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Many people assume that we can only become addicted to substances that have a physical effect on the body such as alcohol or drugs, but many activities can become addictions including gambling, food, exercise, shopping, using the internet, sex and porn.
When you engage in activities that make you feel happy – such as a shopping spree, winning a bet or having sex with someone new – your brain releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals that encourage you to repeat that behaviour because it provides such an enjoyable ‘high’.Whilst engaging in an addictive behaviour, you may feel numbed to emotional pain and distress. The behaviour becomes a way (short term) of coping with intolerable distress and discomfort usually caused by self-criticism, self-doubt and low self-esteem. When you stop the behaviour the relief quickly disappears and your distress returns. In the absence of alternative coping strategies, you find yourself once again engaged in the compulsive and uncontrollable behaviour in spite of the increasing negative and harmful consequences it is having on your life.
No matter what kind of addiction you have, it can take a serious toll on your physical and psychological health. Symptoms can include depression, panic attacks, sleep disturbance, obsessive-compulsive traits, and can lead to deteriorating relationships, poor work performance and financial problems. If your day-to-day functioning or health is affected, or if the behaviour takes up a large amount of time or money, then you may benefit from therapy.
What is the treatment for addiction?
In your first couple of sessions your Psychologist will ask you questions to enable them to understand why your addiction may have developed and what approach will bring you the quickest and most enduring relief. The second step is to identify the problem that you are using the addiction to escape from and examine the underlying causes that precipitated the vicious cycle, identify any possible triggers that may lead to a relapse, and find another way of managing it that isn’t harmful. If the behaviour isn’t something that can be eliminated completely (e.g. food, shopping, exercise) your Psychologist will then help you to find a way of engaging in the behaviour in a way that is under your control and doesn’t lead to physical or emotional harm. Your Psychologist will teach you how to manage any associated depression or anxiety, boost your confidence and self-esteem and eliminate self-criticism and self-doubt which will protect you from slipping back into addictive patterns of behaviours in the future. Finally, it can guide those around you such as family and friends to better understand your addiction and learn how to support you during your recovery.
If your addiction is very chronic and severe, you may need to instead meet with a consultant psychiatrist to diagnose, monitor and treat any mental health issues arising from it. You may need to have a medically managed withdrawal from alcohol or drugs before starting therapy and they can refer you to a rehabilitation centre if a residential stay is recommended.