"Addictive and compulsive behaviors (such as alcohol and drug dependence/abuse, cigarette addiction, compulsive shopping and eating, pornography addiction, relationship addiction, etc.) often go hand-in-hand with trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Trauma is often a hidden underlying source of addictive and compulsive behaviors. In fact, it is estimated that approximately one-third of those who suffer from the after-effects of trauma turn to alcohol or drug use for relief. Similarly, research indicates that the more trauma and neglect one experiences, the greater their risk for gambling disorders and sexual addiction.
Those who've experienced trauma are not the only ones to struggle with addictive and compulsive behaviors though. Addictive and compulsive behaviors are often used as a coping mechanism. If your life feels out of control due to experiencing intense and uncomfortable emotions (e.g., sadness, hurt, grief, shame, anxiety) or you struggle to handle your stress, then it's understandable that you would want to comfort yourself in some way. If you never learned healthy coping skills, such as how to self-soothe, how to tolerate and regulate your emotions, or how to calm yourself, then it actually makes a lot of sense as to why you may have over-relied on an external substance or behavior (e.g., alcohol, drugs, food, unhealthy relationships, etc.) to calm yourself and to try to make yourself feel better.
The Stages of Change model is an approach that I find very useful with addictive and compulsive behavior (or any change for that matter). The stages of change include:
Precontemplation - You're not considering changing your problematic behavior and you may be unaware of any negative consequences to your behavior.
Contemplation - You're starting to look at the pros and cons of your behavior and are considering making a positive change.
Preparation - You're preparing to make a positive change.
Action - You're working on changing your behavior.
Maintenance - You're developing new skills that allow you to sustain your positive changes.
Relapse - A return to older, problematic behaviors. Relapse is not uncommon and is a helpful step as long as it is used as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become stronger.
A common mistake people make when trying to initiate a positive change is that upon realizing they want to make a change (contemplation stage), they abruptly make the change (action stage). However, since they did not prepare themselves (preparation stage) for this change, they cannot sustain their change and thus experience a sense of failure (relapse stage)."
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