What do you think of when you hear the word addiction? For most of us an images of a homeless alcoholic or someone with a syringe in their arm. All very bleak images influenced by media stereotypes. And while that is the reality for some people - addiction has many different faces. For some addiction looks like gambling all night, every night, while their family sleeps, getting deeper and deeper into debt. For others, it’s the lure of pornography. Maybe they compulsively shop or cannot put down the gaming controller and go to sleep.
More and more professionals agree that these sort of compulsive behaviors can be classified as addictions and meet many of the same criteria. Underlying them all, whether a substance or behavioral addiction, is something that the individual is trying to cope with, hide from or control. That root cause can be anything - low self esteem, mental illness and trauma are just some of many things that can lead to someone struggling with addiction.
Behavioral addictions often start because the person experiences a “high” of some sort when engaging in that behavior which releases dopamine - telling the brain that whatever they have just done is worth doing again. For some people, this is intoxicating - they keep repeating the behavior until it is a compulsive behavior. They will carry on doing it despite any negative consequences for themselves or others.
It’s easy to let someone carry on with these sort of behaviors because they don’t seem instantly harmful but someone with a behavioral addiction needs treatment and support to deal with what is going on underneath. So, how can we help?
Talk to them - don’t ignore the issue! Let them know you understand and are there to support them. They may not be receptive at first but just remain open and available - they will know you are there when they are ready.
Treatment - help them research and get the support they need. Recovery will come when they get to the root issue and they will very likely need a professional to help them work through this and change their behavior.
Support group - many people dealing with addiction find being part of a group of people also in recovery can help keep them going and manage relapses. Help them find the right group for them, locally and at a time that won’t conflict with other obligations.
Look after yourself - we are no use to any one if we aren’t functioning. So establish good boundaries with the person you are supporting and find someone that you can talk to.
You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending. James R. Sherman