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Overcoming Addictions

by jussiecatwriter (follow)
Mental Health (28)      Addiction (20)      Habits (16)      Compulsions (1)     


Person holding a cigarette
Whether you are addicted to cigarettes, gambling, work, or 'harder' drugs', there are steps you can take to take control, not let it control you! Image courtesy of etaphop photo at freedigitalphotos.net


An addiction is a compulsive urge to engage in a behaviour – from using substances, to engaging in certain activities, the extent to which it becomes problematic for the individual.

Negative repercussions of an addictive behaviour may include damage to one's physical or mental health, relationships, financial problems and decreased quality of life.

The etiology or cause of addictive behaviours are often complex. Factors which may initiate or exacerbate addictions include but are not limited to an attempt to feel better, deal with difficult situations or may include social reasons, such as fitting in with friends who engage in the behaviour.

There are also physiological reasons which reward the addictive behaviour biochemically – for example dopamine, a chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure, is released when smoking cigarettes.

This article will attempt to suggest ways in which addictions may be lessened or ceased.

1. The first step in attempting to overcome an addictive behaviour is to identify the reasons behind it. When an urge to engage in the compulsive behaviour is felt – for example preoccupying thoughts to use a substance, try to pinpoint the thought that immediately preceded it, as well as the accompanied feeling. For example, you may feel the need to have a cigarette. Your thought may be “I have so much work to do” and the feeling may be “anxiety”.

The goal of become aware of thoughts and feelings is to try to figure out other ways you may deal with the underlying problem. For example, if stressed, is it because your expectations are too high, or those of others? You could deal with this by trying to make your expectations more realistic, trying to have support from co-workers, or if they are agreeable to it, communicating to your boss.

Another trigger could be conflict – with a partner for example. Your thoughts could be “they don't listen/understand me” and feelings may be frustration, anger or helplessness. To address the underlying issue, perhaps you could ask to talk with your partner for a certain period of time which is suitable for you both. The idea would be for both of you to listen to each other, and reflect back what the other is saying. When both parties often feel validated or heard, it sets a better foundation for understanding each other.

Yet another example is when work associates are drinking after work. Your thoughts may be “I want to fit in with the fellows” and feelings could be being fear of being disconnected. You could address this by even limiting how much money you bring with you, so that you don't have the option of drinking too much. You may choose a beverage with a lower alcohol content. You may realise that the basis of connection is not sharing a drink as such, but mutual, connected communication which comes from listening fully, responding and finding common ground.

2. Limit the money you have with you, and leave your bank card at home. An example where this may work is if the addiction is to gambling, You may go to the pub, or pokie machines, but are forced to limit how much time and money you spend on the activity.

3. List the pros and cons of your addictive behaviour – both short and long term. You'll often find there are short term perceived benefits such as a relief of stress, but long term problems – perhaps financial or a strain is being put on relationships.

The quality of your life is often shaped by long-term wise choices...short-term benefits by nature will only make you feel better temporarily, and they are often accompanied by drawbacks. For example, lack of money, conflicts, feeling you are out of control, and not dealing with underlying problems. What would be the pros of not succumbing to the addictive urge? More money? More time with the kids? Improved health? Improved self esteem?

4. Be open to the possibility that your addictive behaviour may be serving to deal with underlying problems with mental health. For example, alcohol short-term may relieve anxiety and stimulants such as smoking or even harder drugs like methamphetamine (or 'ice') may be self-medicating an underlying depression.

You may want to consider seeing a GP for medication or start engaging in regular exercise, which has been shown to be effective for both anxiety and depression.

5. Is there a therapy you can take to help stop the addictive behaviour slowly, so that physiological cravings are lessened, so that psychological factors can be more easily addressed? Examples are nicotine replacement therapy, methadone.

6. Start making a list of activities which you experience natural pleasure with – that is a natural feeling of joy – that are unrelated to substances. For example, playing tennis, being with the kids, working on the car, watching your favourite television show. Make an effort to engage in these activities as often as you can.

