July 28, 2016

Breaking an Addiction: How to Set Yourself Free

In the final part of this seven-part series on addiction, we share with you techniques and principals for breaking an addiction, overcoming the challenges with it, and how to set yourself free.

Welcome back! In this final part of the seven-part series on addiction, we share with you a few techniques and principles for breaking an addiction, overcoming these problems, and living free.

Breaking an Addiction

Imagine you're playing football. But instead of being on a team, it's you alone against the best team in the finals. You're trying your hardest to win, but you keep getting tackled from all sides. You can never see who's behind you and you can't think about dealing with that many players at once. In short, you're screwed!

That's about what it's like to try to overcome an addiction on your own.

Bring in Reinforcements

Without the presence of others in our lives, we get caught inside our own heads. We skew the truth. We don't see the big picture or recognize our own patterns. It's like looking at a piece of art through a microscope. You have a limited perspective. Others around us can tell us, "I've noticed that you seem to do XYZ when ABC happens. It seems to be damaging your quality of life." They can sense things that we may not be able to recognize.

In addition to the perspective issue, addictions thrive in secrecy. When it's just you and your drug of choice, it's easy to continue. But, when there are others who know what's happening, who are hurt and disappointed when you act out or keep your addiction, something changes.

Principle 1: Gather a team to support you.

Become Accountable

In the article 'Finding Accountability', The Waterfall Concept explains that some clinicians actually require sex addicts, people with sexual addictions, to purchase a lie detector that their spouses can use at any time. They suggest that this tool for keeping accountability can be a highly effective deterrent to acting out. They also say "it takes away the possibility of secrecy and allowing the addict to 'get away with it'."
The choice to not act out or the will to say no, eventually becomes stronger demonstrating the power of accountability.
It's one thing to drink, watch porn, binge eat, or waste hours clicking through celebrity gossip when there's no one affected but yourself. It's another when there's someone by your side who cares about you. Who believes things should be better for you. All this, despite the fact they may feel betrayed by your actions.

We're wired to live in a community and to need each other, and nowhere is this truer than in recovering from addictions and bad habits in pursuit to rebuilding a better life.

Principle 2: Be accountable.

Ultimately, you are responsible for your own thoughts, your own decisions, your own actions, and your own behavior. Set yourself up for success and find the people around you who care enough to pay attention and call you out on things you know you shouldn't be doing to keep you on track.

I Can't Just Stop

Once you find these people. Your team. Your reinforcements. The people who will keep you accountable, are you home free? Not quite. There is another major component to overcoming addictions. When you end an addiction, you're removing something from your life. The problem is, nature abhors a vacuum.
You just can't take away something you've become strongly dependent to without replacing it with something else.
As we've discussed in previous articles, addictions are formed when the addict becomes hooked on a substance or behavior that raises their level of the dopamine—the pleasure chemical—in their brain. It's these high levels of dopamine releases that cause addicts to become hooked.

Going cold turkey or snatching these practices and behaviors away seldom works. Not only can it leave you frustrated, but it can also cause 'reverse effects.' Effects such as severe depression, anxiety, distress, and other symptoms.

Use Tools

So what are some great solutions? Apps such as Brainbuddy are excellent tools created to help people actually overcome addictions. While it's designed for porn and masturbation addicts, it provides great resources and tips regarding addictions in general. One such resource is their daily "healthy dopamine release" section.

Here they suggest that instead of porn, you should take a walk. Try yoga. Call a friend. Go somewhere new. Watch a movie. The same holds true for any other addiction. Obviously, if your addiction is to movies, you'll want to avoid movies. Or if your addiction is food, a bowl of ice cream might not be the wisest idea, while for someone else, it might be helpful.

Principle 3: Find the right tools for you.

Get Smart

The point is, be smart about it. Look for healthy ways to raise your dopamine. Consider downloading the Brainbuddy app or searching the web for similar lists of healthy ways to increase your happiness without becoming enslaved to something.

Principle 4: Don't create a vacuum.

Instead, build a bridge. Find a way to replace your addiction with an empowering behavior, habit, or activity.

Freedom Exists

It won't be easy. It won't be quick. But if you keep at it — eventually, it'll unstick.
Regardless of how bad you think your addiction has become, know that it's entirely possible to break even the most ingrained of addictions. Remember how, in the first article in this series, we discussed the formation of habits? How we form new neural pathways in our brains when we form habits? So that we can reach the same point as easily and efficiently as possible? The bad news is that forming an addiction actually physically changes your brain. You're now literally wired to need this behavior.

But that's also the good news. If your brain can be rewired, it can be rewired again. The process of rewiring our brain is called "neuroplasticity," and it's one of the most incredible things our minds can do. We have the ability to literally reform pathways to create new pathways. New pathways that can create new habits, new behaviors, new ways of thinking. It, however, takes time and hard work.

Rewire Your Brain

The website What is Neuroplasticity explains that it was once believed that we only had until about age 20 to form new pathways. After that, we were stuck in whatever habits and choices we had developed. This, however, is no longer the case.
"New studies have shown through the use of PET, and MRI brain scanning technology, new neural cells are generated throughout life as well as new neural pathways."
Principle 5: Don't lose hope.

You're not set in your ways. You can work to build new pathways; new habits. You can surround yourself with people who want the best for you and aren't afraid to tell you, "You have a problem," or "No, don't do that." You can seek out healthier means of raising your dopamine levels so that you feel happy and content. It's not easy, but it is possible.

Let today be the day that you make your life better.

Wrapping Up

We've talked about forming addictions and breaking them. The importance of recognizing and admitting addictions. Discussed why we turn to them. We've also looked at substance abuse with alcohol and drug addiction, sexual addictions, food addiction, and entertainment addictions. And finally, we've examined the root problems and the basic solutions.

In short, we've learned that at the end of the day, addictions are attempts to fill something we're missing with something that's unhealthy. They thrive in isolation; living for ourselves, by ourselves, trapped in ourselves. They die when we step into the light, invite others in, and seek out better lifestyle choices.

In the end, it's about what you feed it. Are you going to feed and fuel your addiction, or are you going to starve it and feed your goals and dreams?

Other articles in this 7-part series:

  1. What is an Addiction and Addiction Formation.
  2. Stages of Addiction: Are You Addicted?
  3. Substance Abuse: The Catalyst for Drug Addiction.
  4. Sexual Addictions: The Science and Psychology.
  5. Food Addictions: It's Not Just About Food.
  6. Entertainment Addiction: Are We Escaping Reality?
  7. (This article)