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Addiction and Addictions: Understanding Addiction and the Impact in our lives

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An addiction is a strong urge for something or towards something, or an activity. It controls someone because they feel compelled towards it – they feel they cannot do without it, or something they do for pleasure or to alleviate pain. The object of affection may appear harmless at the beginning but with time, it may become a matter of concern. This is because an addiction is something people seek or run to when you feel lonely or hurting. By the time the person is aware of the addiction, the damage is usually already done. As the addiction progresses, it takes your time and you begin to feel the loss of self-control in an attempt to stop. In the end, it affects various aspects of your life, including work, sleep, concentration, family, finances and relationships. Addiction is a common problem and it is often difficult to deal with it.

In the end, the urge ‘to do it’ or engage in the addiction— such as smoking, alcohol, eating, drugs, shopping, sex, gambling or work — takes control. This control to ‘fix’ blunts your senses leaving you helpless though you still feel like you are in charge. In several instances, many people are unable to focus on anything else. This is because when a person has an addiction, the thing or things they are addicted to are constantly on their mind most of the time. For example, a person addicted to alcohol or drugs may start selling their property and end up selling other items within their reach, principally because they feel the urge for a drink or drugs and there is need for the money to purchase them. This is why a hooked student will sell their pen, books, and shoes and then with time their clothes in order to obtain money for drugs.

Addiction versus habit An addiction is different from a habit. While a habit involves repeated behaviour, addiction includes an abundance of thoughts and hence the continued involvement in an activity or substance despite the ongoing (often negative) consequences. Addiction is both psychological and behavioural. It is characterized by craving, compulsion and inability to stop.

It is important to distinguish between an addiction and a habit. People addicted to alcohol, for instance, count their money using alcohol as the currency. Whenever they have money, they equate it to a certain number of beers. In fact, the person does not include other necessities — counting food and transport — in their budget. In the same way, a person may stay the whole day without going to work, or stay up all night, watching television. This is because the object of addiction which includes abundance of thoughts has taken over utmost control.

Addictions There are several things one can get addicted to, including the following: Alcohol Approval (seeking appreciation / endorsement) Borrowing (and spending) Drugs (heroin, cocaine, pain killers and others) Eating (food or specific foodstuff) Gambling Hallucinogens Inhalants Internet (chat rooms, games, movies and videos) Pornography Prescription drugs (these include sedatives, sleeping pills and tranquilizers) Religion (spiritual obsession, religious devotion) Sex Shopping Stealing Tobacco Video games Watching television Work and working

A person addicted to something is often obsessed with it. For example, a person addicted to pornography may be on the computer or Internet seeking more and more pictures and videos. All types of addiction —including pornography, alcohol, drugs, gambling and approval — tend to be excessive and in turn steal time and energy away from real life and potentially productive engagements, projects and programmes.

Where to start:       Understanding addiction

The best way to address an addiction is to understand how it begins and grows. Also, we need to differentiate things that we need and are fulfilling, and those that we do not need and are excessive or inappropriate. Also, we need to control our thoughts including our self-confidence.

Generally, an addiction passes through a number of stages, as follows:

Stage 1 – Early Exposure. Almost all addictions begin with an exposure or vulnerability. This may occur when you are young, arise from peer pressure or result from an event in your life. People who get into cigarette smoking, alcohol, gambling or drugs may start at a youthful stage, just like people get addicted to sex as a result of curiosity and get glued to it. A person may also be exposed to pornography through magazines and videos. Some people also get to read novels that applaud sex, drugs and crime. Many people who seek approval often begin by being hurt badly through abuse (physical and/or psychological) or severe rejection. Work addiction may begin when a relationship turns sour or when one falls out with a loved one. Many people who get addicted to alcohol begin by taking a few nights out with no bad intentions but for some innocent fun. In the end, some get glued to the habit of drinking and only realise their alcoholic addictive state many years thereafter.

Most forms of addiction offer the thrill of high risk and high reward, which has a strong appeal particularly for young people and a lot of males. The fact that you can smoke or drink, gamble or watch porn anytime and anywhere, especially facilitated by the mobile phone makes the habit irresistible.

We need to live a balanced life. We need several items including the Internet and the occasional drink, but we must also control our needs and desires in order to ensure healthy thinking and living.

Stage 2 – Obsession and Addiction. Curiosity gets the better part of us in a number of situations and lead to obsession. For example, we are often drawn to things we like— such as cars, smoking, guns, crime, drugs and sex — or people we admire. One gets curious to smoke, drink or view a pornographic magazine, or open the Internet and view photos or videos of naked people, wild movies and fancy, expensive cars. In time one finds oneself looking for more and more. Repeatedly they are in the activity (internet, watching videos, gambling).

