Addiction Isn't What You Think It Is

Nobody wakes up one day and thinks, “You know, in about three to four years, I plan to become an addict.” Addiction isn’t usually something that is planned for or intentionally added to life. The habits that lead to addiction form over time as someone makes choices or behaves in such a way to feel accepted or fit in with their environment. Addiction can have many faces and below are some common examples:

Relationships | Codependency | Food | Work | Alcohol | Sex | Gaming | Drugs | Gambling

While the path to developing an addiction can vary, addictions typically serve one of two experiences. One, someone experiences a difficult moment in their life and unintentionally responds to this by using something outside of themselves to cope. Or two, in the past, someone used something outside of themselves which created a “good feeling.” When they experience discomfort later on, they avoid it by replacing or trying to get rid of the negative experience with that “good feeling.”

Whether you resonate more with the first way or the second way, there are typically a few different underlying reasons or situations that a person finds themselves in when cultivating an addiction.

Situation #1: A Lack of Clarity of the Problem

Unfortunately, lack of awareness contributes to another common issue associated with addiction. The different things that someone can become addicted to are not innately wrong, bad, or unhealthy to be a part of someone’s life. Often, someone struggling with an addiction can justify their behavior because of how it does not hurt anyone else and that they “have control” over what it is they’re using to feel or not feel something. Problematic behaviors don’t come to light until others are getting hurt, the person has become dependent on the behavior to live day-to-day, or the person experiences loss due to the behavior.

Something else that makes addiction incredibly challenging to overcome is the lack of clarity about the problem itself. The different justifications an addict creates to legitimize their behavior can be one of the most complicated changes to make. Because, to overcome this lack of awareness, the person has to alter their perspective and opinion to redefine how they view the behavior. If someone’s measurement on whether or not they have an addiction is based on how often they do the behavior, then that person may only be motivated to change when they’ve lost control of their behavior rather than when they have control of it.

For example, “I only drink two to three times a week; I can stop whenever I want to.”

However, suppose that person can shift focus towards how they manage pain, damaged relationships, or other uncomfortable emotions similar to loneliness, shame, or guilt. In that case, the person is able to gain clarity on what the problem is and the care that’s needed to address it.

Situation #2 Tunnel Vision About Behaviors

It’s common to believe that if someone is sober, they are also a healthy person. However, sobriety is more about a person’s ability to manage and cope with stressors when they happen without utilizing the addictive behavior they’ve relied on in the past. Sadly, individuals are often surprised by how they’ve relapsed on addictive behavior, even though they did not address the underlying issues. They stopped their recovery process after only eliminating the behaviors.

Unfortunately, stopping addictive behaviors does not address the actual problem. Stopping a behavior only removes the negative consequences the person experienced because of the behavior. Granted, reducing the frequency or eliminating unhealthy behaviors is not an easy task! Reducing or stopping a particular behavior deserves some merit. However, similar to how weeds grow back if the root was not pulled out of the ground, addiction is not resolved unless further exploration happens into how and why it (the root) developed.

Situation #3 An Unresolved Past

What we all have in common is a shared experience of some level of pain, loss, and difficulty within relationships. If you have a relationship with someone who struggles with an addiction, then you’re no stranger to these conditions of life. Those who struggle with addictions are familiar with the uncertainty, hurt, or fear of broken relationships. Granted, just because you experience these things doesn’t mean that you are or will become an addict. That typically occurs when a person cannot properly manage or repair the relationship or handle their internal distress when these hardships occur. Addiction does not care what race you are, what gender you are, or even what age you are. The inability to tolerate pain, stress or dissatisfaction with life often overwhelms a person to a point where they cannot cope or manage these feelings in a healthy way.

When this happens, it’s common for someone to reach for things that bring them comfort or help them cope with feeling overwhelmed. However, more often than not, people try to make these comforts into long-term solutions. In reality, they are temporary solutions to a long-term issue.

These attempts to resolve the problem do not replace the time-tested approach of processing these hurts and identifying healthier coping skills with a trained professional. Trying to pave over a crack in the foundation is a quick and easy way to resolve the issue at the moment. However, over time, these cracks in the foundation continue to wear away at one’s overall stability. Until the “surface level“ is removed, the damage is correctly assessed and the foundation repaired, the real problem will go unresolved.

Situation #4 The Lack of Routine, Emotional Maintenance

Imagine giving a teenager who just passed their driving exam a brand new car. And let’s say, they’re given the keys without being taught how the car operates, what the different dashboard lights mean, or what to be mindful of regarding routine maintenance. Nothing bad likely happens at first because they passed their test and have the general knowledge regarding road rules. However, as time goes on, different warning lights will pop up indicating that the oil needs to be changed, or the tread on the tires wear down. These problems are not a big deal to someone who knows what to look for and how these problems can be resolved. But, to the teenager who is unaware and does not know what to do, these problems can lead to expensive and extensive damage done to a car and potentially harm them, too.

Similar to the example of the teenager, if a child is not shown ways to manage the problematic things that can happen in their lives, this can leave them to try and find solutions on their own. This does not mean that everyone will develop an addiction if their parents do not teach them emotion regulation or coping skills. However, the likelihood of someone developing an addiction or general, unhealthy behaviors skyrockets when someone is not taught how to handle their own emotions.

Are you skeptical? That’s understandable. This might be because of how quickly maladaptive coping skills can bring relief to someone who is struggling or suffering. Since this is the case, the person becomes less open to or willing to use or develop other skills, and they continue to return to these old behaviors out of ease and the simple desire for comfort.

Knowing the skills or being aware of them may not protect everyone from the potential of developing an addiction. Genetic predisposition can impact someone who can manage their own emotions if they become overwhelmed, especially if the healthier skills they were aware of initially do not seem to help. In moments like this, professional help is needed, similar to how a mechanic is necessary when a car begins to make noises that inherently don’t sound right. One of the most dangerous things to do is to ignore the check engine light in your car or your personal life. When warning signs like these are ignored, mental health interferes and disrupts the happy and healthy lifestyle a person once had. Procrastinating on addressing these warnings or ignoring their existence typically results in a person finding themselves in a pit of despair, depressed, and continually battling with anxiety.

Are you ready for something different?

Start with these questions…

  1. Have you or someone you loved experienced enough of the fallout that comes with the ongoing cycle of addiction?
  2. Did one of the situations above describe you or someone you love?
  3. Are you or someone you love ready to start digging beneath the surface to find what led to your situation?
  4. Are you or someone you love ready to enact change in your life that can help protect you and your family from the cycle of addiction continuing?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, reach out to one of our trained professionals and allow them to help you navigate the different contributing factors to your addiction and realistic steps to take to overcome and make it something of the past.

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About Lifeologie

Lifeologie Counseling was founded in 2000 with one goal in mind — to bring a fresh, innovative approach to the everyday problems of life. Creative solutions to stuck problems®. With our unique multi-specialty, collaborative approach, Lifeologie Counseling helps individuals and families heal their wounds and break out of old, unhealthy patterns.