Addictions are complicated things. There’s the addiction itself, which is basically, your addicted brain going ‘I want my thing, give me my thing. I want it now! Gimme, gimme, gimme!’ Plus, there are all the reasons that you got hooked in the first place. But, can you break an addiction? Can you assert control over a thing you feel you have no control over? The short answer is: yes. But, like everything in life, it takes effort and will probably need a combination of approaches, rather than one single approach. For instance, I use cognitive behaviour therapy and hypnotherapy in conjunction to help people take back control. But, that is not as easy as it sounds.
Sadly, even our common understanding of addictions is a little simplistic. It isn’t simply a case of ‘take drug, become addicted.’ Because, if that were so, everyone who drank would become an alcoholic and everyone who did so much as a line of coke would become an addict.
For the most part, people drink and take drugs recreationally and occasionally, as part of a wider and more active social life and entertainment package. They dip in and out of their thing of choice and use it alongside other more wholesome pursuits. They are users of, rather than addicts to, their thing.
Addicts tend to become addicted for a reason, so it’s a case of drug of choice plus other factors. Some people do have addictive personalities, and are more ‘at risk’ of become addicted to anything that they do repeatedly. For others, it’s a case of hedonism run rampant; they took too much, too often, and now find it hard to stop. For many, however, the addiction is an unhealthy coping strategy, a mask for something utterly unpleasant or deeply disturbing.
‘The more you want to quit, the more successful at quitting you will be.’
The immediate therapeutic goal for any addiction is for abstinence. For at least six months. If you can abstain from drinking, say, for six months, you have demonstrated control over the thing that previously controlled you and you are free to introduce drinking back into your life at a level you consider appropriate. Stick to your guideline and you are good to go, but if you keep breaking your own rule, you may want to consider life-long abstinence.
When it comes to drugs, however, it’s much more realistic to consider lifelong abstinence as the goal from the get-go. It’s very difficult (though not impossible) to get this type of addiction back down to a level you consider appropriate or social.
Some people try to break one addictive habit by replacing it with another. A modern case in point is the current trend of vaping. Many people have successfully stopped smoking by taking up the vape. However, they are still addicted to the nicotine contained in the vapour. And, whilst it may be a healthier addiction that smoking cigarettes, it’s still not completely healthy and it’s not without health risks of its own. For starters, studies show that around 70-90% of people who vape are ‘dual users’, meaning that they smoke cigarettes alongside vaping. They smoke less, but they still smoke. Vaping can also affect the blood vessels, leading to cardiac problems, and vaping whilst pregnant can still affect the health of your unborn child.
If you are going to break your addiction, your bad habit, then it is much better to replace it with a healthier habit, such as exercise. Exercise will trigger the release of endorphins and other happy hormones, but in a much healthier way than, say, a glass or Merlot, a line of coke or a cigarette. Many former drinkers and drug users have swapped the booze and drugs for a gym membership or a regular run around their local park. One study showed that habitual smokers, when put on a healthy and intensive exercise regime, were either able to control the amount they smoked or quit altogether.
So, you can conquer your addictions; therapy will help, so will adopting healthier habits. But, either way, the biggest tool in your quitting toolbox will be your willpower. The more you want to quit, the more successful at quitting you will be. If you are ambivalent about quitting, you might want to draw up a list of all the reasons stopping is a good thing for you and then consider that a first step.