Addiction can be defined as not having control over doing, taking, or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you. It can take on a variety of different forms such as alcohol, sex, pornography, drugs, gambling, shopping, technology, cleaning, etc. If you are someone who has struggled with an addiction, then you likely understand the difficulty of quitting through willpower alone, or ‘white-knuckling it’. In fact, this approach can backfire and lead to greater addictive behaviors, not less. When we believe that we just need to be strong enough to stop, we tend to criticize ourselves more during the struggle and start believing we’re not able to make change anyway so why even try. Often those of us who are stuck in a cycle of addiction have a lot of motivation to break free from it but there are a variety of factors that make it difficult to do so. It may be helpful to think of building a new life that is free from addiction like building a new house. If all we have at our disposal is a hammer and a few pieces of wood, the structure of the home will be weak and likely collapse when a storm comes. However, we can increase our chances of success with additional tools and resources. This might include a measuring tape and a saw so we can cut the wood to specific sizes, an instruction manual with steps to follow, and a few friends to help us out. The resulting structure would be much more stable and could withstand stronger storms that may come its way.
So, what are the tools and resources needed to build a strong internal ‘home’ that is free from addiction? Well, there are a variety of factors that make up any healthy environment, and these can be thought through using a biopsychosocial perspective – or the biological, psychological, and social factors. Biological aspects that may put us at a higher risk of developing an addiction include our genetic make up, our age and stage of development, our gender, and our ethnicity. Psychological risks include the various ways we try to avoid conflict or difficult emotions. Since conflict and painful feelings are an inevitable part of life, our avoidance or maladaptive coping strategies (including addictions) can create bigger problems. Lastly, because we are social creatures, our family, friends, and communities play an important role in either helping us move away from addiction or putting us at greater risk.
Going back to the idea of building a house, we first need to make sure we are using strong materials and have a solid foundation. This is akin to making sure we are taking care of our bodies by getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet, and are physically active. Once we have this structure, we can start adding wires for electricity, pipes for plumbing, painting the walls, and getting the house ready to move into. This amounts to the psychological elements of our new home. We want to make sure that there are no issues that would make our minds an uncomfortable or painful place to live in. We want our internal wires to be working right! Finally, we add the personal elements to our house such as comfortable furniture, music, and the smell of freshly baked cookies so we can invite our friends and family over for a visit. These relationships can help support us when we are experiencing difficulties so we no longer need to rely on addictions. In fact, as Johann Hari concluded in his famous TED Talk, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is human connection. Human connection is what each of us needs in order to feel loved, supported, and understood.
As a psychotherapist, my role is to help people sort through the psychological aspects of the difficulties they are experiencing, which often overlaps with their physical health and social connections. For example, someone experiencing depression may be using alcohol to cope with feeling isolated, unmotivated, and down and out. They will likely find it very difficult to take care of their physical health and will have difficulty reaching out to others to socialize. If we start with resolving their depression, these other factors become easier to attain.
If you believe there may be psychological factors that are preventing you from living the life you want, including a life free from addiction, reach out to me for a free consultation.