UK Council for Psychotherapy


Accredited Psychotherapist

British Association for
Counselling & Psychotherapy


Accredited Counsellor

Counselling for Addictions
Central London, Camden, Kings Cross, London NW1
Glen Gibson - Dip. Counselling, MA Psychotherapy, Dip. Psychotherapy
UKCP & mBACP Accredited male Addiction Counsellor & Psychotherapist 020 7916 1342

Unwanted Habits & Addictions

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Addictions & Habits

Our Addiction Some of us describe ourselves as an "addict" for anything we do - any activity (from the frivolous to the serious), which may not always be an accurate description and can trivialise what for some people can be distressing. Whether or not we identify with the diagnostic label of "addiction", we may acknowledge we have an addiction problem because of the addiction-like effects (see also What Is Addiction?). It is said we live in an addictive society, that most of us, no matter what our intelligence, wealth, profession or status, have one or two minor personal triggers, obsessions, "addictions" or addictive learned behaviours (e.g. technology, coffee) yet when specific behaviours or addictions become prioritised, dominant or overused, that life without the feelings we get from our "high" may not seem very worthwhile, we can develop addictive triggers with addiction-like effects with impulsive, compulsive tendencies... It can feel at times as if something is controlling our life and it's not quite us and we might have developed a dependency. As if adapting to our environment (some of which we can experience as alienating), we may have an emotional attachment to our specific addiction, as if we are bonded to our addiction (often ignoring our primary feelings - struggling to take responsibility for our feelings), when what we do no longer serves a healthy function in our life, takes over as a way of coping, affecting our ordinary life and functions, our general wellbeing, losing interest in ordinary pleasures. We may want to live a more meaningful, fulfilled life. We may ask "Do I have control over it or does it have control over me?" and have allowed our addiction to have a life of its own, losing our self in the process. Anxious without our "fix", we may start to have a problem and seek addiction help...

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Alcohol Problem

Internet, Computer, Technology & Communication "Addiction"

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Other problems or "addictions"

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"Deserving Our Reward Or Punishment" Sometimes we can confuse what's loving to us as indulging in things. What gradually developed into a harmless pattern may now hold us back and has slowly become problematic. We may initially turn to our familiar routine to get over life's humps, feel comfortable or secure. What was once our guilty pleasure, we may have allowed to hook us in. Things may have got out of balance and we may have become too dependent on our "habit of choice". We may do something good or feel good, and turn to our habit or addiction as a reward, "After all I deserve it". We may do something "wrong" or feel bad, and turn to our habit or addiction to cheer us up or because we believe we deserve to feel bad. We may even have a mediocre or "normal" day and turn to our habit or addiction because it's simply available or possible - we got through the day and deserve our regular "treat" or "fix" to keep us going. What began as something in the background, can now have become something we believe we can't do without. To get us going we may turn to our familiar "crutch" or "treat". It can be as if our habit or addiction has now become more our lifestyle, as if that is who we are, and changing this, if that is our choice, may be challenging. We may have begun to prioritise and organise our life around our habit or addiction. Pressurised or experiencing the world as an alienating place, we may want to escape into our own world with our crutch, seeking peace of mind. Some of us may be anxious or depressed and, as a reaction, turn to our unhelpful habit or addiction. Ironically we may now have become more anxious and depressed. We may be seeking addiction help and wondering what addiction treatment can be offered.

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What We Do With Our Feelings Inside we may be experiencing an internal battle and discomfort, where a part of us definitely wants to stop, and another part definitely doesn't. Feelings may lurk, build up inside and we turn to our habit or addiction for a release, as this is the only way of releasing things. Distressed, irritable, restless, anxious, pressurised, empty, guilty or depressed, there may be healthier ways to relieve our stress, release pressure, soothe ourselves, fill the gap, etc. We may have bypassed our feelings. In the habit of numbing our unwanted or unbearable feelings (e.g. fear, anger or just life itself), we may convince ourselves that we can only enjoy things when we turn to our habit of choice. So we turn to our impulsive or compulsive behaviour, temporarily filling our void, to release or alter our mood. We may experience an initial thrill, "rush" or "buzz", temporary "high" and want to "zone out” or cut off. We may have allowed other sources of satisfaction to be ignored. Taking care of our underlying needs (apart from our immediate or insatiable need to fill our void by turning to our habit or addiction) in different ways, so the part of us that may feel contaminated no longer controls us, may be a challenge. Stressed and tired - our circular behaviour continues (see also Our Painbody). As we feel anxious, we may learn to repress or displace our anxiety through turning to an unwanted habit or addiction. By now, we may have allowed things to reach a stage we are no longer comfortable with, abandoned ourself (or our body) and now seek addiction help, therapy for addiction. (See also Feelings, Emotions, Emotional Health)