7. Try the 'delay and distract' technique. When you experience and urge or a craving, give yourself a realistic time period to delay acting upon it -it may be 5 minutes or 15 minutes, whatever you feel you can do. Urges by nature come and go, and you may find that after the period of time is over, it may have reduced, gone – or it may be still there. In this case you can try:

8. Distraction. When actively engaging in (often a physical) activity, it is much harder to accommodate thoughts of the addictive substance or behaviour. Try to arrange a pleasant event for the distraction.

9. Realise that your thoughts to engage in an addictive action are just that – thoughts. A technique that comes from a therapy known as “Acceptance and Commitment” suggests to create some distance between yourself and the thought. For example “I need a smoke” becomes “I am having the thought I need a smoke”. To achieve even greater psychological distance try stating “I notice myself having the thought I need to smoke”. You will realise the power of separation between yourself and the urge when you actually try to say these statements aloud (not just for smoking of course but for any unhealthily compulsive behaviour).

10. Try 'urge surfing'. Become aware of where in your body you are experiencing the urge. Is it butterflies in your tummy, restlessness? Practice just observing these sensations without judgement. If they had a shape, what would they be? What colour? Exactly where in the body do you feel them? Are the sensations moving or still? By objectifying the sensations, you create the effect of distancing yourself from them. Also, with urges, their nature is to come and go. They are like a wave that gradually increases in intensity, but, if not acted upon, will reduce and dissipate.

Importantly, each time you observe the urge, 'ride with it', but do not engage in what addiction it prompts, they will lessen in intensity and frequency over time. It's like a hungry cat that comes to your door. If you feed it, you will find it back on your doorstep again and again. If you ignore it, you will find it will eventually stop coming because it is not being reinforced.

12. Remember that addictions never deal with underlying problems. They are usually a short-term way to gain relief or a positive feeling but long-term more often than not decrease quality of life. Consider carefully the direction you want your life to go in. Assess the pros and cons.

13. Sometimes, a person may prefer to deal with an addiction by gradually cutting down on the behaviour, rather than ceasing abruptly. This can prevent withdrawal symptoms in the case of physiological substances (as can replacement therapies) and also may seem more realistic for some rather than go cold-turkey.

14. Reward yourself for cutting down or quitting. For example, with the money you'd spend on cigarettes, save up and buy yourself something you really desire. Or with the time you used to spend, say, gaming, spend it doing something you find really pleasurable.

Or give yourself a sticker that you put on a calender. Perhaps just praise yourself. Give yourself some sort of positive recognition that you are doing something that can be indeed extremely difficult.

15. If the addiction is extreme, long-standing or causing major problems, or if you haven't been able to tackle it by yourself, there's absolutely no shame in that. Perhaps regular appointments with a therapist can gradually work on the underlying issues that are contributing to it. It always helps to have a support network. Likewise, gather people (friends, family) who you know will be supportive of your attempts to overcome your addiction. They can help during difficult times, giving encouragement, and celebrate your successes with you.

There can also be phone services such as 'quit-line', such as there is for smoking.

16. For others, meetings such as AA or NA can help. This can be particularly useful to realise you are not alone. Usually people share their stories only if they wish to and you often hear about stories of success from others, who may have had more severe addictions than your own. This can be inspiring, and encouraging.

17. If you lapse, do not become discouraged. Addictions wouldn't be addictions if they weren't overwhelmingly powerful. Some specialists say even to expect lapses. It is important to get back on the horse as soon as possible so that a lapse, a temporary setback doesn't turn into an ingrained habit again - a relapse.


Addictions are probably more common than we think. One may be addicted to nicotine, alcohol, harder substances like methamphetamine or heroin. We may become addicted to gambling, television or even to work. So you are definitely not alone.

It can take time to overcome an addiction. However, hopefully above there are some tools you can try to not only beat the compulsion but to replace it with a healthy, rewarding, pleasurable behaviour that has many positive effects long term.


# Addiction
# Compulsions
# Habits
# Mental Health
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