Addiction of any type is harmful to mental and emotional growth and jeopardizes a person’s happiness. Addictive behavior can be defined very broadly as being anything that will potentially or literally be detrimental to a person's health, and addictions are linked to deficiencies in our learned coping mechanisms and learned behavior patterns. They are defense mechanisms, and they are deliberate distractions from uncomfortable mental states.
It's not necessary for something to be done a great many times for it to become a person’s addiction. The broad definition of addiction could be narrowed down as follows: Addiction is something done habitually and sometimes compulsively that's self-destructive and results in acting out behavior. One might get sober from alcohol, for example, and then switch to another addictive substance or behavior to get the same effects that they got from alcohol. In doing so, they would still be addicts despite their sobriety.
Perhaps contrary to popular belief, not all addictive behavior is out of control behavior. Some people might be able to forgo having a drink until a certain time of day or limit themselves to two cigarettes a day. That being the case, there are essentially two classes of addiction. One of the two is characterized by obsessive compulsive acting out that an individual can't control. The other is characterized by behaviors that are addictions but are managed and regulated.
People in both of those classes of addictions have certain things in common. One thing is that they're compelled to do the addictive things that they're involved in because they have difficulty dealing with day-to-day pressures and stress. This ties into something I noted that was both very fascinating and very disturbing to me when I was in 12-step recovery: It was that many who participated in the programs, including myself, would stop using alcohol or their drug(s) of choice but would pay little or no attention to their addictions to other behaviors or substances. And doing such “addiction switching” would prolong the very state of chaos in their lives that they were trying to overcome by doing recovery work. They apparently were not significantly improving in terms of being able to handle life’s stresses better.
There are a great many different types of addictions, but there are things that all people with addictions have in common. And those who wish to overcome their addictions should engage in writing exercises of various kinds beginning in the very earliest stages of recovery. One such exercise, and perhaps the first one, should be for an addict to acknowledge that their formative years of life (ages zero through 20) were not perfect. Things that occurred during those formative years caused them to have debilitating anxiety and other serious mental and emotional problems. It's necessary to get to the bottom of the causes of those problems so that they can determine and subsequently take steps that will lead to their healing. And writing is crucial to helping them make that happen.
This initial writing exercise should begin with an addict’s documenting when they think their addiction began and what might have triggered it. Following that, the addict should write down a list of the substances and behaviors that he or she is addicted to. It’s vitally important for an addict to admit their problem, and such admission is difficult because it may trigger fear of having to give up many things that give temporary comfort.
It bears repeating that addictions can be to both substances and behaviors. And it's often the case that an individual who’s addicted to drugs or alcohol will also be addicted to negative behavior patterns. Such addictions can include things like addictive smartphone use, addictive shopping, and an incredibly wide variety of other compulsive behaviors. They can also include addictions to mental processes and obsessive thought patterns that occur when we struggle in romantic relationships or have feelings of self-loathing. And it’s also possible to be addicted to feelings of depression and negativity.
Self-help gurus often make elaborate promises and make it sound as if self-help is incredibly easy. But it isn't. Reaching goals that pertain to achieving mental health and happiness is difficult. There's no such thing as a simple step or two or a few tips or tricks that will help a person attain those things. But one step that must always be taken is participation in emotional therapy.
Although I respect those who intelligently and compassionately practice faith, I think it's a mistake for a person to believe that faith alone will be enough to free them from addiction. It’s true that some people may achieve miraculous immediate deliverance. I do not want to discount the reality of such things happening, but I want to state that the primary mechanism of freeing ourselves from addiction is to engage in feeling our feelings and taking measures to remove those feelings from our central nervous systems.
Following doing that, it's necessary to engage in new positive behaviors to program the mind to free itself from its propensity for addiction. It's also extremely important to be involved in therapy and recovery groups (e.g., 12-step programs) to receive competent guidance and to interact with others. And development of positive habits and positive behaviors should be done methodically and daily: A recovering addict should incorporate structure into activities such as socializing, exercising, meditating, and relaxing.
All people in recovery—and especially those who are just beginning recovery processes—should consider themselves as being students. And as such they should have the attitude of students who are excited to learn new things rather than lackadaisical students who begrudgingly participate in assigned tasks. Those with good attitudes about their recovery will be excited that even everyday tasks such as taking showers, calling friends, cleaning, paying bills, exercising, and participating in therapy can be things that will encourage them and spur them on to new heights of self-improvement.