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl

Ignoring, Masking Our Addiction Problem Our habit of choice or addiction can be like a familiar anchor - keeping us in one place, yet we can become stuck or stagnant, gradually closing ourself in. We may become convinced we have our prop to fall back on, hoping our addiction problem will go away. What started off as a need to take our tension away, calm our nerves or be in a good mood, may mask what we need to face. Having difficulty coping with day to day emotions, we can get into the familiar habit of getting a quick fix to relax, overlooking healthier and longer term options - anything to hide our vulnerability and keep things at a distance. Turning to our particular habit or addiction can help us forget problems, or who we are for a while, blanking things out. Our interests, activities and passions may have slowly fallen away, as we allow the false promises of our unwanted habits or addictions to take over, which can give us an illusion of being in control, needing others less. We may turn to our habit or addiction as an easy option to simply close down other difficult aspects of our life, dull our senses, avoid, escape or block our pain and we may at times begin experiencing some despair. We may have a feeling of dread when we are unable to indulge in our favourite habit. Some of us may switch from one compulsive habit to another. Now seeking addiction help some of us can watch us doing what we are doing, yet can't stop, we may not even know why we are doing it. Inside we usually know what's enough.

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From Enjoyable Distraction, Prop, To Emerging Addiction Problem Indulging in the pleasures in life is important to us (some may give us an instant kick, others - a release), yet when they become excessive, they may adversely affect us developing fulfilling relationships with others, or indeed how we are with our self. What we do with our time, resources and energy may have slowly changed. Gradually other things become secondary. What starts off as a distraction, need for comfort or to feel better (e.g. to take our stress away, temporarily fill our boredom and emptiness or to block out things we don't want to think about) may creep up on us and become a coping strategy, rendering us dependent and trapped. Our short term "fix" may have developed into a long term problem. Our habit or addiction can slowly suck us in, as if this has become our template, and we may be considering treatment for addiction. Lost or swallowed up by our pernicious habit or addiction, we may now have an addiction problem we no longer want to ignore. We may have got into a hole, deeper than we realise. Our initial behaviour may gradually or rapidly be turning into a more serious addiction problem. We may have a sense of wasting our life, beginning to feel ashamed and bury our shame by doing what we do, more. Other important things get sidelined. We may not want to connect that the effects of our habit or addiction affects other struggles we have. Slowly, we may become less and less in control of our life, dependent on our habit or addiction for becoming temporarily happy. Choosing healthier distractions, freeing up the rest of our life might be important.

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Possible Effects On Us Caught in our own cocoon or bubble, we may not even recognise our self at times. We may have forgotten, don't know how to, or be unwilling to regulate what we do. Our (almost default) behaviour may become compulsive or obsessive, as we become preoccupied by thinking about when next we will indulge in our habit or addiction. Our selfesteem diminishes. Inside of us we may hear a concerned voice, which we choose to ignore. We may want to change or stop, believing this at the time, yet struggle to do so. We can become worn out by it all. Along the way we may have relinquished our choice, deciding not to take control or responsibility. We may have become disconnected from our diminishing values. Crossing certain lines, missing out or wasting opportunities, putting things off, not completing things, we may end up lying to us and others. A red mist may glaze over us. Our sense of reality may become distorted. We may have begun to reach, or be at a point of crisis, seeking addiction treatment or addiction therapy. (See also Increasingly negative consequences)

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Possible Effects On Others Others around us may show their concern (indicating there is a good chance we have an addiction problem), yet we dismiss or ignore this too. We may conceal, minimise or deny the effects of what we are doing. Our behaviour starts to affect not only us but also others, and we may deny or rationalise our addiction problem, twisting logic to suit our behaviour, as the quality of life around us deteriorates. All the different sorts of relationships we have, may gradually erode. We can find our way round restrictions that we or others have imposed to try and stop us. We may minimise the time or money we spend. Secrets develop. We may hide what we do or stash things away. We may try to deceive not only others, but even us. If we are in a relationship, our partner may tell us that we care more about our habit or addiction, than we do about them, which puts the relationship under strain. Prioritising our habit or addiction we may have stopped looking after our self (see Neglect) or others in ways we would really like to. Instead of opening up to others, addressing our addiction problem, we turn to our habit or addiction again. Another part of us may now be seeking therapy for addiction, addiction treatment.

