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How to Know Whether You Have an Addiction (and How to Treat It)

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If we were to address addiction a century ago, we would have been talking about a moral failing rooted in one’s personality. Thankfully, therapy and counselling have evolved over time, and addiction (be it alcohol, drugs or other substances & activities) is today regarded as an illness.

Addiction has been categorized this way thanks to the researchers who looked for what was causing it, how to recognize it, and how to help those suffering from it.

What makes addiction stand out from other mental and physical illnesses is that a person who suffers from it can hardly recognize it as an illness. In fact, recognizing that you have an addiction is quite challenging, compared to recognizing that you have depression or anxiety. Since our goal here at Capital Choice Counselling in Ottawa is to help you with coping skills to lead a better life, we have created this comprehensive guide on addiction.

Here is how to know whether you have an addiction and how to treat it.

Take a Look at Your List of Priorities

young woman struggles with addictionWe go about our days and our lives with a degree of habit and routine, though some more than others. What many people may not be conscious of is that we are conditioned to do these “daily errands” or tasks based on the priorities that we have created, either ourselves or as a society. Netflix, video games and social media are not the only things that one can get addicted to. There are people addicted to work as well, and it can also cause a multitude of issues.

The first thing to check is your list of priorities. Is there anything so important that you must do it every day, above all else? Has it become the way you live your life? Can you imagine yourself not doing it?

Here we might be talking about drinking, for example. Not just drinking a beer every now and then, but making a habit of drinking alcohol on a consistent, sustained and exceeding basis.

It might be ilicit drugs… or caffeine… or an activity like screen time, sex or porn.

If you find there is something that you feel you must do, and if there’s a gap between it and the second item on your priority list, then there’s a good chances that you could miss out on doing many other important things. This is one of the signs you might have an addiction.

How Do You Feel Doing/Not Doing It?

Many people with an addiction experience doing the things they are addicted to as a reward. This is why it is worth your while to take a look at how you are feeling. We are hardwired to feel good when we are doing something we like. At the same time, we might feel bad if we don’t do things we have to, even/especially if we don’t really like doing them.

People with an addiction spend copious amounts of time doing an activity that they love (or can’t without), and they don’t feel bad about not doing the “must-do” things on their schedule. In fact, it is quite the opposite; an addict could feel very badly if he or she doesn’t devote time to that obsession. Is there something in your life that you enjoy doing because it makes you feel better and more in control, to the point where you can’t see any negative consequences? If so, you are probably dealing with an addiction.

Do You Have Control Over it?

man in therapy for addictionAs we stated earlier, many people enjoy watching TV or playing video games, but they don’t spend their entire free time doing it. How often do you engage in a particular activity that makes you feel good? How much time do you spend doing it?

Do you end up doing it considerably more than you’ve initially planned? If the answer to the latter question is a “yes,” then you are dealing with what’s known in the psychological circles as “a never-enough compulsion.”

This means that you don’t have control over that kind of behavior. Instead, it is controlling you, often resulting in the famous line: “Just a few more minutes” or “I’ll do all of today’s errands tomorrow.” Do you find yourself in this scenario? If so, you are quite possibly struggling with an addiction.

Do You Find Yourself Doing It Even Though You Planned Not To?

People with no (major) addictions are typically able to create schedules on their own and stick to them. There are a few deviations now and then, but it’s all considered within a ‘normal’ range. When does a deviation from the schedule become a behavior of an addict?

If you make certain plans, and you are specific about not doing “the thing” just to find yourself reverting back to it and doing it even more, you are probably addicted to it. The thoughts of “I’ll make sure not to fall into this trap tomorrow” or “I’ll indulge myself this one last time” usually accompany this scenario. That’s generally considered to be textbook denial.

Do You Feel Anxious When You Can’t Do It?

young man with addiction issues ponders futureDoing the thing you enjoy most makes you feel good about yourself, almost as if nothing else in the entire world matters. There is nothing wrong with people able to immerse themselves that deeply into certain experiences. However, people usually don’t feel anxious if they are unable to do a thing that helps them disconnect for a day or two.

