Recognizing and Understanding Addiction
By: Shaila Anjum
It’s not rocket science that most (if not all) addictions affect not just your own mental health but possibly even the mental health of those around you. So why have this conversation all over again? Because we still need help recognizing when our friends or families are falling deep into addiction, and what the most appropriate and helpful method to approach them is. Often times, addictions seem so difficult to deal with, and there doesn’t seem to be a right way. It always seems easier said than done. Judgments are easy to make, anger and frustration are easy to show, and guilt seems to add up for both the addict and the loved ones of the addict.
Not all addictions are easy to see. Some are well hidden by the addict, like sex addiction. Pornography-use or seeking intimate partners may take over to the point where individuals are missing shifts at work or forgetting to pay bills and so forth. Other addictions may unveil themselves slowly – for example, that friend that enjoys gambling. You two may have gone to casinos together several times, and it may not have been an obvious addiction, until you realize they go more often than you thought and that they’ve had to make significant financial sacrifices to sustain their addiction. Gaming is quite popular with animation and resolution constantly advancing. The story-lines are intriguing and the action is attention-grabbing. When gaming means your food and washroom have to stay with you and a staycation from work is required, it just might be a problem.
Conscious Counselling has been very fortunate to work alongside photographer Sabrina Chevallier and her model, Angela. This photograph depicts the struggle of trying to prioritize commitments. It depicts the self-destructive tendencies of addiction. You can see a girl who is going through a wall. On one side is her significant other, who seems to have fallen asleep after waiting for her on their anniversary. On the other side, you see her friends, who seem to have a strong hold on her. On the left side of the photograph, you may also notice a bong on the table and a few beer cans on the ground.
For an addict, it’s easy to feel like they are being pulled in all directions. The cognitive dissonance of wanting something but making a contradicting decision while trying to find that mental trade-off to feel better about yourself – yeah you got it; it's exhausting.
According to psychologist Dr. Gregory Jantz, the following can help you know if you are an addict:
Importance: How high on your priority has this particular thing become? And how is it affecting your day-to-day life (Jantz, 2014)?
Reward response: After you realize this is something that has become too important to you, do you still feel the need to take part in it? Does it bring you happiness or a sense of calm (Jantz, 2014)?
Prevalence: Does it tend to take over your day more than you had intended it to? For example, maybe you allotted 20 minutes to this or decided it was only for one more day or week, but now it's been much more than that – a compulsion, if you will (Jantz, 2014).
Cessation: Do you find yourself in a panic or anxious state without it? Is it something you find yourself constantly reaching for (Jantz, 2014)?
Disruption: Sometimes, things come in the way of our regular lives and the people that we love. Do you find it has disrupted relationships or created distance between you and your loved ones (Jantz, 2014)? This can go hand-in-hand with importance.
Reverting: Reverting or relapsing is one of the most common symptoms of an addiction. This shows that you recognize there is a problem and have attempted to stop it several times (Jantz, 2014).
The above are common trends among individuals who find themselves struggling with an addiction. If the majority of the above applies to you, it might be time to seek some sort of help. If you’re not ready to take the big step just yet, little steps matter too.
Psychologist Dr. Lisa Firestone has a few suggestions for you to help break from your addiction:
Identify: Recognizing what you’re feeling or thinking before you engage in self-destructive behaviour and deeming that voice as the problem can help pin-point when things begin to go bad (Firestone, 2012). Not only should you identify internal triggers, but external triggers as well. For example, is it only when a particular person upsets you or is it a sense of restlessness that takes place throughout the day?
Journal: Dr. Firestone suggests recording the things you have begun to identify to recognize patterns (Firestone, 2012).
Reflect: When you have established the patterns, you can question them and try to understand where they come from (Firestone, 2012). Who or what may influence these emotions or thoughts?
Plan: Once you understand the thoughts behind the action, you can begin to change the thoughts, which in turn will help change the action (Firestone, 2012). To help change these thoughts, talking it out with a friend, family-member, or professional may be helpful.
Have compassion: Dr. Firestone stresses that you must see yourself as strong from fighting rather than weak (2012). Self-compassion statements can be very helpful along the way. After all, you are only human. Making mistakes is normal; it’s how we build resiliency and how we learn to perfect the formula slowly, one mistake at a time.
Feel: Some addictions help to numb certain emotions we do not want to feel. Trying to stop an addiction often brings those feelings back. It’s like taking your hand off that pause button so everything can flood back in. Yes, this is difficult and often the reason for the cognitive side of addictions. However, once you get through this tough part, not only are you stronger but you are also better equipped to manage such emotions without slipping into an addiction in the future.
Having a good support system is always helpful through these times, but unfortunately not always easy. If you have an addiction, you might find that you push certain people away or that they just don’t understand.
What can you do to help someone facing an addiction?
Though it has been a common practice to leave an addicted loved one by showing them the consequences of their decisions, it is definitely not the way to go – unless of course, your safety is at risk. Sometimes, a little compassion can go a long way. It may be difficult as someone who cares and is frustrated to be patient over and over again. In some cases, it may become draining to the point where it’s affecting the quality of your life significantly. If that is that case, then by all means, separate yourself from the situation and make sure you are healthy first.
Be compassionate: Keeping tabs from afar while protecting yourself can still be helpful. Let them know you are there. Check in every once in a while. Let them know they are strong and they can do it. This article by therapist Beverly Engel, How compassion can help you support an addicted loved one, is a great read to help you understand how far a compassionate environment can go.
Ba patient: Things will not happen right away according to your timeline. Sometimes that can be a tough pill to swallow. Understand that just because you told them what they need to do, it doesn't mean they are ready. Know that they will move at their own pace. However, providing helpful choices along the way – as long as they ask – is okay. Just don’t be forceful or pushy in any way.
Be attentive: Be a good listener. Sometimes they just need to talk things out to understand the root of their problems, and just by listening you can be a big part of their healing process.
At the end of the day when all’s said and done, just remember, everyone has a journey and everyone processes things differently. Do not hesitate to get help when needed. And friends and family, try your best to be as compassionate, patient, and attentive as you can – without letting it get the best of you!
Jantz, G. L. (2014). 6 signs that you are addicted to something. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-relationships/201411/6-signs-youre-addicted-something
Firestone, L. (2012). Breaking free from addiction. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/compassion-matters/201204/breaking-free-addiction