A lot of addictions are not the type you read about in the newspaper or see on TV. The movie Trainspotting showed the screwed up lives of heroin addicts, and then ended the movie off with a highlight of how he was better and needed to get a TV and this and that, highlighting how materialism is yet another form of addiction.
Let’s face it – anyone who suffers from problems with addiction was once at a point where they thought “it’ll never happen to me.” The sad truth about addiction, however, is that no one ever sees it coming; otherwise, they would have nipped it in the bud before it became a real problem. Facing addiction can be extremely trying on one’s soul and can lead to depression, anxiety and a host of other undesirable problems. Fortunately, it is never too late to start working towards solving your addiction problems. Let’s look at how to approach this slowly and methodically – one step at a time.
Facing the Facts
The first step towards conquering any kind of addiction is to admit to yourself that you have a problem. Often times, this is one of the hardest parts of the process. No one wants to actually admit that there is something wrong with them, and this generally leads to denial. But how do you know that you actually have a problem?
Pinning down an addiction can be difficult, but the writing is usually on the wall. You may tell yourself that you don’t have a problem, but perhaps your family, friends and loved ones feel otherwise. This is the first indication that there is likely something wrong with your habits. If this is the case, it’s time to do a self-evaluation. Do you really think that the way you’re living your life and treating your body is ok?
If you can honestly tell yourself so, then perhaps you are correct and in control. However, most people find that when they ask themselves this question seriously they end up feeling guilty. In this case, guilt is almost always a result of coming to the conclusion that you’ve been lying to yourself about an addiction problem. This part of the process can be extremely painful, but it is unlikely that you’ll see any kind of recovery in the future without experiencing it. If you’ve done a thorough self-evaluation and have come to the conclusion that your friends and family have valid points, it’s time to say “yes; I have a problem.”
Taking the Plunge
Now that you have come to the conclusion that you do indeed have a problem, you are at a turning point in your life in which you need to decide whether or not you are ready to step up to the plate and correct it. For many people, stressful situations can make correcting their problems much harder than it has to be. While you should always work to better yourself, it is smart to plan around situations that you know will be stressful for you. For instance, if you come to the conclusion that you are addicted to smoking cigarettes but find yourself in a situation of extreme stress, it may not be the right time for you to quit. Always weigh your options against how you are feeling at any given time.
Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you’ll know it is time to finally do something about your addiction problem. Congratulations; you’re on the road towards healing yourself. Many people who find themselves in this position begin to get anxious about how to go about tackling their addiction. Granted, it can be a very complex process, but it doesn’t have to be. The trick is to plan out exactly what you are going to do to work your way out of addiction. When making such a plan, always ask yourself “is this going to help me quit?” It may, or perhaps it will actually make things harder for you. Always take this into consideration, and always go with the former.
Many people who struggle with addiction find that there is no clear pathway towards healing. Beating addiction is a process usually comprised of peaks and valleys; you’ll have good days that are often followed by bad days, and may even find yourself slipping back into a slump. This is normal – overcoming addiction is a process that does not follow a straight line. What you want to look for is a pattern of bettering yourself overtime. In other words, if you’ve been working to overcome your addiction problem and you are currently worse off than you were a year ago (and have been for some time), it may be time to reevaluate your methods.
The first step towards overcoming your addiction can be whatever you feel will work best for you. It may be a good idea to set up an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss your options. Depending upon the type of addiction you are struggling with, he or she may be able to point you in the right direction. Visits to your physician are confidential, and you should never feel as if you are stepping on anyone’s toes by approaching the subject.
Many physicians will tell you that the first step you should take is to join a support group. As so many people in the world suffer from various forms of addictions, there is practically a support group for everyone. Alcoholics Anonymous is famous for being one of the strongest forms of support groups available for those who suffer from alcohol addiction, and there are groups just like this that revolve around whatever substance it is that you are grappling with. While joining a support group like this is never easy, it is an important step that will bring you closer to the life you hope to someday lead.
When joining a support group, it is important to realize that you are not obligated to show up after your first meeting if you are unhappy with how things go. Most people who join Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, are very hesitant their first time around. Knowing that there is no obligation can be very comforting; you are simply going to check things out and see what happens during a standard meeting. Be sure that you arrive with a nonjudgmental attitude and treat others with the same respect that you expect to be treated with. Most support group meetings consist of people bearing their souls and laying all of their problems on the line. Be sure that you are comfortable listening to others as they do this, as you do not want to make it any more uncomfortable for them than it has to be.
This initial discomfort generally dissipates after the first few meetings you attend. Once you start seeing familiar faces who all share the common bond of struggling with the same type of addiction, the discomfort does a 180 and the meeting turns into a safe place for you to express your feelings. It is always recommended that anyone who is not comfortable at first when joining a support group goes to at least three separate meetings in order to fully form an opinion. Support groups have extremely high success rates, and many former addicts peg them as being the reason they were able to give up their addictions.
Support groups are extremely helpful, but beating addiction is often a process comprised of multiple steps and methods. Another method that may be helpful to you is private therapy. Like support groups, therapy is often given a negative stigma and is looked upon nervously by the addict. This is really too bad, as therapy helps millions of people around the world conquer their fears and addictions each year. Asking your doctor to refer you to a therapist that deals primarily with substance abuse will generally get you a referral. It is important to be sure that your health insurance covers therapy sessions, as they can be astronomically expensive otherwise.