How do you feel when you cannot do it? Do you feel uncomfortable or even anxious? Here’s a great exercise to assess how important that thing is to you:

Just imagine not being able to do it for a couple of days. Zero activity. Cold turkey.

How did that make you feel?

If you experience uncomfortable emotions, that activity or behaviur has a hold on you. That’s addiction.

What’s the Price of Doing It?

Yes, using the word “cost” does imply money. While some addictions can burn a huge hole in a person’s budget, they can also take a toll on other spheres of one’s life. What are the hidden addiction costs that can elude you so easily if you have an addiction?

The life of an addict is an emotional roller coaster where fear, joy, happiness, guilt, paranoia, shame, ecstasy, rapture, and self-loathing are regular co-passengers. Experiencing a few of these at once is a tremendous emotional cost that can often result in the development of an underlying mental illness.

The addict’s intellect pays the price as well. Since all the person can think of is doing a certain thing, there are no other creative or intellectual pursuits in life. Addicts often experience an inability to solve problems. This complicates their situation even more down the line.

Personal relationships are affected too. Since addicts spend too much time on the behaviours & activities of that addiction, they typically don’t spend enough time with their friends and family. Generally speaking, addicts express less interest in participating in meaningful interactions with others, unless it is connected with what they enjoy doing most.

If any of the above applies to you, you are probably dealing with a type of addiction.


woman with addiction at therapy session

How to Treat Addiction

In some cases, addicts are able to successfully untangle themselves from their addiction’s downward spiral by going through these 6 stages. The rule of the thumb that applies here is the more severe the addiction is, the harder it is to recover. Yet, some people manage to do it. These so-called “natural-recoverers” share a few things in common.

Acknowledge the Addiction

The first and perhaps the most important step is to accept the fact that you are an addict. At first, this might seem like a bad thing to do, as it may provoke negative feelings. However, it is a really important step as it puts the responsibility back in your hands, thus empowering you to make the next step.

Have a Plan

addiction group therapy sessionNatural-recoverers don’t just erase the addiction from their lives. Instead, they make a plan and stick with it. By taking out the addiction from their lives, these people have the opportunity to give structure to their free time. Making and sticking to the new schedule keeps them busy.

Become Invested In Something Challenging

As a reward for doing their favorite activity, addicts feel ‘joy’ (albeit a fleeting joy that is increasingly harder to find after a while) and are (temporarily) thrilled. This is why many natural-recoverers fill their schedules with new & challenging hobbies. Learning something relatively difficult from scratch captures one’s attention, and succeeding in it rewards one with joy, though a different, more lasting kind of joy. Meanwhile, one’s sense of self-worth also gets a much-needed boost.

Embrace Regular Physical Activity

Physical activity is very rewarding. When we exercise, our bodies produce the mood boosters that act as a sort of antidepressant. This has proven to be very helpful in dealing with negative feelings for many addicts. On top of that, physical activity promotes endorphin synthesis, helping us feel well and healthy.

Therapy is an Extremely Helpful Solution

Addicts also have psychotherapy as a tremendously useful option to combat their illness. Therapy is helpful for a variety of degrees and stages of addiction, and is essential if the addiction is more severe (especially if it is accompanied by other mental disorders.)

In this scenario, people should not self-medicate or try to overcome the problems on their own. With the help of a professional and some support, addicts have a better chance of overcoming this illness and recovering completely.

A therapist will be able to help the addict introspect and recognize the negative impacts the addiction has had on their life. There are several factors that dictate the length of the therapy process and the best therapy option – the addiction’s effects on the person, length and severity of use, and the type of addictive disorder.

Let Capital Choice Counselling Help with Addictions in Ottawa

As you can see, there are several signs that point to addiction. Since it is hard to recognize that something other than yourself is controlling you, it is recommended to seek assistance from a a therapist or counsellor.

Contact us today to find out more and to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced caring counsellors, We want to help you on your road to addiction recovery.