We frail humans can, all too easily, become addicted, psychologically and/or physically, to a large array of substances and behaviours. I provide a list of examples below:
– work (people who are workaholics may also suffer from the condition known as perfectionism))
– food (people who overindulge in food to help them to cope with psychological pain are often informally referred to as COMFORT EATERS or EMOTIONAL EATERS)
– exercise (especially bodybuilding and/or jogging)
– watching TV
– surfing the internet
– computer games
– relationships (constantly getting bored with existing relationships and therefore perpetually and quickly moving from one partner to another always in search of fresh excitement and thrills that often accompany the start of a brand new relationship).
– gambling (with online gambling becoming an increasing problem)
– risk-taking (e.g. driving too fast, dangerous sports etc to gain a so-called adrenalin buzz’)
– excessive spending (again, this can produce a temporary ‘high’ until the novelty of the item purchased wears off (usually quickly necessitating further purchases…)
Root Cause Of Such Dependencies:
We can become psychologically and/or physically dependent on behaviours and substances such as those mentioned above in an attempt to fill a void caused by a more profound dependency deriving from our dysfunctional childhood.
These dependencies/addictions are essentially defence mechanisms – a way of trying to reduce the level of our psychological suffering. Psychologists refer to this defence mechanism as DISSOCIATION.
The more traumatic our childhood was, the more psychological defences we are likely to develop; this translates to the fact that many people suffer from multiple addictions. Also, those who had the most traumatic childhoods are likely to be those with the deepest, most intractable, addictions.
Symptoms Of The Dependent Individual:
As well as having one, or several, addictions, the person with a dependent personality may also :
– feel an abiding sense of abandonment/rejection
– constantly feel anxious
– be easily angered and his/her angry outbursts may be very intense/lacking control
– feel a sense of emptiness
– feel life lacks meaning
– have a very weak sense of own identity
– feel that s/he has been used, exploited and taken advantage of (often by parents in childhood)
– feel s/he has been manipulated and controlled (often by patents in childhood)
– feel a general sense of confusion
– feel a deep sense of loneliness and ‘disconnection’ from others/society
– often feel fearful / a sense of impending doom
Also, in childhood, as a result of our trauma, we may have been prone to angry/aggressive outbursts, withdrawn and ‘moody’, negative, pessimistic and ‘difficult’ (actually, that sounds uncannily like me as an adolescent. And as an adult? Let’s not go there).
Addictions deliver short-term benefits (if they didn’t, people would not become addicted in the first place).
For example, addictions may provide :
– temporary relief from stress and anxiety
– temporary feelings of well-being
– temporary feelings of control and/or power
However, these benefits must be off-set against, for example, such considerations as the following:
– they mask the real issues and prevent the individual from dealing with his/her life problems (such as seeking therapy for a traumatic childhood)
-they lead to avoidance of confronting and working through/processing true feelings
The Addiction Cycle:
Addiction leads to a vicious cycle from which it becomes increasingly difficult to break free. First, there is an emotional trigger such as an argument with a partner.
This leads to stress and anxiety which in turn leads to a craving for the addictive substance / to perform the addictive behaviour in an attempt to reduce this anxiety.
There then follows the addictive ritual (e.g. drinking a bottle of whisky, going to a casino with all one’s hard-earned cash).
After the substance is consumed / the behaviour carried out feelings of guilt follow…and so the cycle continues (until effective therapy is sought and administered).
The Fundamental Elements Of Addiction:
The main elements of addiction are:
1) An increasing obsession/ preoccupation with the substance/behaviour of addiction
2) Increased tolerance: the person needs more and more of whatever s/he’s addicted to due to ‘diminishing returns’ (e.g. takes increasingly more alcohol to produce desired effect – in this case, possibly, oblivion).
3) Diminishing control: e.g. a gambler may start losing larger and larger sums of money, overtaken by powerful and self-destructive impulses
4) Secretiveness: e.g. an alcoholic may hide bottles of whisky about the house and at work and deny to others that s/he drinks excessively
5) Denial to self/self-delusion: e.g. the drug addict who tells him/herself ‘giving up would be easy’ but that s/he currently ‘chooses’ not to. Or may deny to themselves their addiction is doing them any harm when it is clear to others that this is patently not the case).
6) Mood swings e.g. extreme anxiety suddenly changing to severe aggression/anger
7) Loss of self-respect: e.g. the alcoholic who can no longer be bothered concerning him/herself with his/her appearance / personal hygiene
8) Loss of moral principles e.g. the drug addict who steals from friends to get money to pay for drugs
9) Suicidal feelings/impulses
10) Exacerbation/development of psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and paranoia.
11) Physical illness (e.g. liver disease, lung cancer)
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).