Having A Partner With An Unhelpful Habit Or Addiction Addiction counselling and psychotherapy for addictions can also help men and women in a relationship with someone who has an addiction problem, receiving addiction treatment. We may try to help or rescue our partner, loved one, becoming their caretaker, yet this doesn't seem to work. Taking loving action for ourselves and our partner may include supporting personal responsibility in each of us.

Neglect Alongside our relationship and friends, we may have neglected ourself and our own responsibilities, obligations or social engagements, even our work or sleep may suffer. Hooked on our habit of choice or addiction we may have neglected our personal care needs, looking after our self, including exercise, our diet, appearance, personal cleanliness, surroundings, passions, interests and general wellbeing. We may have chosen to avoid taking responsibility for our feelings. Choosing to seek the courage to do this with compassion may be our challenge, and a further challenge may be seeking addiction help.

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Gradually Spiralling Downwards What was once normal behaviour, may have developed a pattern (e.g. frequency, more is better), which in the early stages may not be destructive or harmful. However our pattern may have become less flexible over time. Our pattern may have moved on to becoming a habit, that we usually or always do, which has now become difficult to change or stop. We may carry an air of resignation - "I've been doing it so long now, I might as well continue". Another part of us may half-heartedly make promises to stop, though mean it at the time. Our behaviour may have become more compulsive, that we have to or must do what we do. That if we don't, we may become agitated, distressed or frantic. At this point our relationships may become damaged. And when what we do becomes problematic, slowly damaging to our emotional and physical health, finances, etc, our behaviour may now have become an addiction (see also High-Low Addiction Model). Treatment for addiction may be something we are now looking for.

Triggers There can be a wide range of unacknowledged needs, reasons or "buttons we press" for why we do what we do. We all have our personal triggers, which have their own momentum and can become a compulsion, become an unwanted habit or addiction:

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What We Did Back Then With Our Pain Deep feelings may not have had the opportunity discussed when younger, which may reverberate now. Since childhood we may have learnt that our pain can be avoided (see Unhealed Wounds) if we pay a price for it. And we continue this in adulthood, struggling to respond to the depths of suffering and love. The addiction therapy can explore this with you.

What We Do Now With Our Pain Our unwanted habit or addiction may temporarily protect us from anguish, yet at the same time reinforce our sense of inadequacy. We may try to avoid our anguish, pain, or deny our painful feelings, by paying a price for the effects of our unwanted habits or addictions. Deep inside we may experience a sadness that palpably aches, which drives us on, yet deceives us. Beating ourself up, self-hatred at times may be our companion and our forgiveness may be in short supply. Counselling for addiction can be a place to discuss these painful feelings.

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Overcoming addiction or an unwanted habit, which has become out of control, may now be our concern. And it is only after we slow down, have a pause, stop, acknowledge our loss and grief, let go and get addiction help, supported by the addiction counselling, addiction psychotherapy, that we can create a space to sit with our feeIings, without running away, and later begin to look at why we do what we do, finding alternatives from turning to our "drug of choice". Addictions counselling and psychotherapy can help people who are willing to address, with commitment and honesty, their preoccupation with their out of control habits, cravings, addictions, dependency and compulsions, which interfere with their daily life in such a way, that they are overwhelming, excessive or inappropriate. Our addiction may have become our anchor at the cost of anchoring our self.

What Is Addiction? There are many schools of thought, ideologies as to what is addiction, types of addiction, and also different treatments for addiction. There are conflicting ideas and no scientific consensus as to what is addiction and dependency, with multiple viewpoints. It is described as a disease, behavioural or learnt condition, the result of environmental influences or a social construct. Some professionals have very wide definitions of what is an addiction, covering many behaviours (e.g. that an addiction is doing anything we can't stop, anything that is used to avoid feelings), and others restrict signs of addiction to narrowly defined criteria, e.g. overuse or the level of social engagement with others. Some professionals acknowledge we can be addicted to either substances or activities. It is argued that anything can become an addiction, dependent on our intent - that if our attempt is to avoid responsibility for our feelings and learning from them, we will find addictive ways of avoiding them. Certain addictions are often called process addictions, like workaholism, religion, sex and romance addiction. Other addictions, like alcohol, are called substance addictions. Others argue there is a third category - emotional addiction, letting an emotion run our life and linked to this some talk of a dopamine addiction. Some professionals view certain behaviours and compulsions as distinct, either an addiction or compulsive behaviour. Some see the behaviour only as addictive, that we are addicted to a behaviour. Others view the addiction problem as being about impulsiveness (impulse control) or that it is our biology, instincts that drive us. Some view that the process of mood alteration is the addictive element (as if a chemical addiction), linked to the excitement we get from dopamine and endorphins - chemicals acting as a reward system in our brain when we experience pleasurable activities, that we want to return to again and again - that there is a physiological response center in our brain that gets "switched on" when seeking comfort, reward (see also Body, Feelings, Mind Connection). Addiction treatments therefore vary.

