What is addiction? Who is an addict? Is it about the alcohol, the cigarettes, the food, the shopping, the device, the app? What does a family member, spouse or friend do? How does one free oneself up from these?

Let’s look at it.

Definitions of addiction and dependency in general and medical dictionaries talk about repetitive usage and disregard for harmful consequences. A closer look at the impact reveals the damage to physical and mental health, work and finances, relationships and family. Somewhere along the way the effects begin to take priority over the problem itself. Therefore, liver and biliary specialists, self-help programs, spiritual and healing modalities, rehabs or outpatient care, marriage and individual counselling, – this entire realm comes into existence. The deeper one gets into these, the further one goes from getting even the tiniest glimpse of reality.  Its like taking paracetamol for the fever and missing the throat infection. Sadly, unlike the throat infection which will heal itself eventually with or without medication, the root cause of addictive behavior never gets treated.

Sadly, unlike the throat infection which will heal itself eventually with or without medication, the root cause of addictive behavior never gets treated.

Substituting and Denial

Alcoholics swear off their drinks and start experimenting with smoking or online gaming or they get romantically involved in an unworkable relationship with a colleague or online, they obsess with healthy things like exercise, work, or a new diet. And the primary problem gets buried even deeper. Particularly when it comes to drinking, losing it sometimes because come on, you got to party hard, has been so normalized that it never serves as a pointer even to the person herself to dig deeper than, “I must’ve been feeling low” or “it was stupid to drink when I’m on anti-biotics,” or “I never mix drinks, I was just fine till these guys started doing shots,” and so on.

What about the addict?

How many women running homes and offices, attending PTAs, kitty parties or board meetings, getting to gym, opera or the metro station etc., even contemplate who an addict is? In a remote corner of their minds is some tattooed, starved, incoherent street comber or mafia informant or some pot smoking, heroin injecting rock musician or penniless artist who fits the term.  Do they know their daughter tiptoeing to the fridge past midnight for that box of donuts has a very similar problem?

How many women running homes and offices, attending PTAs, kitty parties or board meetings, getting to gym, opera or the metro station etc., even contemplate who an addict is?

The Crux of the Problem

One can plainly see that it’s not the food that is the problem, and the same applies to cigarettes, alcohol, gaming, gambling, porn, food, relationships, shopping – yes it’s all the same thing. Some are just more socially acceptable than others. Some don’t end up being referred to a doctor because there is no visible physical pain. While some just get confused as bad habits or the result of bad company and such highly defensive clichés.

Are we the Cause or the Cure?

Families and spouses don’t see the problem till some sort of crisis manifests. Once the addict has started acting out, as in openly resorting to abusing a substance or activity, families start running around trying to arrest the behavior itself. This stage begins after the person has done whatever they could to not resort to the behavior, limit, hide or stop it. Then comes the defensive stage. The longer they spend pondering how did my son/daughter end up like this or this is not the man/woman I married, the further their loved one is from getting to the root of this psychological and behavioral disorder. While the connections are rarely literal cause and effect stories, addiction does come from a dysfunctional family system (as recognized by John Bradshaw, Eric Berne and many other self-help and psychology gurus).

Addiction is difficult to identify and even if one does, abstinence or cessation of the substance or activity is just the beginning.

Addiction is difficult to identify and even if one does, abstinence or cessation of the substance or activity is just the beginning. Cessation of course, is needed for the person to de-clutter the space, time and money taken up in keeping their addiction active. Once the abstinence is achieved either with residential admission or thru out-patient group/individual counseling, the REAL WORK of de-addiction begins. Addicts then begin to look at the start of their addictive patterns and the stresses they sought to cope with.  Long term, sustainable relief from drinking, smoking, over-eating or any repetitive abuse needs long term therapy. Let’s not oversimplify, let’s give this monster the walloping it deserves.  The rewards are not just freedom from addictive behavior, but also good health physical and mental, harmonious and drama free relationships, career success and that holy grail of true joy and fulfilment.

Picture credits: Rebel Circus

Meena Iyer, CEO and co-founder of Lifeskills Consulting is a psychologist, hypnotherapist and motivational trainer. She also runs a de-addiction centre in Nashik. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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