Before we talk about what you can do about addiction, let’s be sure its addiction we’re talking about. Using the dependence on a substance as an example, a behaviour qualifies as an addiction if it meets three or more of the following criteria over a 12 month period:
- Tolerance: Either taking more to achieve the same effect, or taking the same amount that has less effect.
- Withdrawal: Either experiencing characteristic withdrawal symptoms for a substance, or doing something to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms.
- Usage: Either the amount used or duration of use, is more than what was intended.
- Control: Either trying repeatedly to control usage or reduce usage.
- Time: Either using, recovering from use, or trying to get the substance to use, is how a considerable amount of time gets spent.
- Blinkers On: Either reducing or abandoning important work, social activities and/or leisure activities to focus on using.
- Negative Consequences: Continuing to use in spite of being aware of developing physical or psychological problems.
So . . . having said that, if it’s addiction you’re dealing with, and you know in your heart you want to stop, here are a number of things you can do about it right now.
- Detox: If it’s an addiction involving alcohol or drugs, consider going to a medical detoxification facility in your area, to safely withdraw your body and mind from the substance. You will be supervised by a doctor and/or nurse and other support staff while you transition into a clean and sober life. If there is no such facility in your area, consider consulting with your physician, or a doctor in a local walk-in clinic or hospital emergency ward, or with a counsellor in an addiction focused outpatient clinic, for information and support about the withdrawal process.
- Safety: This is a critical issue in early recovery: creating a safe world around you to abstain from the addictive behaviour. This is where a 12 Step meeting like Alcoholics Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous can be very very helpful. You will find other people there who also want to stop. Gathering together with like-minded people is not to be underestimated as a potent medicine for recovery. It is. Addiction grows in isolation. You begin to turn things around when you give yourself permission to come out of isolation, that sense of feeling separate from yourself, the human community, and the natural world. Moving out of isolation can occur through the synergy created from the process of sharing your experiences with others, and listening to them while they share theirs with you. When done in a safe environment, it’s one way to begin healing the effects of addiction. If there is no 12 Step meeting in your area, or you’d just rather not go there, ask yourself this: Who in your life is on your side? Who can you call when you feel like using, and don’t want to? Who can you call when you need to talk your way through a difficult or triggering moment? Who can you call when you just need to talk?
- Start Developing a Plan. Think of it as a map you could use to help get you to your desired destination. Here are a few things to consider as you begin developing your map to prevent the return to an addictive behaviour. Is where you spend your time free of the behaviour you’re trying to stop? Are you taking care of your body with good nutrition, healthy fluids, and regular exercise your body enjoys? Are you being kind to yourself? Do you commit acts of violence against yourself? Do you know how to relax? Is there a hobby or talent you enjoy that you could bring back into your life? Can you identify people, places or things that could trigger the addictive behaviour? Do you know why you started the behaviour in the first place? Do you know who you are?
Stopping an addictive behaviour is no small feat. It’s something few people can do alone. Most people benefit from meaningful support to launch them into recovery and a self-affirming way of living. Needing or wanting support is not about being weak. In fact our brains are hardwired for relationships. That’s how we’re built. Needing or wanting support is about being human. Personal isolation is one of the hallmarks of addiction. Allow yourself come out of that frightening, lonely place. You’ll be so glad you did.
If you know you’re dealing with addiction and you’re not sure you want to stop, talking to someone you can trust can be enormously helpful while you come to the very best decision for yourself. Take the time to talk it out. You’re worth it.
Where can you turn? To a local addiction clinic, a compassionate doctor or nurse, a good friend or trusted relative, a professional in a mental health office who understands addiction, a non-judgmental minister or priest in your community, a person at a local Alcoholics Anonymous (or other 12 Step) meeting, an online forum or service, just to name a few. Take the time to talk it out. Having a future depends on it.