Whether it is addiction to alcohol, smoking, drugs, gambling, shopping, stealing, social media, video games, porn or going to the gym, addictions can take on a number of guises, but fundamentally it all boils down to the same thing.
Addiction takes you away from a bad feeling and towards a good feeling. It is a negative habit of action caused by a negative habit of thought (writes therapist Gareth Fox).
It is the action the body takes to cope with the regular occurrence of negative emotions.It is not the drugs, alcohol or video games that make you addicted, but your circumstance. If you are unhappy, lonely, frustrated – it’s a way of escape.
Client Y got in contact with me at the beginning of 2020. She was a master’s student, but hadn’t gone to class in some time, nor had she submitted any assignments.
She was embarrassed, she was suffering from alcoholism and due to the belief of what she thought that meant to other people, she couldn’t face teachers or classmates.
She said she had been suffering from depression for months, and felt her life was one long day of despair.
What surprised me about Client Y was that on the outside she appeared to be in good health – in fact, she played sports for one of the university teams – and when asked, she said she believed her issue to be sports related.
She had been seriously injured at the end of 2018 and so couldn’t take part for a number of months. The initial lack of sport was difficult to take, it left her feeling rejected and no longer a real part of her group.
However, the team still met regularly for social drinks, which was, she admitted, the only time she felt connected to anyone. Client Y recognised this as the beginning of her problem with alcohol.
What started as drinks with teammates, became drinks with anyone, and became drinking alone. This is a very common progression. And, the better it is understood, the better equipped we are to avoid it.
Your mind is programmed to move you from pain to pleasure. Client Y was experiencing the pain and rejection of not playing for her team. When she met her friends again, her brain was associating that connection and pleasure with alcohol.
If you associate positive emotions with something, then that becomes the thing you reach for when down. And thus begins the cycle. Realising she was perhaps drinking more than usual, and so feeling hungover or missing class, Client Y would feel bad about herself.
Yet, having previously associated alcohol as a mood elevator, her body would crave alcohol as the solution and she would subconsciously give in. Her self-sabotaging habit of action (drinking alcohol) was caused by her habit of thought (that she had been rejected by her group). And this feeling of rejection inevitably led to a belief that she was not good enough.
Every addict I’ve ever worked with has a belief that they are not enough – “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not interesting enough”, “I’m not attractive enough.”
I’m just not enough. And if I am not enough, then I need more; I’m addicted to something that takes me away from the emptiness I feel.
When I treat addicts, I treat the not enough-ness before I treat the addiction. Willpower alone is not powerful enough to change behaviours long term, in many cases; you need to get to the root cause of issues to make long lasting change.
A solution is always available to you. Awareness is the first step to success. The minute you begin to question a belief you are holding onto – you begin to doubt it. When you doubt it, you start to dissolve the hold it has over you.
Change your beliefs and you can change your life.