These acts can make us feel good. The choice of behaviour that is preferred will probably depend on a number of factors including social status, availability and peer pressure. Once addicted we have become reliant on something that used to give us pleasure in order just to feel ‘normal’.
We find ourselves unable to stop once we start and at some point reach a stage where we are unable to live either with or without it.
Once this stage is reached, stopping seems impossible and the addict is stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of trying to feel better and we do it in the only way we know how to. By this stage it may help the addict escape a little, but never to the extent that it did at the beginning.
That sense of ease and comfort that was once felt can never be found again in the same way. Life becomes a never-ending chase for pleasure, but now everything around us is filled with chaos and disappointment.
The choice of substance or obsessive behaviour seems to be irrelevant and there are many different theories about what causes addiction. We believe that addiction is a symptom of an underlying emotional problem that the person feels unable to deal with.
One thing is certain though, the still suffering addict is constantly in a cycle trying to make themselves feel better.
They are trying to escape from a feeling or emotion that they do not like and by this time they will have no more of an idea what caused it than anyone else does.
They will often suffer from anxiety or depression as a result. Once addicted to a substance or a behaviour, it has become ‘the norm’, so getting clean, drying out or stopping becomes difficult.
It no longer feels normal to be free of the addiction. Living a clean and sober life seems impossible to the addict who is still in the grip of their illness.
Loneliness and isolation, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, loss of family and friends, financial difficulties, physical or psychological damage and ultimately death. These are some of the consequences of addiction. Once in the downward spiral it can seem like there is no way out.
Person Centred Therapist Carl Rogers (1902-1987) said,
‘The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.’
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Acceptance of how bad things have got and the willingness to ask for help are important in order for an addict to begin recovery.
In cases of physical or severe dependency, a medical detox may be needed. But the most important work starts once this has been done. Recovery from addiction depends on change. Not – as some would have you believe – by changing who the person is or taking away their identity, but helping them to rediscover the person that they really were all along.
We have found that most, if not all addicts and alcoholics have lost their sense of identity and their self-belief. There can be many reasons for this, but being an addict or alcoholic will over time compound these feelings of worthlessness. At the same time, an addict will try to put on a brave face to the rest of the world.
We hide the addiction as well as we can because of the stigma and because our pride is so strong. We don’t want to be seen as weak. Inside though, there is a feeling of not belonging, of loneliness, of not being understood.
Recovery is a journey of discovery: – There is a way out.
There is no quick fix for addiction. Perhaps that is the hardest part. That is why for most people, the recovery journey needs to start in a residential rehab. These run various programs of recovery some of which last a few weeks, others are much longer.
Rehab centres use group work and one to one therapy with one aim. That is to enable their clients to live a life in society without needing to revert back to their old addiction, whether it was escape through the ‘thrill’ of a bet, the ‘high ‘ of a crack pipe or the ‘oblivion’ of heroin, benzos or alcohol.
The 12 step program and SMART Recovery are the better-known recovery models in the UK.
Both offer peer support and can begin to give back a sense of identity to recovering addicts. That feeling of belonging to a group, being ‘a part of’ instead of ‘apart from’ can be a powerful feeling to an addict who has felt isolated and lonely for so long.
Other treatment programs also involve group work as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Motivational Interviewing and other models of one to one therapy. All of these approaches overlap each other and have key components that encourage addicts to change their outlook and perspective of life.
The British Journal of Psychiatry identifies five recovery processes that are beneficial in recovery.
- Connectedness – Being connected to other people in positive ways. This can start with peer groups and extends to friends, family and the community.
- Hope and Optimism – With these we can see a better life to work towards. Motivation to change our old ways and have dreams and goals for the future.
- Identity – Regaining a sense of self-worth and identity, becoming authentic and genuine – being the person we are meant to be (‘To thine own self be true…’ – William Shakespeare).
- Meaning and Purpose – Living a meaningful life to regain self-worth. Some people find spirituality important, while others may find meaning through employment or voluntary work. Being a useful member of the community helps us to feel valued. 12 step programs suggest helping others.
- Empowerment – Recognising our strengths and using them in a positive way. Working on weaknesses and not being afraid to ask for help from people with more experience or knowledge of recovery.