People addicted to work complete a task, then experience a compulsion to find additional work, over and over again. Persons who have been hurt or rejected often seek the approval of another or others to try to overcome their feelings of rejection and low self-esteem. The habit becomes a part of the routine. Obsession involves captivation. If not careful at this point of time of engagement, the person may get hooked.

Do not get immersed. This is the best opportunity to note the obsession or preoccupation— as evident in time and effort— and quit the addiction. You can actually pull out and get back on track, sometimes with minimal effort and without as much damage. Termination at this point in time saves a lot of time and effort.

Obsession involves captivation. If you are not careful at this point of engagement, you get hooked and you may not pull away. Do not get immersed. This is the best opportunity to note the obsession or preoccupation and quit.

Stage 3 – Escalation. Obsession or addiction, if not checked, is likely to progress and the desire for the item escalates. The obsession is now a fixation. If you are addicted to work, you may find yourself working for more hours each day. Indeed, your work becomes synonymous with you. If you are addicted to porn, you may seek more graphic sex, images and videos.

Persons suffering from approval addiction want to be noticed and applauded. They suffer from the pain within and use the addiction of approval to try to remove the hurt. Thus, they are miserable if someone or anyone fails to, or seems to not approve of them (looks, clothing, status, accomplishment) in some way or for a reason. They are anxious about the approval and desperately seek it even when it may not be forthcoming. Subsequently, they will try several ways to gain attention and/or obtain the approval so that they can once again feel accepted.

A person addicted to smoking cigarettes may upgrade to marijuana or hard drugs. Alcoholics try different drinks including mixing up drinks to get drunk faster and save on money for alcohol. As addiction escalates one’s reasoning power begins to decrease. For example, you may get so drunk that you have black outs and easily get to work late— or fail to turn up. People addicted to porn may find that they enjoy previously loathed materials. It may become exciting and thrilling to do what they are doing now, while previously it seemed odd and far-fetched.

Stage 4 – Desensitisation. An addict will eventually become numb to concerns raised about them and their ‘deviant’ or ‘inappropriate’ behaviour. A roommate will be complaining about your smoking or drinking, your spouse or partner will be complaining about you smoking even in the presence of the child, family and friends will complain about your gambling or drinking habits (drinking uncontrollably or too much), the use of hard drugs, endless hours spent at the office or computer, and watching adult material on the family television. Approval addicts have several attention seeking behaviours that by now are an obliviously quite a nuisance such as uncalled for comments, weird dressing or hairstyles and soliciting for comments.

The addict simply becomes insensitive to these explicit signs of a highly deteriorating situation. There are common phrases such as, ‘I wasn’t that drunk’, ‘I only did it once,’ ‘You are always criticising me,’ or ‘I don’t smoke as much’. This is because nothing stimulates the addict anymore other than their own strong desire that thrills them. Incidentally, even the addiction that is now a lust is insatiable and the person cannot satisfy their own lust. The matter is getting out of hand and there is need for urgent and significant help.

Stage 5 – Acting out. Eventually, the person takes the (private) image to the wider (public), real world. Even a husband or wife who was known not to smoke, drink or take drugs is now out there for everyone to see. The matter becomes visible to the general public. The person simply enacts the addiction and there is really almost nothing anyone can do except the self. The lateness or absenteeism from work or home, inconsistency of tasks and assignments and the mistakes are commonplace even as warning letters pile up. There will also be disciplinary cases. For someone addicted to work, the absence from home is obvious even to the children who out rightly discuss the absence of the parent from home. Porn images and videos are all over the house, and even children watch them because the adult who clings to them is no longer careful to ensure safe custody.

Strangling the Dragon:     Signs and Symptoms of addiction

Addiction can be hard to detect. People want to hide their problems not only from others, but from themselves too. This is often because they are confused about their behaviour and this in turn leads to denial that there is a problem. Many people keep saying, ‘I don’t have a problem,’ ‘I’m not addicted,’ ‘I knew you would say that,’ ‘I will get over it.’

Here are top ten (10) signs that one has addiction problems:

(1)       Addiction as a form of relaxation. Majority of people with addiction problems claim they are seeking relaxation. It is acceptable that people experience distress while others suffer from stressful situations and events. But soon the stress, anxiety and other emotions get over the person, who is overwhelmed by the seemingly relaxing event that turns into a habit.