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Familiar Addiction Experiences

Trying To Stop, Cut Down Or Control Use - The Two Sides Of Us Some of us may compartmentalise things, as if a part of us wants to stop, believing this at the time and another part believes they never can stop. It can be as if those two parts of us have separate logic, beliefs, even identities. We may have trouble controlling doing what we do, setting limits and boundaries. Some may simply automatically turn to their unhelpful habit - no question. Others may seek justification. We may hear ourself going "No", yet another part of us says "Yes" (finding ways to get round our "No"), and we do it as if we have two sides of our personality - in control and suddenly this other side of us who isn't in control taking over as we watch this happening, almost powerless. It can be as if a switch inside of us turns on. We may have had previous unsuccessful attempts to stop or manage our habit or addiction. Before we know it, we can become hooked. It can be as if there is a tug of war in our head as our thoughts creep in. We can become so close to not doing what we do, that the line is very fine. Yet, as we become preoccupied, thinking, plotting, imagining, planning our rituals and routines, we get aroused again through our emotional triggers. "I need a hit" may be our immediate reaction. We may have an attitude of "I won't do it for long", "Just this once", "Can I get away with it, or slip it in with no one noticing", "I'll start afresh tomorrow" - and on it goes. In the privacy of our own world, confused or angry, we may vow "No more", and mean it at the time. Deceiving ourselves and others can become soul destroying. "Never again" we say, yet, at the back of our mind something stirs within. Scared, we revert back to what we are used to - pursuing our "solution" yet again. We may deny we have an addiction problem, yet in the cold light of the day we know we do. Yet shored up by the fantasies we have to hold onto, it can be as if there are two sides of us: the addict side with "magical" or distorted thinking with its own set of values, (holding on to believing things contrary to our own values), and our healthy side, with our different set of personal values. These different sides of us may have and different ways of relating. Seeking treatment for addiction, addiction therapy, we may sense deep in our gut that something is wrong, that we need to listen, respond to this, and take it seriously.

Our Will Captured By Desire Daydreaming, we can go off to a space, as if we are hypnotised, absorbed in a trance, untouchable. Our strong will to stop or do anything else may have become captured by our habit or addiction. We may have tried half-heartedly to overcome addiction. As our free will diminishes, caught by our desire for more, it can be as if we experience our self no longer of our own volition. Underneath our desire may live deep loss, grief. Trapped in our own almost automatic behaviour, as we have no choice, deep inside we may know, that what we do won't make us better, and may now be ready for addiction help. Some of us may want to fight our insatiable urges, desires - acknowledging them, allowing them to pass, diverting them towards something else so we no longer bypass our conscious choice.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl

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Addiction Cycle We may have tried stopping, dealing with addiction or seek treatment for addiction before. Meanwhile the unwanted, unbearable feeIings are still there, and in fact may be getting worse, as we become more disconnected, developing all-or-nothing thinking and our selfworth plummets. Our sense of frustration, loneliness and emptiness deepens, as we turn again to something outside of us to fill it. Wanting something, we believe we have to have it, and fuelled by our rekindled hope, anticipation, we may be temporarily gratified, turning to our habit of choice as a compensation. We may have a temporary pause until the next time, and on it goes.

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Increasingly negative consequences may include spending much time (and usually money) preoccupied thinking about our habit of choice, slowly deteriorating physical, mental health, or relationships beginning to suffer. Love, and our treasured values may be eroded, including those of a spiritual nature. We may hit a wall and pass through it. Darkness may come upon us. Ironically the very feelings we are trying to escape from, e.g. alienation, loneliness, depression, can render us more out of control and the same feelings becoming more painful. Things can get left or get on top of us, we may cut off, finding it hard to speak about what we are going through with others. Disgust, despair, guilt, shame and anger at what we are doing may be familiar reactions, as we struggle to rationalise our behaviour, refusing to believe the effects on us and others. The more we indulge, the more guilty we can become. Turning to our familiar habit or addiction we may say "I've got the guilt now, what do I care, so I might as well do it anyway". It can be as if our behaviour has become harmful or destructive, unmanageable and now has control over us. Our relationships by now may become destroyed. Addiction therapy can be a place to talk about these things.

