Deciding what is addictive and what is potentially a healthy lifestyle choice can often be a very subjective exercise. A rough rule of thumb when seeking to define problem behaviour is to assess whether there is increasing preoccupation with a particular activity and whether there is adverse consequences on other parts of your life. Another way of looking at addiction is that it is invariably a way of seeking to fix feelings rather than feel one's feelings. Addictive behaviour is essentially in pursuit of emotional satisfaction, security and safety.
You could ask yourself: are you seeking to escape from difficult feelings or states of mind by engaging in self-soothing behaviours, or is it that you can take or leave such behaviours at will? ‘Affect dysregulation’ might sound quite technical but essentially it describes an unhealthy response to stress. A healthy response to stress would entail having a robust self-care regime where difficult feelings and states of mind are dealt with without resort to fixing activities. Fixing activities typically involve drink and drugs but can also be behavioural, or process, addictions such as sex, gambling, binge-eating, gaming, social media interaction and overworking.
You could ask yourself: is there increasing preoccupation and obsession, meaning more and more attention is diverted to the activity? A positive life choice might mean you could choose the activity at will and stop when you feel you have had enough. Addiction tends to take over when you feel you can’t stop, even when you feel you have had enough. Addiction usually means you become depressed and anxious at the thought of abstinence. In addition to loss of control there might also be increasing secrecy around your behaviour and an unwillingness to be still and to feel difficult feelings.
The consequences of increased preoccupation with an activity could be:
- not being able to fully engage in social situations
- making excuses about attending family functions
- progressively thinking about the addictive activity to the exclusion of doing household chores
- not attending to family commitments
- skipping work
- becoming more anxious about not being able to indulge in your fix
- increasingly becoming more secretive and going missing
Increased obsession usually involves constant thinking about the addictive activity. Addicts become increasingly desperate if denied opportunities to engage in their addiction. This could be when there is a shortage of funds or time to indulge in the addiction. Addiction is often facilitated by opportunity and conversely there might be increased moodiness and irritability if denied opportunities to engage in what is considered to be pleasurable.
Counselling and psychotherapy can help you to explore your life choices and decide whether you have an unhealthy relationship to either a substance or an activity. It can also allow you the opportunity to make a commitment to your recovery and can be the start of an exciting journey when you gradually feel your feelings. Behavioural addictions are often seeking to mask difficult emotions or past traumas such as unprocessed sadness, bereavement or disappointments. A period of abstinence could be the way of exploring what is behind the addictive patterns and lead to breakthroughs and a transformed way of being.