For most people, irrespective of whoever they are and whatever they may have done in their lives, understanding addiction is difficult. People define and think about addiction in very different ways, depending on their experiences and point of view, leading to a vast array of theories about potential causes, and approaches to the treatment of addiction.
Features of addiction include compulsive behaviour, lack of control and proliferation of harm in many, if not all aspects of that person’s life. Addiction is present in many peoples’ lives, and in a many different forms. It may be related to substance abuse or compulsive behaviours, and range in strength from mild to severe. Patterns of addiction can change depending on life stage, and behaviours may be time-limited, intermittent or persistent.
The causes of addiction can be influenced by any number of biological, psychological, social and cultural factors, and are perhaps as unique and individual as the person they concern. It’s a complex issue and so not uncommon to feel troubled, baffled and frustrated when trying to find ways of dealing with the situation.
The good news is that much can be done to try to improve the situation. If you think you might be struggling with addiction problems yourself or are worried about someone you know, here are some important things to remember.
You are not alone – Help is available. Healthcare providers are a good place to start learning about addiction and the types of help that are available. Healthcare websites will often signpost to additional sources of information. There may support groups that work in your area, or you may know people that have struggled with addiction in the past. Talk to as many people as you can, and find out what advice and support can be accessed online and face-to-face.
Share the load. – It is important that the person with addiction, and people close to them, acknowledge that there is a problem and work together to find a way of managing the situation in the long and short term. Rather than one person working to solve the challenge, there is a team. Remember there will almost certainly be occasional setbacks and unexpected developments, but don’t give up, accept that the path may not be as you originally planned, but your destination remains the same. Think about other people who can be of support you at times like this – maybe family members, friends and specialist support groups. Just as we might surround ourselves with others who have similar addictions as part of maintaining our addiction, think about spending more time with people who have healthier coping strategies and a positive approach to life. Look around for role models that can inspire you in your path away from addiction.
Manage your expectations – Don’t be too disappointed if a one-size fits all, simple solution fails to materialise. In most cases, addictive behaviour will be the result of combination of factors, individual to that person, and will require a holistic and bespoke approach. Your path out of an addictive situation may need to be as unique as you are.
Consider the underlying issues – People may turn to substance abuse, or other unhealthy behaviours, as a way to cope with undiagnosed developmental or mental health conditions, environmental stressors or negative patterns of thought. Addictive behaviour may be symptomatic of unknown or unacknowledged struggles. It is worthwhile to think about your needs – those that have been met and those that remain unmet – so that you develop a plan that is beyond your compulsive behaviours, but makes you feel more whole and functional in the long run.
Think about potential development opportunities – Most people will experience a hedonistic rush at some point in their lives, and although like the sensation, will not go on to develop addictive habits. Evolution equipped us with a need to seek out pleasure and minimise pain, but unfortunately not everyone has the ability to control their behaviour all the time, and in every situation. Sometimes, we all need a little help to develop important coping skills such impulse control and self-regulation. At the very least forgive yourself your past failings, and think about what you would like to do differently in the future. The past is like a distant country with the border closed, it cannot be changed, but your future is yours to determine.
And finally, keep your eye on the prize. Recovery from addiction may be a long and ongoing process but if successful, more than worthwhile. Feeling free to enjoy all that life has to offer, and having the confidence to deal with the inevitable challenges, in much better and healthier ways, just might be the best gift you can give to another yourself, and your loved ones.