According to NHS Choices, “Addiction is a strong, uncontrollable need to take drugs, drink alcohol or carry out a particular activity such as gambling. It becomes the most important thing in your life and leads to problems at home, work and school.”
Addiction is one of the most common problems faced by people today, and it’s one of the most common issues people come into therapy for. The puzzle of addiction is however tremendously misunderstood. Not only by sufferers themselves, as well as their families, but often by the institutions that purport to offer help and support as well.
People struggling with addictive behaviours often believe that if they were just harder on themselves they’d be able to overcome their symptoms. In reality nothing could be further from the truth, because if you’re struggling with an addiction, here’s one very important thing I know about you:
You’re already incredibly hard on yourself!
In fact, it may be that this is one of the reasons why your addiction has taken hold in the first place - as a form of relief from the intense stress you unconsciously and inadvertently place on yourself. Read that sentence again for a moment: you are already incredibly hard on yourself. Does it resonate with you? Take a moment to ponder it. I’m willing to bet that your expectations of yourself are very high, while your feeling about yourself is very low. How can I know this without actually meeting you?
"Far from being a mystery, or driven entirely by biological processes, there are certain key psychological and emotional factors that trigger addiction patterns in the first place, and we need to understand these if we want to successfully overcome addictive behaviours."
Fortunately, after working with hundreds of individuals suffering from addictions, from alcoholism, to gambling addiction, and drug addictions to such things as cocaine, pain-killers, and cannabis - apparently not addictive but many cannabis users disagree - I started to see various patterns that drive the symptoms. Far from being a mystery, or driven entirely by biological processes, there are certain key psychological and emotional factors that trigger addiction patterns in the first place, and we need to understand these if we want to successfully overcome addictive behaviours.
As we’ve already discussed, a common thread to addiction is the incredible gulf between your expectations of yourself and your self-evaluation. This gulf creates a vacuum into which alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping, eating, and smoking, can all become ways in which you seek to bridge the emotional gap inside yourself. Many similar hidden factors contribute to the manifestation and maintenance of addictions.
There are currently many different theories regarding the addiction process and no unified model has yet been agreed upon. It’s my personal belief however that no unifying theory of addiction will ever be found because addiction arises out of multiple contributing factors rather than a single cause. What addiction specialists do agree on is that there are two major components behind all addictive behaviours.
The first is what is known as your cognitive style, which is your particular way of thinking. We tend to believe that we all think in the same way, however we don’t. We learn our thinking style from our parents and wider family members, and as we age it is shaped and reinforced by life experiences and the way we interpret them. We develop a particular cognitive style, and that cognitive style has a direct effect on how we feel and behave because our thoughts influence or generate feelings, which in turn influence our actions.
The second critical factor motivating addictive behaviours is an underlying emotional need - more often than not the actual emotional need driving the behaviour is not within your scope of awareness. Our emotions are driven by the Limbic System, a region of the brain that correlates with unconscious processing. The truth is that if you knew why you were doing it, you’d have control or be able to stop easily. It’s precisely because you don’t fully understand the ‘why’ of your actions that they continue unabated even if you try to force control over them.
When it comes to addictions willpower is not the answer, because the problem isn’t a matter of will. It has nothing to do with a failure in your character or any deficiency in you as a person. It has a tremendous amount to do with the unconscious forces acting upon your will and character.
"When it comes to addictions willpower is not the answer, because the problem isn’t a matter of will. It has nothing to do with a failure in your character or any deficiency in you as a person. It has a tremendous amount to do with the unconscious forces acting upon your will and character."
Anyone with any personal experience with addiction knows that the behaviour is typically resistant to any forced change. I was working with a lovely gentleman recently who was struggling with alcoholism, he described to me how his family had several times organised interventions for him. He wept as he said, “If it was that easy I would have done it myself by now”. I knew exactly what he meant. Sadly, while such well-intentioned family gestures grow out of love and compassion for the sufferer, they tend to increase, rather than decrease, the sufferer’s sense of hopelessness and helplessness and can thereby lead to a worsening of the symptoms of addiction!
Addiction doesn’t feel like something that is within your control, it feels like something that is happening to you, and so every time you try to stop and fail, you feel a little less powerful and your self-esteem drops as a result. Eventually you can find yourself in a position of utter helplessness in which many people surrender completely and stop trying to exert any control over their behaviour.
Contrary to most people’s beliefs I see this attitude of ‘giving up’ as perfectly reasonable and understandable. After all, who wants to keep trying and failing at the same thing over and over again? That’s the definition of madness! Like every puzzle however, the problem of addiction has a solution, and if you haven’t found it yet, it simply means you’ve been looking in the wrong place and focusing all your efforts in the wrong direction.
Here at The Bristol Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy Clinic I’ve personally helped hundreds of people overcome their addictive behaviour patterns both here at the office and online via Skype. Every person is an individual, and so a treatment plan has to be tailored to suit your unique situation. Why not join me for a FREE initial consultation and assessment to see if I can help you too? Rather than judging you for your current actions, or subjecting you to the humiliation of being told to just ‘stop it’, I’ll work side-by-side with you to help you understand and safely resolve the underlying psychological and emotional factors that cause your addictive behaviour patterns.
Contrary to popular belief, most people struggling with an addiction mange to beat it once they get the right support and take the right action. In the popular media we tend not to hear of people’s successes with overcoming addiction. We only hear of the spectacular failures of celebrities and their frequent trips to rehab. Unfortunately this misrepresentation of the facts – the fact that more people beat addiction than don’t – only serves to increase people’s belief in the hopelessness of their situation and often prevents people from seeking help.
"Contrary to popular belief, most people struggling with an addiction mange to beat it once they get the right support and take the right action."
A short while ago a sweet young lady came to see in a state of despair. Over the course of several years she had been in and out of expensive rehab centres and consulted countless counsellors, medical practitioners, and alternative therapists in a desperate attempt to beat her addiction to alcohol. Her situation was made all the more pressing as she was pregnant and expecting in a matter of months. She truly felt helpless and openly admitted to doubting that anything I could do would help. I’m pleased however to report that over the short course of our sessions she finally succeeded in conquering her addiction, and eventually gave birth to a healthy baby girl. The nurses and support staff at the hospital were amazed at how quickly she managed to turn it around. If she did it, you can do it too.
Likewise a male client came to see me in a similar state of despair. Having held a fairly prestigious position in a financial settling, he was currently gambling away tens of thousands of pounds a week. Worse still, his wife had no idea. After working with him over the course of a few weeks he ceased gambling and his self-esteem started soaring. He had this to say:
Having compulsively gambled for years, I was emotionally at a real low when I first met Seb for my initial session, but I left feeling a sense of relieve and support. The following weeks I met Seb once or twice a week and went through a course of therapy that was a real learning experience about myself and also why I gambled. Given the knowledge about why I gambled I am proud to say that I am now a reformed gambler. On a personal note, Seb is a very likeable and genuine individual, and makes you feel at ease.
P.H. - Gambling Addiction
Once again, if he can do it, you can do it too. Addiction need not be a life-sentence; it can in fact be a stepping-stone to a better quality of life and a better quality of relationships. My job is to guide and support you through the process of change. Why no take the first step and get in touch to book your FREE initial consultation.