Addictions are common and range from being hooked on substances such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, food, and illicit drugs to certain behaviours such as exercise, shopping, gambling, pornography and even to work. Once you have recognised an addiction, following are some steps to overcoming addiction:
STEP ONE – RECOGNISE YOUR WHY
The first step in overcoming an addiction, aside from admitting that you have one, is to do some self-evaluation. Determine why you might be using a substance or engaging in a particular activity. Is it a way for you to cope with stress, anxiety, fatigue, depression, or self-loathing? Is it to feel loved, included in a group, or to have fun and experience pleasure? There is always an underlying emotion involved in an addiction so ask yourself what your particular emotion might be.
STEP TWO – CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES
Consider when an addiction is no longer serving you but rather you are serving the addiction. If the underlying reason you have become addicted to a substance has not resolved then you will need to find alternative ways to cope. These ways need to be positive and healthy. In order to break a habit you need to replace it with something else. That something else may be, for example, speaking with a counsellor or good friend, going for a walk, taking up a hobby, buying a pet to love and care for, deep breathing and meditation, or even journaling your thoughts and emotions to get them outside your mind and on paper.
STEP THREE – IDENTIFY YOUR TRIGGER TIMES
A trigger time is a particular time of day, or a situation, that causes you to feel like engaging in your addiction. Recognise when those times might be and do something that is incompatible with your addiction. If your addiction is to drink another glass of wine after dinner as a way to unwind from the stress of your day consider going for a walk instead, which will force you to get out of the house and not pour another glass.
STEP FOUR – SET YOUR LIFE UP FOR SUCCESS
Breaking an addiction is not about willpower, it is about setting yourself up for not having to succumb to temptation. This might mean, for example, not driving past the bottle shop on the way home but taking an alternate route. Or if pornography is your issue, consider putting the computer in the lounge room in full view of your family. The best way to break an addiction is not to have access to that substance or behaviour.
STEP FIVE – BE ACCOUNTABLE
Accountability to someone else will help you stay on track. Consider joining a support group and enlisting the help of your family and friends to help you break an addiction. This of course means admitting to them that you have a problem in the first place. You will be surprised that just by taking that step in admitting to them will be an empowering exercise and you will find that addiction will have loosened its hold on you. This is because, deep down, shame is the engine that drives most addictions. As long as you can beat the fear of feeling ashamed by others and seek help in this area the addiction will soon be a thing of the past.
One patient of mine had for many years had a secret addiction to over-the-counter pain medication. She was taking up to three times the recommended dose every day as a way to cope with stress. It took her around twelve months to finally admit to me that she had this addiction but when she did, within a few months she was completely free of having to use those pain medications. So deep was her level of shame over this secret life that she was living, when she eventually came clean she felt such a sense of relief and empowerment she no longer felt the need to self-medicate away her stress.
STEP SIX – BE REWARDED FOR YOUR EFFORTS
Overcoming an addiction can be very difficult, but it can be done. When you see yourself making progress, even baby steps, you have to motivate yourself to keep going, so remember to reward yourself along the way (but not with the addictive substance!).
Where to Go if You Need Further Help
If you are really struggling with an addiction in your life then perhaps it may be time to seek help by your healthcare professional who is experienced in dealing with addictions and can make the process easier. Keep in mind that breaking an addiction will involve relapse. This is normal and part of the process. The key is to not give up and try again.