(2)       Inability to cease or overcome a habit. It is always easy to overcome a habit but it soon becomes difficult or impossible once it has conquered you. This is what happens when one is addicted; once we are obsessed with an addiction, it is difficult, if not impossible to stop. For example, once you begin drinking, you find yourself unable to go home till late or until you are thrown out as the bar is closed. Also, once you open a bottle of wine or spirits, you may find it impossible to stop drinking till the bottle is empty. Some people may end up drinking all the beer in the house.

(3)       Dangerous or unbecoming situations – situation getting out of hand. Anything you start doing is with an intention to have control of your own conduct, but it is possible to notice a habit that turns to an addiction as soon as it gets out of control. For example, you smoke, shop, gamble or drink for fun particularly over the weekend. Soon, this is extended over the weekdays, and soon you find yourself getting out of the building to smoke or get a quick drink. With time, you extend the drinking, gambling or smoking to before and after work. You notice this in a person who drinks in the morning ‘to overcome the hangover’ or to ‘unlock’. Lack of personal regulation implies that you are not aware, or do not care about the risks, and that the habit is now a priority. You may find that you even get home late and do not care or want to be asked about your whereabouts. You drink and smoke in the presence of children, family, friends and visitors.

(4)       Being overwhelmed by addiction. A significant way to know if a person is addicted is when the addiction overwhelms them. For instance, you notice that when you start drinking you always end up with a blackout or sleeping out, or you can’t do anything unless you smoke. Even work can become so overwhelming that you find more and more work without trace of beginning or end.

Extended Habit Before you were hiding or cautious while smoking, gambling, porn or drinking, but now you do it without a care in the world. It is possible that the drinking or smoking was confined to a bar or moderated, sometimes even kept away from your parents, spouse, friends, colleagues and your superiors. The addiction is now going beyond certain previous limits, sometimes even against your doctor’s advice. The ultimate obsession pushes the habit to another level and the drinking or smoking is too open. You may even keep cigarettes, beer, wine or spirits in the house, office or car.

(5)       Lying about or hiding your addiction. People with addiction problems are often in denial, often as a result of an inability to come to terms with self and their situations. They do not want to accept ‘the problem.’ Denial is therefore common. This includes telling lies about how much you drink, smoke, work or spend time playing games or watching television. In time, the guilt is evident as you start smoking, gambling or drinking in secrecy.

(6)       Increased negligence and a ‘don’t-care-attitude.’ One major signal to show that one is getting addicted to a habit such as alcohol and smoking is when they take over your thoughts and sense of control. This includes negligence of duties and responsibilities. For example, when alcohol, gambling, smoking or drugs take over, one has problems at work, home, family, school and spiritualism. This is because addiction prevents someone from keeping up with responsibilities because it has taken over. With time, you neglect simple tasks and overall responsibilities.

(7)       Relationship problems. Addiction creates problems with significant others including spouse, family members, colleagues, friends and children. This is manifested in several ways: (a) neglecting them in favour of your addicted habit; (b) changing companions and circumstances in order to fit in with the demands of your addiction; and, (c) the nuisance of addictive habit such as smoking, drinking, gambling, sex or drugs.

Relationship dilemma is a clear demonstration that the addiction is a priority and ‘others’ are not important. Unfortunately, they too start moving away.

Signs of addiction There are several signs that indicate addiction, as follows: Spending a lot of time on activity (preoccupation). Addiction is obsessive and hence the habit intrudes into normal relationships.Abandoning activities previously valued or enjoyed such as family (relationship), work and hobbies.Relationship problems with family (parent, spouse, children), colleagues and others.Work performance and family responsibility problems (absenteeism, casual glance and general neglect).Mood swings and depression (black out, paranoia, memory loss).General neglect of self and others including isolation, lack of genuine friends and disregard for overall health including ignoring medical advice.Other habits (feigning sickness, poor personal grooming, spendthrift (unexplained frequent loans, being broke).

(8)       Extended habit, want out, staying put. One way to determine whether you are addicted to a habit is the level of consistency you have towards it. For example, smoking more, drinking more, mixing drinks to get drunk, seeking more drugs, additional drugs, more (graphic) pornography, more working hours or added junk food. This is an indication that the person is becoming a prisoner of their own habit and it is becoming an obsession.

(9)       Withdrawal symptoms. An addiction will soon exhibit withdrawal symptoms. These include signs that create an urgent urge for the habit such as feeling irritable, anxious, depressed or nauseous after a drink, cigarette or drug. One may also feel ‘low’ when they have not engaged in the activity such as drinking, smoking, gambling or watching a pornographic movie. One actually feels like ‘they need it’.

