When someone is compulsively obsessed with any activity, substance, object, or behavior that gives him/her pleasure we can say they are engaging in addictive behaviors. In the case of drugs, there is a chemical dependence that occurs, which has several components but basically means that if you stop using the drug you will experience negative symptoms, physically, emotionally and mentally so you continue to use in order to avoid withdrawl symptoms. Most chemically dependent people use to maintain baseline, which means sometimes you may not notice they are high as they may appear “normal”. There are still signs depending on the drug and of course you will be able to see the devastating effect of the drug in all aspects of their lives. Where there is smoke there is fire.
With other things, that, for lack of a better description, do not enter the body, it is hard to determine a physical dependence although science has shown that compulsive gambling, sex or food addiction change brain activity in a significant way and the emotional/mental withdrawl can be very intense, which makes it difficult for the addicted person to stop even in the face of severe consequences (financial, relationship issues, social etc). From my experience, people who are addicted to one substance or activity will most likely “transfer” their addiction to something else once they stop using their “drug of choice”. Say I can’t drink due to continued DUIs and I make a choice to not put alcohol in my body, I may find something else to be addicted to, like sex or shopping or World of Warcraft. In conclusion, the drug may not always be the enemy although it’s true that heroin may be a greater evil than Facebook.
Most of the work in treating addictive behavior focuses on the underlying factors that contributed in making the addiction so powerful to make one lose total control. There is also a strong belief in the field that this work can not be done unless someone is “sober” first, hence making detox from drugs the first step of treatment. Where this gets complicated is when you just simply can not “abstain” from something, say the internet. It’s always there and sometimes it’s necessary. Significant introspective work can be done in therapy in fact it is crucial in the first stages of treating addictive behaviors, whether the client is engaged in the addictive behavior or not.
The reason why therapy is so important is that any addictive behavior has a compulsive nature which basically involves a thought and a response to that thought that typically reinforces it (causes the behavior to happen over and over again). We as humans are build to finish things. If I get in a thought in my head that involves eating the chocolate ice cream in my freezer, the only act that will release that thought is in fact eating the chocolate ice cream in my freezer, which satisfies the craving. This pattern of “feeding into” triggers creates a vicious cycle. Therapy can break this cycle and teach you to develop new behavior pathways that will help your brain create new associations and therefore “new” emotions.
Also, therapy is important because it focuses on emotions and thoughts, breaks them down and helps one see them for what they are: something of a transient nature. Also helps one learn how to just feel unpleasant feelings without needing to numb them.
This is worth talking about. Addictive behaviors are becoming more and more disturbing as our realities become more individualistic, stressful and harsh. Noticed how popular shows like Intervention, Freaky Eaters and My Strange Addiction have become? People can relate.