Written by Ivette Moutzouris
Anyone can develop an addiction or exhibit addictive patterns of behavior. In our current society of instant gratification it is probably easier now more than ever to develop an addiction. There’s a lot of information and support available for more common addictions such as drug, alcohol and gambling however we can become addicted to many other things and that is what I’ll be focusing on.
Recent studies show that there is an increasing number of people who exhibit signs of internet addiction usually in the form of pornography and gaming. I’ve also noticed that even used as a social means of communication it can become addictive to the point where you feel that it is extremely difficult to disengage or set limits to the behavior. This of course affect us and our society in many ways. It changes the way we socialize, it affects our self -sesteem, sleep hygiene, eating habits, priorities, emotional responses and it even changes our brain chemistry.
Food and shopping can also become addictive. They are easily accessible in our culture and are basically a quick fix when you feel down or stressed. It is therefore important to deal with negative emotions appropriately, by doing this you learn to become more resilient and develop healthy habits that increase your ability to cope with life’s challenges.
You may engage in some of these activities and receive some degree of pleasure and enjoyment from them and it may not be a problem. However for others it is important to understand and recognize the signs that an addiction is on its way.
The following is a general list of some of the features of an addiction. It is however important to discuss it further with a professional if you feel that you have a problem.
- Preoccupation and persistent desire/craving to engage in the activity.
- A considerable amount of time is spent on the activity which may increase overtime to experience the initial thrill (i.e. tolerance).
- You may feel that you are out of control. This means that initially you maintained control over the behavior with healthy limitations but overtime you have noticed an overriding need to engage in it often.
- There is a decrease in the amount of time spent doing other enjoyable activities that you used to do.
- There is an initial positive emotional response to the activity (e.g. excitement, relief) but it is usually followed by a negative emotional response (e.g. guilt, shame, anger, depression).
- You experience repeatedly unsuccessful attempts at trying to create healthy limitations or stopping it all together.
- There are withdrawal symptoms when trying to disengage from the activity.
What can I do about it?
- The first step is to admit that there is a problem and that you may need some help.
- Recognising the triggers. That is asking yourself- when and where am I doing it, who am I with, how am I feeling just before I engage in this addictive behavior.
- Don’t keep it a secret. One of the reasons why an addiction becomes so entrenched in our behavior is because we try to handle it on our own without accountablility or help from a trusted other and so it continues for longer.
- Set boundaries and limits. Recognize the pattern and avoid or restrict access to it.
- Engage in health alternatives. Make a list of healthy ways you could be dealing with temptation or negative emotions and do this instead.
- Get help sooner rather than later. If you leave it for too long your brain learns to engage in it automatically and it becomes harder to stop.
Remember these are just some tips to help you get started but you may need to get some help from a professional in order to change your addictive habits.
Arden, John. (2010). Rewire Your Brain.
Australian Psychological Society. (April 2015, Volumne 38). InPsych.