Breaking Habits - Strategies for Overcoming Addiction in an Ever-Changing World

Addiction can be difficult to both acknowledge and treat because it is a very basic function of neurochemistry. Everything you care about becomes secondary when you are an addict and your well-being becomes dependent on what you are addicted to. Anything, be it a hobby, substance, or behaviour that you continue to indulge knowing full well (or have been told repeatedly about it by people who care about you) that it has a negative impact on your life, that you may even want to stop or lessen, but that you do anyway means you have an "addiction".

It’s hard to treat addiction with sheer willpower because the addict's mind is prone to relapse. Going cold turkey or pushing yourself forcefully to quit addictive behaviour comes with extreme withdrawal symptoms, that are not easy to cope with. In this blog, we will highlight some of the ways you can break habits and addictive behavioural patterns while minimizing withdrawals.

How Addiction Is Developed?

The cause of addiction mainly comes down to how our brain is built to self-regulate many important body functions. The brain uses a pleasure/reward feedback system based on dopamine. The brain detects low blood sugar, so you feed yourself a good meal, and bingo, you get a nice boost of feel-good dopamine. This is how people can become addicted to actions as well as drugs.

Addiction is behaviour that mimics or replaces the pleasure/reward feedback. Gambling, shopping, eating, sex, and especially adrenaline junkie activities are good examples. Substances are a bit more complex. People mistake gambling addiction with winning, but forget the fact that even people who lose are also addicted to gambling. It is because gambling addiction is not based upon adrenaline from the win, but the brain's reaction from almost winning.

What Causes Withdrawal Symptoms?

Drugs (almost all of them) along with other things like food (e.g. sugar addiction, caffeine addiction, junk food addiction etc.) make us feel good by giving our brains a shot of dopamine-like chemicals. This results in hijacking our natural pleasure/reward feedback system which helps us to regulate our bodies. The brain basically convinces itself that there's enough dopamine floating around in the system and it doesn’t need to make as much or any at all. Also, many dopamine-like drugs will block or clog dopamine receptors in the brain, thus any that the brain later makes is less effective. This is what causes horrible withdrawal symptoms when you stop consuming the thing you are addicted to and your system lacks dopamine.

Why Cold Turkey or Using Willpower Is Ineffective for Most People?

Normally people quit a habit using willpower, but willpower is a limited resource. When we rely on willpower we encounter ego-depletion i.e. we lose all motivation to keep fighting and give in to our raging craving. For example, when you first quit, you can do well for a few days, but then you start to think "Maybe just this one time" or "I've been good, I can just do it a little,” And consequently, you give in. Some people actually do well with methods like cold turkey, but again, not everyone is built alike, and using your sheer willpower is difficult when your natural reward system has been hijacked by constant substance exposure.

Methods to Deal with Different Kinds of Addictions

Vaping to Quit Smoking

Smoking is an admittedly difficult habit to break. Every year smoking takes the lives of millions of people globally. The reason that people struggle with quitting smoking is nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawals take the shape of headaches, nausea, extreme mood swings etc. One of the best ways to quit smoking, which has emerged in recent years, is vaping. Vaping is by far one of the most successful methods to quit smoking, that is backed by the health authorities in the UK. It entails the use of e-liquids containing nicotine, along with a vape device. Research shows that vaping reduces the harm of smoking by 95% because it does not release any harmful chemicals and carcinogens that are found in cigarettes.

Attention-Intensive Activities to Break Food Addiction

Food addiction is mainly formed due to a lot of people using food to cope with oral fixation. It can be unique to each individual, but the oral fixation part – be it the cause or something that people develop after getting addicted to food– is still there. Oral fixation may lead you to reach out to whatever food item you find on a whim to appease it. Even people with depression develop oral fixation, to keep their mouth busy with something constantly.

One of the ways to deal with oral fixation is to indulge in attention-intensive activities to shift your attention towards something that’s more productive. This will also help you avoid mindless and unconscious eating. Keeping your mind focused on attention-intensive activities like knitting, drawing/painting, and gardening are extremely helpful in this respect.

Psychological Coherence to Quit Alcohol

Alcohol addiction is another lethal addictive pattern, that is not easy to substitute with another thing. But one thing or framework that works the best for alcoholics or people with drug addiction is the principle of psychological coherence. The desire to have sympathy towards all parts of your mind, including your dumb and primitive but ultimately well-meaning lizard brain, comes from the principle of psychological coherence. The fewer internal conflicts between different parts of our mind, the easier it is for us to maintain a coherent sense of self and good mental health.

You don’t have to be at war with yourself when you are fighting alcohol addiction. Your mind isn't really conspiring against you. While even something as archaic as the flight or flight response tends to cause us much trouble in our modern lives, studies show that without it, we are more prone to problems with memory, learning, performance and motivation. Even the parts that don't always work optimally for our current day situation have still developed for our own benefit.

Hence, if you have a habit of over-indulging in alcohol, perhaps instead of some mean-spirited mental ogre, your inner voice could take the shape of a peer figure who keeps pushing you to indulge because that's his or her one clumsy and not very useful way to express his or her love. (This might actually be one reason behind such a habit.) Instead of shouting "Be gone, you troll!" you can just say "No thanks, I'm good."

Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!


You must be logged in to post a comment.

About Author