16 January 2008

Breaking an addiction:

Anything can be an addiction in a psychological sense, and this can in turn manifest itself physically as well. Addictions are generally understood to be an interplay between genes and the environment, so obviously some people are more genetically predisposed to addictions just as others are to illness or depression. Despite all that is outside of our direct control it is imperative not to lose faith if you wish to break an addiction. The most important thing to breaking the addiction is having the motivation to do just that. Deciding to break the addiction is after all the first step and as such literally half the battle.

Of course it is important that you understand why you have the addiction as well, that is to say you must have an understanding of the causes behind your particular addiction. Not having an understanding of what the addiction is a symptom of can be detrimental to breaking it. Allow me to explain through an example:

Let us say that you become an alcoholic due to feelings of isolation, and general social insecurity. Simply trying to force yourself off alcohol isn’t the solution to your alcoholism, as you will simply go back to abusing it or some other substance because you have not psychologically satisfied what it is that you crave. In this case the situation could be much more effectively solved if you gave yourself the social contact you desire, and once this had been granted getting rid of the addiction would become much more manageable, as what motivated you to develop the addiction is no longer there to reinforce it.

Thus the main part of breaking an addiction is actually figuring out what the addiction represents and why it is that it exists. Of course it may seem at first that someone is addicted to something simply because they like it, and to a degree this is true, but if it is a serious obsessive addiction there is typically more emotionally involved with the addiction. In the case of the alcoholic he may well say that he just likes alcohol but the real reason for the addiction could be more to do with the fact that he may be in denial of his emotional distress and cannot come to terms with his social insecurity.

Ultimately the causes for addiction are as unique and varied as there are individuals with addictions (that is to say virtually all of us!). Sometimes addictions are not really that bad, of course it is all relative any obsessive and extreme addictions then typically inhibit ones normal ability to do day to day activities. The reason we now that addictions often represent deeper emotional problems is because people often wish they didn’t have the addiction, yet keep doing it and find it extremely hard to stop doing it.

For instance one of the reasons that dieting doesn’t work is to do with psychological pressure. While not a typical sort of addiction it is an dieting and bodyimage are also a good example as people often develop eating disorders as a consequence. For some reason or another people feel the need to look a certain way and therefore put themselves under a lot of pressure to get there. This pressure typically drives them to binge as it is stressful and anxiety provoking. The binging is then followed by guilt and or anger, which then leads to renewed pressure to eat well. Thus the cycle comes round full circle, round and round in a downward spiral. The interesting thing is if you tell a binge eater to simply stop eating it normally won’t work. Here is were it gets emotionally complex. Don’t you think the binge eater has told themselves to stop thousands of times? But it didn’t work then, so why will you telling them the same thing they’ve been pressuring themselves with work?

These issues are complex, and there are no set answers. Often simply telling people that they are only human, that you care about them as a friend/peer/relative or whatever and that life is really not such a bad place will cheer them up a little bit. I never said it would stop the binging, but at least it will make them a little happier and feel more accepted of by others and also accept themselves more. Feeling loved is a powerful motivator. After a binge cycle it is also important to try and get the binge eater not to give themselves a hard time for their so called “failure” and simply tell them it really is not the end of the world and help them take their mind of their inability to stop the addiction. The frustration will only drive the cycle onwards otherwise.

Addiction is a largely psychological phenomena and this makes solving the problem difficult. Despite this there are physiological things that can be done to help. Many friends of mine who have successfully quite smoking did things like go for a stroll around the block or do a set of weights every time they felt a nicotine craving. Doing this would take their mind of their want for nicotine as well as making them feel like they did something productive and often it release endorphins which can help make people feel better, in turn helping them avoid future cravings.

Doing regular exercise, eating in a healthy balanced manner and getting adequate amounts of sleep will also help people to fight all sorts of things, including addictions. If you are well rested for instance you are much less likely to crave a coffee, or some chocolate or even a cigarette to wake you up with. Another really important aspect to beating an addiction is to get help from your peers. You need to branch out and get social support from your friends as you need not fight the deadly addiction alone. You can have many potential allies who can help you. Of course if all your friends are alcoholics maybe you should make a few new ones to hang with at times so you not always drinking. But if they are all alcoholics you could also all make a social pact to stop (or if you wish to be more reasonable, cut down, together). You could even place bets so that there is a money incentive for those who stick to it! Also remember to take up activities that distract you from your addiction. Learn a new sport or skill, maybe take up a language or learn a musical instrument as both of those have been shown to be the most effective ways to increase the brains Neuro plasticity. See “The Power of Music – The Link Between Musical Ability and Intelligence” if your curious for more info.

But most importantly we come back to our main idea of motivation and willpower. To have the courage to break the addiction you must have the motivation. YOU must want to break the addiction. If your cousin wants you to and you really don’t want to then I doubt its going to happen. If however you really do want to break the addiction then as cliché as it sounds “you can do it”. Of course there will be set backs, there will be obstacles as life is always challenging which at least keeps things interesting, but in the long run that motivation will mean you keep on fighting and eventually you will triumph. You cannot lose hope, as then you succumb and simply accept the addiction again. As they say only YOU can change yourself. I don’t care what it takes for you to do something you need to have the motivation, that desire, that encouragement to do it. It need not even be in relation to an addiction.
I for instance like social motivation so if I wanted to get into a good habit like exercise the best way for me to do it would be to do it with friends or get social encouragement, or a coach, someone to connect with and share the experience with. Others are motivated by money. If you want to stop smoking there are hundreds of things you can think of as motivators. Financially you save money, health wise you live longer and are healthier, also your colleagues don’t inhale as much smoke, you don’t remain dependant on a drug like nicotine, sport wise it will improve your aerobic capacity and probably help in other areas too. You get the idea. Another example is the bike ridding I do. While I do this alone I am greatly motivated to travel around without causing pollution that I, others and our environment would otherwise have to deal with. This for me is probably the biggest reason I do it. I feel that I am doing my little bit to make a cleaner, greener and generally better world.

So the main key is really finding the key formula for you individually, which will help you to overcome any addiction. After you’ve found it its simply a matter of implementing it. Results won’t be immediate, they seldom are, but they will be much quicker than if you don’t really ask yourself why you have the problem and how you can best solve it. If you don’t ask those questions then you are simply trying to break the addiction through trial and error, and generally our emotions get in the way and cause us to get stuck in vicious addiction cycles. So do some thinking, try not to be critical, rather we want constructive analysis. These brief tips will make a world of difference in overcoming an addiction, at very least the problem will be properly identified and a solution established, then comes simply a slog to try and implement it. Good luck, expect to encounter obstacles and simply treat it as life throwing you a curve ball to keep things interesting.


Tip Diva said...

Thank you for submitting your post to Carnival of Tips!

Great post, Samuel. I always enjoy reading your blog - you're very informative, yet succinct in explaining things.

You should perhaps consider adding an "e-mail to friend" link, if Blogger allows. This is definitely a pass-on article.

Steve said...

Samuel, you make some very good points. We have to get to the cause and not treat just the symptoms of our problems.

As the director of Novus Medical Detox, I daily see the ravages caused by prescription drug addiction created by doctors prescribing it to their patients and then the patients either continuing to obtain it or purchasing these drugs on the internet or the street. Probably the worst of these drugs is OxyContin--legal heroin.

Pain is real. I have had it much of my life first from polio and then from two surgeries. However, there are alternatives to painkillers and they must be tried first. Let's not treat the symptoms but the cause.

Prescription drug addiction is an epidemic and we must do everything we can to stop it before it overwhelms us. Education is a must.

Steve Hayes

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