Addictive Behavior: How Do You Know You Have It and What to Do? - Part Two

In Part One of our “Addiction” blog, we discussed the terms “addiction” and “compulsion” being used interchangeably to describe a persistent behavior that becomes disruptive and harmful to one’s lifestyle.    

In her Women's Day article, Gail Saltz, M.D., Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, sites several factors of the causes of compulsions:

-  Biological and environmental factors can play a role. First of all, we think there is a genetic component, since compulsive behaviors seem to recur in families.

-  An imbalance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters may also be to blame. And you can also be genetically predisposed to having this imbalance.

-  Compulsions also often go hand in hand with anxiety and depression. The excitement of gambling, the comfort of eating, the high of the purchase all temporarily drown out feelings of sadness and worry. But, of course, as soon as the moment is over, that bad feeling returns, and so does the urge to repeat the soothing behavior.

If you are questioning your involvement with a particular behavior you may feel is bordering on excessive, Dr. Saltz recommends some things you can try on your own:

Start by admitting that you have a problem. You can't address quitting until you're honest with yourself. In this same vein, it can be very helpful to tell a spouse or close friend that you think you have a problem. This makes it more concrete and easier to deal with. And it makes you more accountable for taking steps to change it.

Think about what's driving the behavior. Understanding the reasons and emotions behind your behavior will help you focus on working through those issues. Are you hitting the gym night and day to avoid looking heavy as you age? Are you constantly surfing the Internet because you're feeling depressed and lonely and want to be distracted by something?

Try to interrupt or at least postpone the behavior. If you find yourself going to check Facebook yet again, try to hold back for one hour. You don't have to postpone it longer and longer each time. It's better to be erratic about it, so the next time-delay by 2 hours, then 10 minutes, then a full day. This helps you feel some control over the behavior; the point is to remind yourself that you're in charge, not your compulsive behavior.

Change the way you do it. If you can't stop eating sweets every day, try having an apple or granola bar every time you want that candy bar. (You're still eating, but you're eating something else.) Do your exercise routine out of order. This can help shake up the ritualistic nature of compulsive behavior—which is part of why we keep going back to it; it becomes a habit.

For some compulsions (like gambling or eating candy), you may find that it's best to stop doing it completely because even a little bit of it will throw you back into a pattern.

Finally, if you feel you need more help, consider seeing a therapist. A combination of psychotherapy— to understand the roots of the behavior— and cognitive-behavioral therapy—to give you tools to change the actual behavior—is often what works best.

    Joan Spadafina Phelps

    Joan Spadafina Phelps

    Wellness Educator, Aesthetic & Healthy Aging Medical Business Consultant

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