When we think of addiction, our thoughts tend to turn to drug and alcohol addiction but addiction can relate to numerous different things; drugs, alcohol, food, exercise, pornography, gaming, social media, tattoos, self-harm, gambling, shopping – anything that we feel as though we’re not in control of, and has an impact on our mood and behaviours. Addiction can be incredibly difficult to cope with, particularly when the things we’re addicted to are often readily available. Depression and addiction can go hand in hand. Addiction can help us to cope with depression, but equally, depression can be caused or worsened by the things we’re addicted to.
In terms of addiction, triggers are any emotional or environmental factors that cause us to feel as though we need to use our addiction. It could be related to people, places, things, times of the year, or something else. Working out what our triggers are can take time, but once we know what they are, we can avoid them or learn ways to manage them.
High-risk situations are similar to triggers, but rather than being a specific ‘thing’, such as ‘seeing a person walking a dog’, they’re specific situations. This could be something like Christmas, seeing family, or getting a piece of negative feedback at work. Sometimes these situations can be difficult to spot until we’re in them, so it can be helpful to make a note when a situation causes us to feel like we need our addiction.
Once we identify these situations, we can make a plan for how to cope with them without turning to our addiction.
For example, if one of our high-risk situations is ‘seeing my auntie’, we might choose to see them less often, only see them in the company of other friends/family, and invite a friend to stay over for the night whenever we do see them, so that we’re not having to cope alone. We could also note down any alternative coping mechanisms we could use, so that we don’t have to think about them ‘in the moment’, and can just refer to our notes. It’s often helpful to write down a couple of different ideas because sometimes our first or second ideas aren’t possible or don’t work.
Working Out How Our Addiction Helps Us
If our addiction didn’t help us on some level, we wouldn’t keep using it. Something that can be really key when coping with addiction is working out how it helps us and then finding a healthy coping mechanism to replace it. It can sometimes be helpful to use the acronym ‘Hungry Angry Lonely Tired (HALT)‘ when thinking about the need that we’re filling, as these are common emotions associated with addiction.
Alternative Coping Mechanisms
Having a list of coping mechanisms that we can use when we want to turn to our addiction is helpful. We’re all different, and we all turn to our addictions for different reasons, so we will find that different coping mechanisms work for different people. As an alternative to our addiction, we could try things like watching TV, reading, walking, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, painting, listening to music, listening to podcasts, doing some breathing exercises, ripping up sheets of paper, drawing on ourselves, running, cleaning, self-soothing, doing some puzzles, singing, hugging a pet, dancing, playing with play-doh or contacting a helpline. Sometimes we’ll have to try a coping mechanism a few times before we can get it to work for us – practice makes perfect!
There are times when we don’t see the point in fighting our addiction. It feels too hard. We’re too tired. There’s no point because we can’t do it so why even bother trying?!
At times like these, we have no interest in reaching out for support, or in using healthy coping mechanisms.
These times are very ‘high risk’, in terms of falling back into our addiction. Having reminders of why we don’t want to go there can help us to keep going. This could be in the form of photos on our phone, on the wall, or in our purse or wallet. We might have lists of ‘reasons to keep going’, or ‘things we want to do once we’re up to it’. There might have been a time when we had a particularly amazing day, and we might have a momento from that day that we can hold. A specific smell or taste could take us back to happier times that we’re hoping to replicate at some point in the future. Keeping little reminders in our house, bag, or coat pocket, can help us to keep going at times when we want to return to our addiction.
There are times when things go really well, and we feel like we’re beating our addiction. At other times, things don’t go so well, and it can feel as though our addiction is beating us.
It’s important to remember that a lapse is not the same as a relapse. Recovery is not a straight line. Whether things go right, or wrong, it’s important to reflect and learn from them.
If we’ve managed a difficult situation without turning to our addiction, then that’s wonderful progress! How did we do it? What coping mechanisms did we use? Is there anything that could be helpful to note down so that we know to try it again in the future?
If we’ve struggled through a difficult situation and turned to out addiction, then we haven’t failed, we’ve just had a wobble. Recovery is a learning curve, and we can learn as much (if not more) from our mistakes as from our successes. What went wrong this time? Was there a trigger that we weren’t expecting, or a high-risk situation that we didn’t know would be high-risk? Did anything go right? Can we think of anything we could do differently in future? Sometimes we have to try a coping mechanism a few times before we can get it to work. At other times, we might have tried a coping mechanism that didn’t work for us at all, so it’s not one that we want to try again.
This reflection can be really important because it can help us to keep moving forward. Some of us might find it helpful to journal this sort of thing.
Honesty Is Important
One of the most important things when it comes to addiction is honesty. Honesty to others, and honesty to ourselves. Lying to ourselves and others is likely to cause a lot of problems, so even when it’s really difficult, it’s important to try and tell the truth.
We don’t have to cope with addiction alone. Addiction can be incredibly strong, so we need to try and build up a strong support system to fight it with. Our support system doesn’t need to be massive, but it can be helpful to have a couple of friends or family members or organisations we can turn to when we’re struggling. Sometimes, it can be dangerous to stop an addiction ‘cold turkey’, so it’s often a good idea to reach out for some professional support on top of the support we get from our loved ones. We might also find that some medication, therapy or counselling from professionals is something that we need.
There are times when we struggle to let people help us. We might feel as though we don’t deserve it or we’re being a burden – but we do deserve support, and in the same way that if one of our friends were struggling, we’d want to support them, our friends will probably want to support us. There are times when it can be hard to reach out for support because we don’t have any hope, but there’s nothing wrong with letting other people hold our hope for a little while until we’re able to hope again.
On top of support from our friends, family, and professionals, we might find that support groups with others who have experienced similar addictions to us can be comforting and can help us to cope. Sometimes being around others who’ve experienced similar things to us can help us to feel less alone, and can give us some hope of things improving. There are different support groups for different addictions including alcoholics anonymous, narcotics anonymous, national self-harm network, sex addicts anonymous, overeaters anonymous, Beat support groups, on-line gamers anonymous, and gamblers anonymous.
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