Addiction has become applied to more and more areas of our compulsive and variously destructive behaviours. Traditionally this was confined to drugs, alcohol and tobacco, but humans can adopt compulsive behaviours in many ways and it has become commonplace to use the term addiction for other things. Today I increasingly see many people who come with sexually compulsive behaviours that have begun to dominate their lives.
It may be helpful to label things that we compulsively engage in as ‘addictive’ behaviour, however, whatever we label it, the question should perhaps be, not so much the ‘WHAT’ of the addiction, but the ‘WHY’. Of course introducing substances such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs into our bodies can, and often does, create physical, not just psychological, dependence. Dealing with this is hard enough but in many ways that is the easy part compared with the real struggle of dealing with the ‘WHY’ of the ‘addictive’ behaviour.
Humans are complex, so the idea that we are either masters of our own minds or helpless victims of our genes and biology or our past is far too simplistic. There is a much more complex and subtle interaction and relationship. One person brought up in a violent, alcohol fuelled home may go on to show similar destructive ways of dealing with the world whilst another may not. This does not mean one is ‘better or worse’ or has dealt with it and the other is just repeating it. Both will have been impacted by their experiences but developed different coping mechanisms. The person who becomes depressed may have found something less obvious than the person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, and of course being less of an overt social problem can quietly damage themselves and, or, the lives of those around them whilst outwardly appearing to function well in the world.
I see both consequences in my practice. The real difficulty, once we have dealt with the physical dependence is not the substance or behaviour itself but identifying what triggers the desire and what we can do to interrupt the spiral back into the behaviour. Often it is about avoidance of pain, memory and even oneself. We cannot recreate a perfect past relationship or childhood, or undo what happened, but we can try to identify what it was that we needed and didn’t get and be compassionate with ourselves. Only then we can begin to address our feelings, some of which we may never have been aware of or avoided. One way to make bad or unwanted feelings go away is to drink them away, take drugs and even normally healthy activities such as sex can be used to obliterate uncomfortable or painful feelings or memories. The compulsive use of online porn or frequent one night stands, even perhaps an obsession with the gym may all offer temporary relief by activating the pleasure centres of the brain and avoiding that feelings we want to obliterate.
The problem is not an easy one, and counselling and psychotherapy is not a panacea. Indeed it isn’t for everyone but beginning to talk through and identify how you feel as well as what you do and can do, may be a step on that road to a healthier and better way of being.
“Not feeling is no replacement for reality. Your problems today are still your problems tomorrow” Larry Michael Dredla