(10)    Sense of helplessness and powerlessness. A combination of the above factors ultimately leads to frustration and disappointment. Thus, eventually, many people want to seek help because they are addicted to a habit or a drug. However, they may be unable to quit. This is because after sometime, they no longer understand the impact of smoking, gambling, drinking or drugs. Unfortunately, addictive habits have many side effects on the victims as well as the immediate family members (including spouse, children and immediate relatives), friends and colleagues. Companies, organizations and governments spend colossal amounts of money in rehabilitation of a variety of clients. The fact that the person is unable to stop means that they are now struggling or drowning in the addiction.

Today the problem and signs of addiction can look somehow very different with different people. It will be evident as a crisis in certain situations with certain people, while sometimes the issue may be subsumed to appear like it is not a problem at all.

No matter the type of addiction, the reasons and process of addiction are the same. Most addictions are also masked under regular habits to enable social acceptability.

Facing the Problem – Finding Freedom, What you can do…

The first step in addiction is an understanding of what it is; that it is an obsession and a preoccupation, and that it gets us out-of-balance. The reason why many people do not receive appropriate and satisfactory assistance for addiction is majorly because they do not understand what is going on in their lives. A good starting point is to note down the patterns in your life. Then you can do two things: one, it is best to avoid the addiction before the problem goes on endlessly and thus gets out of hand; and, two, identify the signs of addiction and deal with the problem.

As human beings, we’re all drawn to ways we can escape our lives, particularly when we have challenges or want to pass time. This may just be momentarily. Some of the forms of this include, watching television, movies, reading a novel, listening to music, reading the scriptures, prayer, playing games, watching porn, gambling, smoking, drinking, shopping and going on vacation. No matter the type of addiction, the reasons people get into the habit are the same.

Intervention can begin with you or other people, particularly family (parent, spouse, children, relatives), friends or colleagues who may notice you have an issue. However, you do not necessarily require to be told about yourself. Part of self should be self- reflection. Self-reflection can enable you can assess your own habits and conduct. Basically, you must be able to distinguish addictions from habits, and then identify the signs of addiction. This enables you to identify the addictive process and in turn seek the necessary help in good time.

Intervention is a planned process and the purpose is to enable the addict become aware of the destructive nature of the addiction. Strategic interventions focus on dealing with the addiction. In that case, it is highly advisable to start on the onset by dealing with any issue or issues that are disturbing you such as relationship or work stress. You could also be dealing with a loss, fear or anxiety. Deal with the issue separately and resolve them; do not keep them aside. For instance, you need to deal with getting dumped by spouse, procrastination, stress, loss of a loved one apart from dealing with your addiction and co-dependency issues. If you are in pain and hurt, deal with it so that it does not overwhelm you. Prevailing issues tend to overwhelm us and, in the end, we lose the priority of dealing with an addiction. Many people also end up with addiction -related issues and these are overwhelming and make it difficult to sort out life challenges.

Stay with your focus on dealing with the addiction. Identify the enabling circumstances such as smoking, drinking and gambling always-all-ready-friends. Among the major treatment is abstinence, that is, refraining from the addictive behaviour so you may consider skipping the ‘gang’ (guys who are major enablers and perpetuate habit). Some of the processes to assist in drug addiction may also involve detoxification, that is, making necessary adjustment physically and cognitively to be free from the influence of addiction.

A major problem associated with addiction is relapse. Lapse and relapse are isolated or complete return to an addictive behaviour. Lapse and relapse are not a failure to change, or a lack of desire to stay well. Instead, the person may simply be overwhelmed especially at the beginning or when there is no other (available) alternative. Relapse prevention requires the addict and significant others to continuously assist the person as well as others recognize signs of relapse. That way, you can enable the person develop a plan for responding to the problem and in the end triumph over the addiction.

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Dr. Geoffrey Wangohttps://counsel-lingmagazine.co.ke/
Many people often ask me about my personal stand, my passion in life and how I got into Counselling Psychology and why in particular the establishment and writing in their favourite publication, The Counsel-ling Magazine. Colleagues and students, participants in various seminars and others suggested that I should include some information that would assist clients, practitioners and students to perhaps establish a career, or even assess and evaluate their ethical, moral and professional standards. Well, this allows for personal reflection and I feel it wise to include a few remarks about my fervour on counselling, mentoring and education as well as various aspects of life.
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