Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Addictions

When people hear the word "addiction," they often think about things like alcohol or drugs. Possibly cigarettes. But there are many forms an addiction can take.

Often, an addiction can be fueled by trauma or by a mental illness. When someone is triggered in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, or when someone is having an episode of depression, engaging in addictive behavior can soothe that person or make them feel better. Only in the moment, though. Addictions never solve problems, and someone who has an addiction can fall into a vicious cycle where they indulge the addiction to "feel better", then end up feeling bad about indulging the addiction. Instead of improving things, addictions make them worse.

As I said, addictions don't only involve alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes. Some people become addicted to food. Eating makes them feel better in the moment; it helps them forget whatever is upsetting them. If you've ever seen the TV show Ruby on cable's Style Network, you've seen the damage an addiction to food can cause. Ruby, at her heaviest, weighed over 700 pounds, and from a recent interview I saw with her still struggles with her weight, though she's lost about four hundred pounds since her heaviest. She also is struggling with the events in her childhood that caused her to develop that addiction. Some people with food addictions literally eat themselves to death.

Others might become addicted to shopping. On the surface, shopping might seem innocent enough, but not when it causes people to go into debt, to spend their rent or mortgage money on items they don't need, and to risk their jobs because they call in "sick" so they can go on a shopping trip. And then they might have nowhere to put the items they buy, leading to hoarding (another addictive behavior, in my opinion, which isn't necessarily related to shopping but can be).

Sometimes, a person with an addiction is told to just "try harder" to break the addiction. They're met with the opinion that they're just "weak-willed" and could conquer the addiction if they actually wanted to. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Addictive tendencies are often caused by brain chemistry, just as mental illnesses are. In fact, an addiction *is* an illness. With help, someone might be able to stop indulging in their addiction, but they'll always have that addiction; just as with help someone with depression might learn coping strategies, but they'll always have depression. I know one person who calls himself an alcoholic; he hasn't touched alcohol in over two decades, but he knows that all it would take for him is one drink, and he would again start using that addiction to cope.

If you have an addiction, there are organizations out there that can help you learn to manage it. And if you know someone with an addiction, please show them some compassion; encourage them to get help, and don't tell them that they can get over it if they just try hard enough. If someone in your life has an addiction that's harming you, you may need to cut them out of your life until they get help, and that's okay. Just please understand that it isn't something they can manage alone, and that they aren't doing it just to hurt themselves or others.

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