Are you worried you might have an addiction? You’re not alone. Addiction affects thousands of people every day. In fact, the charity Action on Addiction estimates a third of adults in the UK could be addicted to something.
The good news is addiction is treatable, and recognising you have this condition is the first step on the road to recovery.
In this guide I’ll explain what the symptoms of addictive behaviour are, and dispel some myths about addiction. I’ll give you a summary of the best steps you can take to overcome addiction, and at the end of the article I’ll list some organisations that will support you as you recover.
What is addiction?
Many of us associate addiction with substances like drugs, nicotine or alcohol. While these are some of the most common addictions, actually anything that has an effect on your mood can be addictive. Gambling, sex, self-harm, social media, shopping and work can also be addictions.
You become addicted to something if it takes over your life to the point where it could become harmful to you, and stopping would cause withdrawal symptoms. Very often, an addiction gets stronger because you become tolerant to the substance or activity – you need more and more of it to feel the same effect.
What causes addiction?
There are lots of factors that might cause someone to form an addiction – these might include being under a lot of stress, feeling under too much pressure, having difficult emotions, or having experienced a trauma. In fact, addictions can be formed when someone turns to a substance or activity to cope with other life events.
Common myths about addiction
While there’s less stigma around addiction than there used to be, it’s still a misunderstood condition. Sometimes people assume addiction is caused by a lack of willpower, or that someone with an addiction has chosen for it to happen. This isn’t true. Addiction is an illness, and the changes in the brain – including brain chemistry and neural networks – are very real.
But those changes aren’t permanent. It’s not easy, but you absolutely can recover. Next up, lets look at some of the steps you can take to overcome addiction. Different ways of coping will work for different people, so it’s a good idea to try the steps you feel would work best for you.
Steps you can take to overcome addiction:
1 Know your triggers
It can be really helpful to recognise the particular triggers that drive you to your addiction. For many people, certain moods can be triggering. If you’re having cravings, it’s a good idea to check if you’re feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired (known as the HALT symptoms).
Address these symptoms directly, and the craving could subside. For example if you’re hungry, eat something, or try deep-breathing exercises to calm yourself if you’re feeling angry.
Sometimes, certain people, places or situations can trigger your addiction. The first step is to identify these; for example, if you’re an alcoholic, after-work get-togethers and parties might be times when you’re confronted with alcohol, and it might be tempting to drink to ‘fit in.’ Try to avoid these situations if you can, or be on guard for cravings.
2 Stay healthy
A good diet means you’re less likely to become run-down and tired – a state which can trigger cravings. And if don’t have severe withdrawal symptoms, moderate exercise can help, too.
Exercise releases ‘feel good’ hormones that keep you in a happy state of mind without resorting to your addictive activity or substance. Exercise can help you sleep better, and if you’ve been addicted to a substance, exercise can also help rid your body of these toxins.
Meditation is proven to relax your mind and body, and it also helps you deal with the difficult emotions that can cause cravings.
Meditation works by prompting you to focus on the present moment, and to recognise and accept your emotions rather than being swept away by them. Meditation is easy to learn, and I’ve added a link to guided meditations at the end of this article.
4 Build a support network
Recovery from addiction can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone. It can be very helpful to have people you trust on-hand to offer support if you’re having a bad day. Try to be honest about how you’re feeling – remember, you’re recovering from a real illness, and it’s your right to seek help.
You could build a network of family and friends, and consider going to support group meetings, too; these give you the chance to discuss your feelings with people who understand first-hand what you’re going through.
5 Talk to a counsellor
It can be very beneficial to discuss your recovery with a trained therapist, especially if you find opening up to friends and family difficult. There are different kinds of therapy you might want to try:
Person-centred counselling is a gentle kind of therapy where you can talk about your difficulties in confidence and without judgement. A person-centred counsellor will listen and offer you prompts to help you explore your feelings, and in time uncover root causes of your addiction, which can ease the hold addiction has over you.
CBT or ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ works by helping you uncover triggers and negative thought patterns that fuel your addiction, and replacing them with positive patterns. A CBT therapist will work with you to build coping strategies for when you experience cravings.
You can access therapy via your GP, and there are also directories for finding trained therapists in your area. I’ve listed one at the end of this article.
6 Keep busy
Occupying your time (and your mind) with new healthy hobbies and pursuits is a great way to replace the time you used to spend on your addiction. You might want to start a new class, try a new sport or do something creative. New activities can be a great way to meet new people, too – which will also give your wellbeing a boost.
7 See your GP
If your addiction is having a serious impact on your health, it’s important to speak to a GP or health professional. Your GP may refer you to a specialised treatment centre where you can get extra support. You can also contact a treatment centre directly if you don’t feel comfortable talking to your GP.
If you have an opiate addiction (such as heroin), you can also be offered a substitute drug called methadone, which will help ease both cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
8 Help other people who are in recovery
Helping others is actually a great way to help yourself – it’s been proven to boost your wellbeing, and it even lowers your blood pressure! What’s more, investing time in assisting other people will keep you busy, which helps ward off cravings. You might want to consider offering to help someone at your local recovery support group, or volunteer for an organisation.
Do you need someone to talk to?
Are you, or is someone you know struggling with addiction? If you would like to talk to a trained therapist in confidence about addiction or anything else, you’re welcome to get in touch with me. I’m a registered person-centred counsellor and hypnotherapist. I provide both telephone counselling and online counselling via Skype to people across the UK.
Useful links and helplines
Action on Addiction is a charity in the UK that helps with all areas of treatment, research, family support and professional education. The website has advice for anyone suffering from addiction.
Recovery.org.uk helps people with addictions find treatment options in their area. They have a free helpline that’s open 24 hours a day: 0203 553 0324. They also offer a callback service.
FRANK provides honest, confidential information about drugs, and they have a 24 hour helpline: 0300 123 6600.
The National Counselling Society (NCS) – the professional association for counsellors’ website has a national directory of qualified therapists, searchable by area.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship for the recovery of alcoholics. Its volunteers are people who have experienced alcoholism. They have a national helpline: 0800 9177 650 or you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org
BeGambleAware is a national charity that offers help and support to anyone affected by a gambling addiction. They have a helpline: 0808 8020 133 open 24 hours a day.
The NHS website has a guide to getting help for drug addiction, which includes treatment options available through the NHS.
The meditation app Insight Timer has various guided meditations to help you overcome addiction, which you can access from your mobile or computer.