When a client introduces the question of possible addiction with comments such as these: “I’m worried I drink too much.” “I have no control over my eating.” “I have maxed out my credit card shopping.” ….. there is a flag on the play. Those kinds of statements do NOT mean addiction, however, they do register concern about behavior and when/if it’s manageable or has moved too far along a continuum towards genuine trouble.
Consider the reality that raising the question….with a therapist, with a friend or family member, or just in your reflective moments of self examination….is actually a good sign…a sign that you are paying attention. Then the next step is to pay even closer attention to what’s going on.
When clients agree to “test” a concern about addiction, I have a few beginning steps for individuals to explore. Let’s take a substance as an example….it can be alcohol, sugar, coffee, or anything you eat or drink that you’re concerned about. The first step is to abstain from ______ for three days.
If you discover you truly “can’t” or even that it’s just far too hard, then it’s time for some self examination. If you have relative success with three days, the next step is to do it for 30 days.
At the same time you are abstaining, it’s important to record your thoughts. How do you feel? What kind of “withdrawal” do you have — physical, emotional? What thoughts are you aware of?
For most people who have become dependent on any kind of substance, there’s an immediate physical impact……followed by thoughts like: “this is stupid and I don’t really need or want to quit drinking, eating_______.” “I’m fine. I’ve just been over reacting.” You can find your own thought distortion….just check in with that over active mind!
If you discover that it’s relatively easy to be free of your potentially addictive behavior, it’s possible that you can proceed to drink once in a while, eat a favorite sweet periodically, treat yourself to a shopping trip…then just be observant. Learn to pay attention to signals from your body….to the self-justification thought distortions. Your body and your mind play tricks on you….so the more attentive you are, the more you learn about yourself.
How much is too much now becomes a good question…….I had a client addicted to diet coke. And her true confession was consuming 10 to 12 a day! Her body finally reacted — she woke up covered in hives. After a visit to her internist and some treatment for the hives, she and I began a process of slowly detoxing. To stop cold turkey with that much caffeine and sweetener might have produced intense physical reactions, so she cut back slowly. And as she finally and gradually cleared her system she THEN went on the 30 day trial. She reported having no idea how much she had become controlled by her addiction…and that when finally free of the cravings, how much better she felt in general.
Each of us is likely to do too much of something …. the key is to question, to test, to pay attention, to be mindful! Your health and well being depends on your awareness. And if you have any concerns about any level of addictive behavior, please talk to someone. And as always, ask me any questions. You deserve to feel great!