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What types of addictions are there, how can I identify if I am addicted and what can I do about it ?What is addictionMost people associate addiction to the more historic and  commonly known ones, such as gambling, drugs, alcohol and smoking etc, but with the advent of the world wide internet and the proliferation easily accessible Apps, modern day addictions now cover a much wider sphere of addictive activities than ever before creating a virtual world of whatever your mind can dream about and desire.

A lot of these more recent forms of addiction will often be first accessed via the internet or a simple  App on a phone or tablet providing unlimited access to live chat rooms, dating sites , shopping platforms, porn sites, gaming and gambling sites  all within the ease of just a couple of clicks of a mouse button. Never before has so much temptation been available to mankind and with such ease of access. Most initial ventures into this reality appear at first time harmless, but within weeks, months and even days those so called harmless adventures can soon find the new found explorer hopelessly   addicted to their new drug of choice.

With thousands seeking help each week for a wide variety of  addictions, some old some new,  it’s worth noting that many of these involve the addict acting out their addictive cycles in complete isolation to their everyday work, relationships and other responsibilities. This in turn, means that their addictive activities have a propensity to withdraw them from the realities of everyday life often until therapy is sought, with no emotional support to help curb and seek help for their addictions.

Very soon the addict will experience marital relationships, work problems, lack of concentration and a general negative prevailing mood which in time will result in bouts of depression, self-loathing and depression.

People often ask “well how do I really know if I’m addicted”  the simple answer to that question is to ask yourself,  “Does the activity I’m indulging in actively seek to control you ” If the answer is YES, then you are in some degree addicted to it.

We often ask our clients what’s the problem with their addictive behaviour and invariably almost all answer with similar  answers, these will include “It’s ruining my marriage or relationships with my loved ones” , “ It’s impacting negatively on my work and concentration”, “It’s causing me financial harm, “It’s causing me stress & anxiety or  suicidal thoughts”, “I feel ashamed , guilty and dirty”, “ I feel depressed and unworthy”, “I worry about my friends and family finding out” , “ I worry about being arrested for criminal activity" these are some of the most common forms of regret that people express about their addiction.

There’s no hard and fast rule as to why one individual is more susceptible to addiction than another, it was long thought that certain genetic factors could pre-dispose someone to being vulnerable to addiction, but more recent finding suggest that this is not the case for the vast majority of people.

There is however plenty of evidence to support the fact that dysfunctional families , childhood trauma and sexual abuse do contribute to low self-esteem and depression which can in turn cause someone to seek escapism from their problems through addictive substances and other forms of potentially addictive activity.

Other life changing events can also have the potential to propel someone into addictive activity for example relationship or marriage breakups, a bereavement, some form of event trauma resulting in Post Traumatic Street (PTSD), financial losses, or the sudden and unexpected loss of employment. The list is endless as we are all effected differently by the events we experience in life.  All of which can  have a negative impact on how we choose to cope and overcome the event or problem. It is  at this stage that healthy or unhealthy decisions are made about how we cope our emotional  pain and suffering.

It is often at this critical stage in our life that potentially addictive activities are pursued often unwittingly, but with significant risk of becoming addicted to the unhealthy coping mechanism we have chosen. It's a natural human instinct to want to avoid pain and suffering, no one would knowingly walk up to a lion or tiger in the wild, because our brain would tell us that this was not a good idea because it would put us at risk of attack, which would almost certainly result in serious injury or even death. 

In much the same way, our brains are wired to avoid pain and suffering caused by the emotional stresses of everyday life. However, sometime that fight or flight mechanism that is open to us in the above scenario, is not available to us in most circumstances in our modern world. For example, the emotional stress of a marriage break up in which children are involved. often precludes us from the flight option as we need to remain in contact with the other parent to negotiate the children’s welfare and security throughout the emotional pain of the divorce process.

If we’re lucky we may have already set in place healthy options which we had developed over time to cope with life’s ups and downs, for example sport, walking, going to the gym or just talking to a close friend.

For others thought the options might not be so healthy, for example if we have enjoyed the occasional  drink of alcohol or the occasional bet on the horses, the odd shopping spree, or even the snorting of a  line or two of cocaine.  In these circumstances  we are already at serious risk of over indulging in these short term acts of pleasure, which in turn could lead us into addiction.

When we indulge in something that brings us pleasure, our brains pleasure centre  releases a chemical known as Dopamine, this chemical release gives us a  short term high which makes us feel happy. When the pursuit of an activity goes beyond the occasional indulgence and turns into addiction, then the surge of dopamine increases and in the case of opioids, cocaine or nicotine can reach up to ten times that experienced in moderate use.

With the increased use of the unhealthy coping mechanisms to try to ease the emotional pain, the brains hard wiring can start to work against us being able to control the addiction, as the pleasure/ reward circuits in our brain conspire to hook us into wanting more and more to achieve the same level of satisfaction and pleasure. Once the addict has tried unsuccessfully to control their habit, it is after this stage that they often decide to seek help from professionals.

One of the most effective therapy types which has demonstrated consistently  good outcomes  during once to one in person and on-line therapy sessions is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It is a commonly used form of therapy for treating a wide range of addictive behaviours as well as many other mental health conditions.

Its basic aim is to help clients explore, understand and change how they think about events in life and learn how to replace negative thoughts and emotions with positive ones.  It is these negative thinking patterns which can  lead us into seeking out and participating in some form of easily accessible activity  which will provide  quick escapism from the perceived pain  we are suffering  and convert it into short term pleasure.  If this activity is allowed to continue as a coping strategy then the condition are ripe for falling into the addiction trap. CBT helps us to recognise the triggers in life which lead us to these  destructive activities and help us replace them with much more healthy alternatives. Freed from addiction we are at last able to regain control over our lives and once again enjoy healthy and rewarding relationships with our friends, family and loved ones.