Many people struggle with addictions in today’s stressful society. Drinking and/or using drugs, overeating, sexual compulsions, and gambling are all ways in which individuals attempt to self-soothe and forget about their problems. These misguided methods all have one thing in common—they enable the individual to temporarily attain a different state of consciousness in order to avoid looking at painful emotions they may be feeling.
Alcohol and drugs obviously create altered states of mind, but overeating, gambling, or having a sex addiction do as well. For those who overindulge, food typically brings up early memories of comfort and is used to fill up an inner sense of emptiness. Many who gamble tend to forget or overlook everything except the thrill and excitement of the potential win. For many individuals with a sex addiction, there is an attempt to seek connectedness through the sexual act, without having to connect on an emotional level.
So what are some ways that individuals can learn to cope with their emotions in a healthier way? The following steps can be taken to help overcome an addiction:
- Join a support group. There are many different peer-led support groups available that can be very helpful when trying to overcome any kind of addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, or Gamblers Anonymous, for example, are all groups where people can relate to others who are dealing with the same types of issues. Individuals hold each other accountable and are often inspired by others’ success stories.
- Explore issues that the addiction may be covering up. Often, people resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms because they are struggling with painful emotions and/or traumatic situations that have not been integrated. Seeking out a qualified therapist can be helpful in working through past trauma and learning healthier ways to cope.
- Keep track of your triggers. By noting the times you feel tempted to indulge in an addiction, you can begin to bring more awareness to the situation. For example, do you start drinking after work every time your boss criticizes you? Do you binge on fast food whenever your self-esteem is at a low point?
- Look for the purpose your addiction may be serving. Many people struggling with addictions have difficulties with relationships. The addiction becomes their relationship of choice, and the individual may spend much of his or her time thinking about ways to indulge in it, rather than examining underlying issues related to connecting with others.
- Learn to experience emotions rather than avoid them. Addictions are often an easy way to escape from feeling painful emotions, but this is only a temporary solution and ends up making the problem much worse. Try to spend five to 10 minutes a day just sitting with your eyes closed and focusing on the sensations in your body. Painful emotions tend to be held in the body and are typically experienced as a tightness or constriction. Practice mindfully sitting with the sensations, honoring and welcoming them, rather than trying to push them away. Remember to breathe in and out deeply when doing this exercise.
- Journal about your feelings. Journaling is a helpful tool to get uncomfortable emotions off your chest. Whenever you feel triggered to indulge in your addiction, try to write about the thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing instead. This technique can also be useful right before going to bed, especially if you tend to toss and turn and ruminate over stressful issues.
Overcoming an addiction can be extremely challenging, but using some or all of the techniques above can be a great starting point. If you have a severe drinking or drug problem, you may need to start off with residential treatment in order to be surrounded by individuals who support you on your healing journey.
The first step can feel like the most difficult one, but recovery from any type of addiction is absolutely possible for anyone willing to reach out for help.
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, therapist in San Diego, California
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