Understanding the Cycle of Addiction

Picture of Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV.

Addiction arises as a result of a need to escape uncomfortable feelings. Alcoholics usually begin drinking as a remedy for overwhelming feelings of helplessness which they don’t know how to deal with and so use alcohol as a form of self-medication.
Addictive behaviour subsequently arises to serve as an antidote to the debilitating feeling of vulnerability in a particular situation. At first, drinking may make those feelings disappear, and make you feel as though you are taking control against feeling helpless. But eventually, as you drink more, driven by the temporary feeling of release it provides, instead of confronting the original problem the drinking becomes a substitute and the feelings of powerlessness you originally felt at a particular problem are channelled into an overwhelming drive to drink. The cycle ensues as you feel less able to control your drinking and you will start to experience those feelings of helplessness again, but this time over the drink problem. Therefore, addiction per se is not a problem that needs to be addressed. It is helplessness and vulnerability that start the cycle of addiction which are the root cause of the problem. In order to define your own addictive cycle, it will be necessary to identify your own personal pattern of addictive thoughts and behaviour. Just telling yourself not to drink, will not be enough to make you stop. You will need to pinpoint your triggers to drinking. Addictive impulses are not random. Pay attention to the moment the first impulse to drink appears in your head and take note of what was happening in your head or the situation in which you find yourself before that impulse appeared and you may get closer to identifying the causes of your alcohol addiction. You may need to do this over a period of time, as just one episode will not necessarily be the root cause of all your addictive behaviour. The more times you take note of the patterns of thought and behaviour which lead to your drive to drink, the easier it will be to identify your root causes. Write it all down, keep a diary of what happens before you turn to drink and you will begin to find a pattern emerging. You will soon be able to predict when these addictive impulses will occur, giving you time to pre-empt the overwhelming feelings with planned strategies. For many people, it will be very uncomfortable to delve so deeply into their innermost feelings and psyche, but the addiction is now a deeply rooted and conditioned behaviour in your subconscious mind and will need some conscious behavioural adjustments to overcome it. The greatest challenges in life are usually overcome with careful planning and strategies to deal with them and breaking an addiction cycle is no different. By identifying your addiction triggers and addressing those underlying feelings, you will be taking the first step towards breaking your cycle. Counselling and psychotherapy can help you develop new, more positive strategies to deal with the feelings and vulnerability that you were originally trying to escape.

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