When it won’t let go of you
Are you addicted to a drug or a behaviour? Do you feel that you have an addictive personality? Have you stopped many times, but you always seem to be dragged right back? How can addiction therapy help you to go clean?
Addiction is about a state of mind
What is addiction?
The NHS website says, “Addiction is defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you.” It claims that a third of all people have some type of addiction.
Addiction is not about drugs, even though the “war on drugs” claims that it is. Nor is addiction about having an “addictive personality”. It’s about a state of mind.
- You could be addicted to a legal recreational drug. For example, think of nicotine (cigarettes, vaping), alcohol, caffeine (coffee, caffeinated “energy” drinks).
- You could be addicted to an illegal recreational drug. Think of cannabis (legal in some places, and believed not to be physically addictive), qat (also legal in some places), cocaine, crack, heroin, methamphetamines (MDMA, ecstasy), etc.
- Finally, you could be addicted to a behaviour rather than a substance. Shopping, stealing (kleptomania), sex, pornography & masturbation, gambling, food (constant overeating, bingeing), video games, internet addiction, the girlfriend who dumped you, and many more.
The difference between a normal activity (say, having a fun evening with your friends playing video games, or enjoying a glass of beer or wine over shared food) and an addiction is, as the NHS says, when you get to the point where you have lost control, or it becomes harmful. If you play video games into all hours of the night and the resulting sleep deprivation interferes with your work, or you binge drink every weekend and can’t perform your duties or you damage your body through inhaling or ingesting a substance, this is addiction.
What causes addiction?
Researchers used to believe that certain drugs were inherently addictive. You take the drug, you become addicted. That was partly the justification behind banning many recreational drugs.
However, we now know that this isn’t true. You can find two people who try a drug. One becomes addicted, while the other says, “No, this isn’t for me. I’m not doing that again!” My parents were a case in point. My mother smoked her entire life. My father tried smoking, several times (in his day, it was not only fashionable but also considered “manly” — you were a bit of a wimp if you didn’t smoke!). However, having tried cigarettes, cigars and pipes, my father disliked them all and decided never to smoke.
The same is true of medical drugs such as morphine. Regulators carefully control morphine to keep it away from drug addicts, but when morphine is given to patients in great pain, they generally don’t become addicted — most of them come off it by themselves when the pain goes away.
Many researchers, and my colleagues and I have seen that people tend to get an addiction when they are unable to cope with their emotions. That’s why, for example, people who suffer from depression, certain mental illnesses or PTSD are more likely to become drug addicts — they struggle to process or cope with their emotions.
It isn’t that you have an “addictive personality”. It’s more that maybe you haven’t processed your emotions, or learned the right strategies to cope with difficult times or feelings. Think of an addiction as a way to numb yourself when everything else so far has failed.
It’s not the drug — it’s your brain!
How does addiction hook you?
By its very nature, addiction is hard to stop without the right help. Whether you are addicted to a drug or to some dysfunctional behaviour, something about it keeps pulling you in. It makes no difference how much you try to go clean, or how aware you are of the damage that it causes not only to you but also to the people who are close to you, and even to strangers.
There are two reasons for this.
Without going into detail, the first is that an addiction is a “supernormal stimulus” — it stimulates your brain in a way that nature wasn’t designed for. Whether it’s delicious cookies that took a year of research to formulate, a drug like nicotine or heroin that dives straight into your brain, a visual stimulus such as porn, or an adrenalin kick like kleptomania or gambling, it hijacks your brain’s normal protective shields to make it work against you.
The other reason is what allowed you to become addicted in the first place: Having coping strategies that don’t work, or even having no coping strategies at all!
How does addiction therapy help?
I use a multi-pronged approach for Addiction Therapy.
Using a mix of therapies and life coaching, you and I work together on the addiction itself. The addiction has formed powerful pathways in your brain, which need to be reversed; reversing these pathways is a vital part of the process.
But it’s not enough to just reverse the pathways, because without any fundamental change, you’ll always be tempted to jump right back into your old addiction. That’s why we also work on learning new strategies: Dealing with anxiety, changing your automatic thinking patterns, coping with the usual nonsense that life tends to throw at us.
Finally, you also need the strength to be able to quit the addiction; so far, you haven’t managed, so something needs to change to help you conquer the beast. We work on strengthening the “core” of your emotional being, so you become a stronger person, and learn to starve the beast, not feed it.
As part of this, we also explore your environment to see what might need to change to get you the support you want and need.
Getting clean is hard work, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unpleasant! Making it fun, exciting and fulfilling is an important part of the process.