“Oh, this chocolate is so addictive!”

“I am completely addicted to the new Game of Thrones series”

These are statements you might of used in your life or heard others use. When we refer to addiction in this way, we are usually not being very serious. We are trying to highlight a habit, or repetitive type behaviour that we find ourselves engaging in.

Determining real addiction

An addiction is more than just a habit or repetitive behaviour. Addiction is out of our control. If you have no control as to when you start or stop a behaviour, or are spending large amounts of time obsessively thinking about how, when, how much and where you will engage in the behaviour, then it is more than likely an addiction.

For me, the defining line is the intention behind the behaviour. Am I having a glass of wine because I enjoy the taste and the ritual of a nice meal with a good glass of wine? Or am I addicted? Am I watching what I eat because I would like to be healthy? Or do I have an eating disorder? Maybe I play on-line games as I find them challenging. Or perhaps I can’t stop?

What if you spend half the day thinking about having a drink, and thinking this is the only way to make yourself feel better. Let’s say you spend most days planning your meals and carefully monitoring your food or you deprive yourself of food because this makes you feel more in control of your life. Or you spend hours on end gaming, as a means of cutting yourself off from your other responsibilities. If this sounds familiar, then you need to sit up and start asking yourself some serious questions about the effects of this behaviour on your life and your loved ones.

The problem with addiction

The real intention behind addiction is to use something outside of yourself to fix a problem that is going on inside of yourself. The problem is uncomfortable feelings, and the goal is to not feel them and to feel better by indulging in an emotionally numbing, repetitive activity.

The truth of the matter is, in the beginning, this might work, but it is not a real solution. What happens next is that you begin to feel those unwanted feelings again. This leaves you feeling out of control, so you decide to drink more or eat less or more, or game more, gamble, shop, watch pornography, have excessive sexual contact, take drugs or self-medicate yourself with prescription drugs.  Whatever the behaviour is, increasing it doesn’t help, and you feel more out of control, so you do it more. You begin to feel distressed and experience dramatic mood changes. You may experience uncontrollable anger, or suffer from a depressed or anxious type of mood.  The addictive behaviour seems to be taking these oppressed, unwanted feelings away less and less and they seem to be growing.

So, in the beginning, the behaviour might well have been of help with the uncomfortable feelings. However that ship has now sailed, and it ain’t coming back!

What happens now? Simple, I have seen it many times. If you are not prepared to make a change, what will generally follow, is a downward spiral, defined by more and more of the same self-destructive behaviour.

Seeking help for addiction

Another thing you need to know about addiction is that it is progressive. Defined as a disease, like any other disease it gets worse if not addressed. The “disease” within you will only increase if you are not able to be honest with yourself and seek help.

Patients and clients will often share with me that they never realised the extent of their addiction until they became open to exploring the obsessive, compulsive, dysfunctional, out of control way they were living their lives. And don’t think for one minute you are alone in this behaviour. I know the sufferer normally thinks that they are. But the truth is your addiction affects others and sadly the ones you love usually bear the brunt.

More and more you might be isolating yourself, making promises to yourself and others, that you can’t keep. Your relationships with others begin to fall apart. You might have increased financial worries and symptoms of an anxious or depressed mood. You feel like you are a bad, unloved, unworthy, misunderstood individual, whose life is spiralling out of control.

Or, if you can recognise some of what I have mentioned above in yourself, then maybe you are suffering from a disease called addiction. A disease for which there is help, if you are open to it.