you control of your situation, these addictive habits leave you powerless to one more thing in the face of anxiety or emotional distress.
What’s the difference in being addicted and indulging occasionally?
It is one thing to enjoy a glass of wine with friends or in a bath. It is another ting entirely to need a glass (or two or three) in order to cope with stress. Occasionally having a drink while you decompress is a common and typically harmless practice. Using alcohol to decompress daily or several times a week is not healthy. Often without realizing it, we learn to associate the depressive effects of alcohol or drugs (or even over-eating) with calm and become addicted to that feeling, ever increasing our reliance on it to cope with stress. While alcohol and drugs are the most common addictive substances, you may notice these self-destructive patterns in other areas in your life, even things as seemingly innocuous as social media. Some people become addicted to sex and/or pornography and constantly escalate their sexual behavior. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are not at risk if you don’t drink every day; consider your overall self-soothing habits, be honest with yourself, and address self-destructive patterns.
What can make me addicted?
No one wants to let their voluntary choice become a compulsion. Keep in mind that there could be biological, social, and psychological factors that could trigger your cravings and make you prone to such behavior.
- Biological: A family history of addiction and/or substance abuse could leave you biologically prone to compulsive behavior. You cannot change your DNA so if you are biologically predisposition to addictive behavior and/or substance abuse, it is important to reign in your social and psychological risks.
- Psychological: Psychologically you may have any of the following that could leave you vulnerable in times of despair: anxiety, low impulse control, poor emotional regulation, sensation seeking, schizophrenia, etc. These are areas in which you have influence; modifying your behavior and coping strategies can reduce your psychological risk for becoming addicted.
- Social: Social factors that put you at risk for becoming addicted include loneliness (an unmet need for companionship) and peers who have addictive habits and/or poor coping skills. Your social behavior can be changed to reduce your addiction risk and/or modify your addicted habits.
Presence of any of the above factors could limit your ability to reduce addictive behaviors, not to mention impact your health and even hamper your relationships with your spouse, kids, parents and friends. If all three places, you’re in a strong place to be more prone to addiction. You cannot change your family history but you can change your coping strategies and who you spend time with, both of which are the most influential areas of addictive behavior.
How can I stop or prevent myself from being addicted?
Before the situation worsens, take measures to curb the reflexive habits and restore your inner harmony. Recognition and reflection are the first stepping stones to reversing addiction. Below are some coping techniques which you can use to manage your compulsions.
Social and Environmental Ways to Combat Addiction
- It is easy to yield to your addicted habits when negatively influenced by peers or when you are lonely: set yourself up for success and change your environment. Don’t go out with your co-workers who binge drink. Avoid time with family or friends who abuse substances or indulge in the self-destructive habits you run to as substitutes for comfort.
- Avoid encounters with the thing you are addicted to. For example, when shopping for groceries, don’t even purchase items like alcohol or sweets if you are addicted to them. Find ways to interfere with your behavior well before it happens.
- Make a list of things that are healthier than what you may be addicted to. Specifically, consider what meet the triggering needs in your life. For instance, write down what makes you feel good: calling your best friend, walking your dog, going on a run, dancing, watching a comedy show, coloring, gardening, reading, music, cooking, hiking, etc. Put a star next to the ones that remove you from the environment in which you typically indulge in self-destructive behavior and post this somewhere visible so that you can easily find an alternative behavior.
Psychological Ways to Combat Addiction
- Form a goal or an “image of self” you would like to become. In moments of weakness, remind yourself of the feeling of being in self-control and your desire to restore a more empowered self-image.
- Take some time to consider what it is as that you feel before practicing your addicted habit. Talk it out with a trusted friend or even in your journal. Be mindful and curiously aware of the trigger of addiction so as to change your behavior.
- Write down the consequences of overindulgence in your destructive habit. Seeing how your behavior affects yourself and those around you can be a strong deterrent.
- Write down how you feel when you are clear-headed, sober, and in full self-control. Note how it positively affects your health, your self-confidence, and your loved ones. Consider posting this somewhere you will see it before you give in to your poor behavior as a reminder why
- Positively reinforce yourself in situations where you successfully avoid compulsive behavior. Send a celebratory text to a friend, mark it on your calendar, or reward yourself with a different fun activity.
- Make a list of things that are healthier than what you may be addicted to. Specifically, consider what meets the triggering needs in your life. For instance, write down what makes you feel good: calling your best friend, walking your dog, going on a run, dancing, watching a comedy show, coloring, gardening, reading, music, cooking, hiking, etc. Put a star next to the ones that remove you from the environment in which you typically indulge in self-destructive behavior and post this somewhere visible so that you can easily find an alternative behavior.
- Engross yourself in reading or listening to books. You will feel good about exercising your mind as well as distracting yourself from your self-destructive behavior.
- If you find that loneliness is a trigger for you, check out MeetUp.com for groups with similar interests as you, take a class on a topic of interest, or even join a spiritual community. Find ways to bring companionship into your life and interact with motivated and happy individuals.
- If you are a thrill-seeking individual who reverts to self-destructive behavior in order to cope, get involved in high-energy sports like soccer, running, surfing, rock-climbing, etc. You can take care of your physical health and get a healthy outlet for your thrill fix.
With all of the above, please keep in mind that this is intended to be educational and informative, not medical advice. It is even possible to become “addicted” to behavior that would otherwise be healthy (e.g. exercising, curbing food indulgences, etc). Sometimes the root of these kinds of addictions are body images issues. The goal is for you to be in control, not your compulsions.
Who can help me deal with addicted behavior?
If you find yourself ensconced in addiction, hurting yourself and/or those around you, please seek the help of a professional. You may find that licensed professional-led support groups or individual addiction therapy can help you uncover the root of your compulsion and take control of your life. At Estes Therapy, we pride ourselves on providing a safe place for our San Diego counseling clients to recover, deal with their anxieties, and create the lives they want.