Recovering from Addiction: Breaking Free from Habits

Discovering how your habits control you is the first step in breaking free of them

The word “addiction” implies a habitual behavior that cannot be controlled or that has become a compulsion. Most who suffer from an addiction are in considerable mental pain, caused either by stress or by the cost of addiction itself. Their suffering drives an addiction that helps them to cope, feel good, or just get by. Behavior, brain and biology all get caught up under the wheels of the addiction cycle, making it harder to break free.

Types of Addiction

Addictive behavior normally falls into two categories: substance and behavioral. Substance-based addiction deals mainly with alcohol abuse, drugs, opiates, nicotine, etc. Behavioral addiction is when ordinary behaviors such as shopping, work, internet, and so forth veer into the compulsive in the service of coping. Any behavior taken to an extreme can be an addiction, whether it is video-gaming, exercise or sex, and may signal a deeper emotional difficulty. The first step in addiction recovery is recognition that doing what feels good or what relieves stress may be exacting an unacceptable toll on your body, mind, and spirit. These maladaptive behaviors or bad habits are signs of being addicted.

Effects of Addiction

People usually seek help at the point when their addictive behavior threatens their jobs, relationships, or their health. Many come to therapy when they’ve been urged to seek help by their families, physicians or workplace. Without treatment, addiction can cause other repercussions for you — and those that care about you:

  • Family members, coworkers or others may be deeply upset by the consequences of your addiction
  • You may feel shame — and blame yourself — but feel unable to get a handle on it.
  • Addictions are often expensive and time-consuming; they can hog your time and resources.
  • Your addiction can lead to increasing isolation and loneliness, as relationships and the quality of those relationships are forfeited for the addiction itself.
  • You feel the inevitable let-down; after shopping, drinking or exercising you don’t find peace or fulfillment — just more hunger and need.
  • Your alcohol or drug addiction kills brain cells, leading to shrinkage of the brain, while compulsive addictive behavior has a “dumbing down” effect, reducing, instead of increasing your ability to cope with your environment.

The line gets crossed from bad habits to addiction when the behavior persists despite the downside of the behavior. Smokers and heavy drinkers know that their behavior invites severe health consequences, yet they feel that they either don’t want to stop or simply cannot stop. The consequences of addiction can be massively costly to a life, wrenching the gears of a person’s goals and their control over daily existence.

Yet addiction persists because the reward is felt to be more desirable than the consequences, even if those consequences are dire. A strong part of this is biological: drugs like cocaine are so effective at activating the reward centers in the brain that some people will literally die for it.

Breaking Free from Habits

recovering from addictionDr. Wu’s approach in helping people with addiction recovery is to help them to learn skills to slow down the sequence between impulse and addictive action, to develop alternative skills to relieve tension, to recognize their motivations, such as understanding what purpose their addiction serves, and to gradually help them to find ways of being more self-sufficient and less dependent on their “drug” of choice.

Dr. Wu’s approach to addiction integrates mindfulness and psychodynamic perspectives.  Addiction is heavily action-oriented while mindfulness acts as a brake between impulse and action. Mindfulness therapy for addiction can also provide skills that offer deeper relief than the “drug” of choice. To a core approach of psychodynamic and mindfulness therapy she integrates emotional regulation, motivational interviewing, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  CBT is a strategy that involves identifying negative thinking patterns that lead to negative feeling that, in turn, lead to negative behaviors.  The key aspects of change in each of these methods are:

  • Learning to slow down the sequence between impulse and addictive action.
  • Developing alternative skills to relieve tension.
  • Recognizing your motivations (understanding what purpose your addiction serves).
  • Finding ways of being more self-sufficient and less dependent on your “drug” of choice
  • Anchoring in positive motivation

Recovering from Addiction

Therapeutic Intervention

Primary therapeutic intervention for certain kinds of addiction such as alcohol and substance dependence is treatment specific to that addiction, often in an inpatient, rehab, or outpatient facility. Once an addiction is contained, it is possible to work on recovery from addiction.

Therapy provides a safe environment to look deeper into the problems associated with addiction, and to share powerful negative feelings that addiction may be attempting to manage or mask. This effort may help reveal the roots of addiction, including past experiences and painful or traumatic events.

One can then begin to examine the behaviors that perpetuate addiction vs. the ones that release them from it. This is called functional analysis. In functional analysis, people work backward from unwanted behavior to understand how it is reinforced or perpetuated. The goal is to target the trigger before a sequence is activated.

Goals of Addiction Therapy

  • Provide a safe environment to look deeper into the problems associated with addiction.
  • Examine behaviors that perpetuate addiction vs. identifying or crafting those that release you from it
  • Explore the roots of addiction, including past experiences, painful or traumatic antecedents.
  • Analyze the addiction and its triggers by working backward from unwanted behavior to understand how it is reinforced or perpetuated. Target the trigger before a sequence is activated.
  • Craft alternative strategies to calm yourself, regulate anxiety or stress such as social support, relaxation, and other self-soothing activities.
  • Generate more coping mechanisms.

Contact Dr. Wu

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