An addiction is said to be an unhealthy dependence on a substance such as alcohol or drugs although people can also become addiction to certain behaviors such as gambling, eating certain foods, exercise, using the internet, pornography and shopping.  All these activities, although they seem different have something in common.  The person doing them finds them pleasurable, many addicts start out using their drug of choice or doing their behavior of choice because it makes them feel good and many of them also find at some point that the activity begins to control them.

What makes something an addiction?

Although the symptoms may vary from one addiction to another there are aspects that they have in common:

The addictive behavior is counterproductive to the individual.

For example a gambler may begin gambling because they wish they had more money.  They may even win in the beginning, yet gambling is more likely to drain their financial resources.  They keep going because they are looking for the good feelings they get when they win.  After a while they gamble because they are trying to make up for all the money they have lost.

A drinker may start out drinking as he feels it helps him to relax, gives him more confidence and makes him feel good.  They fail to consider that alcohol actually contributes to the development of depression.

The behavior is persistent, even though it causes them problems (for example loss of financial stability, problems at work and with their families) they continue.

People think of addicts as hopeless, unhappy people whose lives are falling apart whilst the addicts do not believe they have a problem as long as they are enjoying themselves and keeping their lives together.  The heavy drinker for example who is sober during the week and is only drunk at weekends may believe that he’s OK as long as his drinking does not interfere with his work.

Often their addictions are so much a part of their lives that they are rarely aware of the symptoms of addiction.  Or if they are they will put them down to aging, working too hard or just not liking mornings – needing that extra cup of coffee to get going.  People can go years without realizing how dependant they are.

Many addicts fail to recognize the harm their addiction is doing to them physically and mentally.  Denying the negative aspects and ignoring the effects on their health and relationships.  Some will blame outside forces, other people for their problems.  Whilst others, being aware of their addiction and the harm it does, want to keep the behavior anyway.

Symptoms of addictions.

All addictions whether substance or behavioural, involve physical and psychological processes.  Even though each persons experience is different it usually involves some of these ……

  • A need to do the addictive behaviour more and more to achieve the desired result.
  • Difficulty stopping or controlling the behaviour
  • Becoming so focussed on the behaviour all other aspects of their lives are unimportant
  • Spending large amounts of time planning to, doing and recovering from their addiction
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Weight change
  • Persistent illnesses (coughs and colds due to lower immune system)
  • Becoming secretive
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Becoming financially unpredictable
  • Repeated unexplained absences
  • Strange new friends

There are fundamental similarities in the way all addictions operate within a person's neurology.  The addict feels good then they think about doing their addiction, thus attaching good feelings to the activity.  After a while many end up keeping the behavior to stop them from feeling bad, from suffering withdrawal symptoms.  Most end up chasing that feel good feeling, but end up just keeping the bad feelings at bay.

All addictions have this in common, and all addictions respond well to the direct techniques used in hypnotherapy and NLP.

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