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Addiction means a lot of different things
The term covers many different concerns. Most commonly, people think of various kinds of substance abuse, from legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol to heroin, cannabis, cocaine and so on. However, there are also quite common addictions to shopping, spending, gambling, sex and pornography and a variety of other things and activities. Indeed the most common addiction of all is to caffeine - though very few people with this addiction go to therapists of course. There are those who suggest that everyone has an addiction of some kind. However, clearly some addictions are problematic for people. Many endanger health and wellbeing. Some destroy lives.

Are there common patterns?
  • Compromised needs:  Whilst many people may experiment with drugs, drink, go shopping, gamble etc., relatively few become addicted. Recent thinking suggests that this may be because many of the basic psychological needs human beings were inadequately met at the time the addiction developed - and go on being compromised partly because of the addiction.
  • Damaged resources:  Equally, people may become addicted because some of their innate resources for meeting psychological needs may have been temporarily damaged or have never been properly developed
  • The addictive trance:  Addictions are characterised by automatic behaviours around the addiction. The addict is easily lured into trance-like states in which he or she behaves as if on automatic pilot, despite any good intentions. It is as if the addiction had taken over choice.
  • Dissonance & helplessness:  It is common for addicts to be or become unhappy with their addictive behaviours, yet to still perform them. There is often a conflict between intention and action. This is one reason preaching to addicts rarely reforms them. Addicts frequently know that their behaviour is wrong or not good for them and ought to change, but feel helpless because of the 'power' of the habit.
Stages of recovery and relapse:
According to some experts, there is a typical cycle through which addicts may pass several times before recovering completely - though it remains possible, through awareness and intelligently realistic strategies, to escape this cycle:
  • Pre-contemplation:  At this stage, addicts are happy with their habit and do not regard it as a problem.
  • Contemplation:  Addicts begin to be discontented with the amount of control the habit has over them and may experience the dissonance and helplessness described above
  • Decision:  Addicts decide on a strategy (willpower/counselling/therapy/drug substitution etc.) for stopping the addiction and put it into practice.
  • Maintenance:  At this stage, if the decision stage has been successful, former addicts are maintaining their new, non-addicted state.
  • Relapse:  This is unfortunately not untypical, since strategies are often unrealistic and comprehensive enough.
Intelligent therapy for addictions
  • breaks the trance of addiction
  • empowers the client, showing that helplessness is not inevitable
  • develops comprehensive, realistic strategies
  • develops ways the client can meet needs in new ways
  • takes into account the unique circumstances and capacities of the client
  • uses effective methods of de-traumatising and de-conditioning unhelpful memories where appropriate
  • does not encourage introspection and confession
  • avoids psychobabble of all kinds

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