The therapist’s office should be viewed as the ultimate safe place. Everything that is said and done within the confines of therapy is strictly confidential and should not leave the room. A responsible therapist will never take private information with them outside of a session, and it is best for the client to do the same. This being said, there is a stronger air of confidentiality that comes with seeing a therapist privately versus opening up in a support group. Many people worry about running into someone they know at a support group or having their personal stories disseminated into the public. While this rarely ever happens, the possibility does exist. In therapy, as long as both the therapist and client are responsible, it does not.
There are many forms of therapy that can be effective for those who suffer from addictions. Perhaps the strongest of these is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or simply CBT. CBT focuses on the connection between thoughts, emotions and actions. The theory behind CBT is that actions are directly influenced by the way we think and feel. Actions can be anything that we do to cope with these feelings, and in this case are usually exemplified by substance abuse. The goal of CBT is to take the negative thoughts and emotions that lead to unwanted behavior and turn them on their head. By changing the way we think and feel about something, we can change the way we act. Changing neural pathways is never easy, and takes quite a bit of practice and positive thinking. It is, however, very possible. Many people who suffer from addiction find that just a few months of CBT has an immensely positive effect on their trying to overcome their issues.
Many therapists are also quick to teach and recommend mindfulness meditation to their clients, especially those who suffer from substance abuse issues. The concept of mindfulness is painfully simple, but eludes many of us on a daily basis. Living mindfully is no more than focusing your attention on how the bubbles in your mouth feel when you brush your teeth, or how your joints feel after a long run. It sounds incredibly obvious, but the fact is that many people live their lives on autopilot and pay little if any attention to simple pleasures such as these.
Mindfulness meditation can be many things, but it often involves focusing on the motion of the breath. Start by sitting in a dark, quiet room and closing your eyes. As you breathe in, focus your attention solely on the part of the body where the breath is felt the strongest. Feel as it fills your body and eventually exits, leaving you more and more relaxed each time you exhale. The mind will inevitably wander; part of the discipline is bringing your focus and attention back to the breath. Practicing mindfulness meditation for ten to fifteen minutes a day can have a dramatic effect on your levels of relaxation. When struggling with substance abuse and trying to change your habits, this can be an extremely useful tool.
Exercise & Diet
Combing the above practices with exercise and a healthy diet is crucial to beating an addiction. Not only will exercise help to clear your mind of any cravings or negative thinking you experience, it will also help to flush your body of any toxins that are present. Exercise does not have to mean going to the gym for an hour a day; often, taking a nice leisurely stroll through your neighborhood on a sunny day is enough to get your heart rate elevated and your endorphins going.
Speaking of endorphins, they can be very helpful when trying to beat an addiction. The harder you exercise and exert your body, the more endorphins the body releases. Endorphins are chemicals that naturally calm the body and have an affect not too dissimilar from drugs that affect the central nervous system. As one tries to limit or cease their intake of these drugs, replacing them with endorphins can make the process much easier and less rocky. Never push yourself too hard; start slow and build your exercise routine up gradually.
In terms of diet, eating healthy (preferably organic) foods can have a dramatic impact on how you feel as you are trying to overcome addiction. Bogging your body down with trans fats and fried food will make you feel sluggish and unhealthy. Stick to fresh produce and organic meats prepared in a healthful fashion. You will exercise better and feel less guilty about your eating habits, both of which will be of help when struggling with addiction.
Supplements can be helpful as well. As your body learns to cope without the drug you have been supplying it with for so long, it will naturally go through a withdrawal process. Depending on the substance, this withdrawal process can range from being a minor nuisance to being extremely painful, and in some cases (such as with alcohol and barbiturates) can even lead to death. There are many over the counter supplements that can help to smooth out this process and make withdrawal more tolerable. Supplements that have positive effects on the brain (such as B12 and Omega-3) will be the most helpful, and even the ubiquitous multivitamin can prove to be helpful. Always be sure that you check with your doctor before adding supplements to your diet, as they can occasionally interact with some medications.
If you have tried all of the above methods and are still grappling with addiction, it may be time to try medications. Depending on which substance you are addicted to, your doctor may be able to prescribe you a drug that can make the cessation process a bit easier for you. Alcoholics, for example, are often prescribed a drug called Antabuse. Antabuse works by slowing down the body’s ability to metabolize the chemical in alcohol that results in hangovers, leaving the patient quite ill if he or she drinks while taking the medication. While the use of drugs like Antabuse is controversial, many people find that it helps them steer clear of their addiction. It should be said, however, that medication is not a quick fix or a magic bullet. Using medication may help you to work through your addiction issues, but it will not solve them completely.
Finding Purpose & Meaning in Life
Once you have meaning in your life the perceived risks of acting irresponsible are much greater, and that alone can provide incentive to change.
The single most important piece of advice I can offer, which I first read in Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning was something he quoted from Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.’ Once you have meaning in your life, or at least once you start focusing on searching for it, then you will likely be able to overcome most of your flaws. However if you just focus on *not* doing something then you will likely only replace one problem with another, or keep repeating what you want to stop doing (because you keep thinking about it).
Overcoming addiction is often a rocky road, and no one ever said it was supposed to be easy. Think of the above suggestions as all being different tools in your toolbox. If one isn’t working, perhaps it is time to put it down and try another. Eventually, you’ll find the wrench that fits.