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High-Low Addiction Model Neurotransmitters carry communication from our brain throughout our body. For example when we get anxious epinephrine can be released. It is understandable that we want to induce pleasant feelings. With many of these habits, so called "addictions" and actual addictions, it is no coincidence, that we say we can get a "high", as chemicals, like dopamine, serotonin are released in the body, which can become intoxicating. We can get an adrenaline rush and temporary emotional release, which can end up being used as a way to soothe our pain, and our brain can get used to this habitual response, setting up a dependency. Responding to and managing our anxiety differently may be challenging. It can be as if we are enacting a "pleasure principle" - that in our repeated activities, compelled to seeking pleasure we may end up further away from pleasure, suffering more. We believe the only way to feeI good again is to get another high - and this is followed by a deeper low (see also Gradually Spiralling Downwards), often compounded by our guilt, shame. As our tolerance increases our body re-calibrates to the higher level, as we feed our "habit of choice" more and more, to take us out of that deeper low, yet usually become progressively worse, as our craving, urges and insatiable neediness increases. We may have become "attached" to our artificial high and low and struggle to disengage from this pattern, fearing disappointment. The following addiction treatment model summarises what we can end up doing to us over time.

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Beliefs We May Hold On To When our unwanted habit or addiction becomes a problem, we may tell ourselves, that:

  • We don't need others
  • Our habit or addiction is more important than people
  • We can do what we want, regardless of others
  • We are too afraid to face problems
  • We don't have to face things we don't want to

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"Addictive Behaviour" Patterns Many professionals would agree that there are certain commonalities, which may include: preoccupation, some loss of control, impulsiveness, compulsiveness, increase in severity, persistence, feeling powerless, looking for solutions for our addiction problems outside of ourself, avoiding or denying painful feelings, maybe an underlying sense of toxic shame, self-hatred or loathing, which feeds our addiction, and it turn further feeds our self-loathing. Some professionals would argue that no one chooses an addiction, yet we still have choice with what we do with it. We may struggle to listen and attend to our emotional needs (turning to something rather than someone to change our mood), understand how our personal reward system works, turn to healthier natural rewards, develop strategies to walk away from, what is damaging and dangerous to us, replace old rituals, habits with supportive ones, embrace our whole life.

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Predispositions & Addiction Labels Whether there is a biological basis or genetic component (an "addiction gene") or such a predisposition as "addictive personality" (having a persistent, lifelong state of being either excited or depressed through childhood conditioning), is another question and beliefs are diverse. Giving people "labels, classifications" can also be unhelpful (we may become typecast, put in a box) because they don't allow us to take personal responsibility, no longer abandoning ourself, regain control, have hope. Stuck with a label of "addict", our humaneness can be overlooked. Addiction treatments vary.

Searching For Something Something may be missing and we may be unsure what this is (sometimes it may be a nostalgia for what was). We may have placed all our desires (and need for a high) into our unwanted habit or addiction. Yet empty inside, many of us may be searching for something else, and we may not know how to find this or trust that we can, through any other means. We may also have existential concerns. Addiction counselling and psychotherapy can be alongside you and support you in getting in touch with what else you may be searching for.

The therapy for addiction not only explores our behaviour but also focuses on its causes and functions. During the counselling for addiction the therapy may also explore our cravings (and the thoughts that they are), triggers and ways to reduce our compulsion through preventative strategies and lifestyle changes, so we don't always have to cling on to things or turn to quick fixes or familiar self-destructive ways and can make a fresh start, slowly begin to reclaim our life back (see also Taking The Long Way Home).

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Addiction Therapy, Addiction Treatment Questions Some of us may have an addiction problem and seek addiction help, treatment for addiction, and have a range of questions, e.g.:

  • Treatment of addiction - what is the treatment for addiction?
  • Therapy for addiction - how does addiction therapy differ from addiction treatment?
  • Help with addiction - what sort of addiction help is available?
  • Addicts treatment - am I an addict? What is the help for addicts?
  • Addiction recovery treatment - what does addiction recovery treatment entail?
  • Overcoming addiction - how to overcome addiction?
  • Addictions counselling - is there a difference between addiction counselling, addiction psychotherapy & addiction therapy
  • Dealing with addiction - how to control addiction?
  • Private addiction treatment - what is private addiction treatment?

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