Overcoming Addition

Troy Todd, Ph.D., BCN

If you are addicted to something, you will find yourself spending a large amount of time and energy pursuing and doing the addiction. A person can be addicted to anything: we think of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs as common things; other things can be addictions such as shopping, social media use, video games, food, sleep, thrill seeking, sexual activity, or sports.

The difference between simply enjoying something and being addicted to it is a matter of the anxiety experienced if blocked from it. Someone who enjoys something, for example, playing softball, and cannot do it for a period (maybe because they are on vacation), will be sad about not being able to play softball, may think of or talk about playing softball during the vacation, may arrange to play as soon as they get back, and still enjoy their vacation. A person addicted to softball may be insistent on bringing their equipment with them (even though it is a skiing vacation, for example), try to engage in softball playing while on vacation (despite situational and social inappropriateness), think about playing softball to the point that they disengage from enjoyable activities vacation, and they may become agitated, short-tempered and generally incapable of and dealing with stress throughout the vacation because they are blocked from playing softball.

To the non-addict, it may appear ridiculous that the addiction cannot be simply “stopped.” This is because the addiction provides (usually several) critical needs in their life. For example, a tobacco addict may use tobacco as a very critical aspect of socializing. They may interact with other smokers, always smoke at parties, start conversations by borrowing cigarettes; they may not be able to imagine interacting with others in any sort of enjoyable way without a cigarette in their hand. For the tobacco addict, smoking may have also come to fill other needs in their life such as a sense of identity, relaxation, self-care, and maybe even accomplishment.

The reason things are addictive is because they fill needs imperfectly. For example, it is true that a person addicted to watching sports does get some excitement, fulfillment, relaxation, and socializing from the act of watching sports, but the non-addict can discern that these needs can be obtained more efficiently by engaging in other activities such as dirt-bike riding for excitement, repairing a hobby car for fulfillment, taking a hike for relaxation, and playing games with friends for socializing.

To overcome an addiction you must accurately understand what needs you are filling with the addiction, understand when you need those things, and replace the addiction with things that actually provide the need. For example, a person addicted to food, although they do not realize it, eats whenever they feel a negative emotion. As they worked to overcome their addiction, they would come to understand this relationship, make it a point to be cognizant of their emotions at all times, and as they recognize negative emotions, they would block themselves from eating, and actively engage in behaviors and thoughts that actually mitigated the negative emotions (maybe through an act such as journaling). As they did this, they would strengthen themselves further by recognizing they are beginning not to have to eat to feel better, emotional eating is not a necessary part of their life, they are able to experience a full range of emotions without anxiety, and they are better able to regulate their weight.