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Substance Abuse, Addiction or Habit?

Substance Abuse by Tricia Woolfrey

Have you ever wondered whether you, or someone close to you is addicted to a substance, or if it’s just a bad habit?  Or perhaps that they abuse substances?  There is a lot of confusion between these terms which I would like to clarify in this article.

A habit is simply an automatic action, without any dependency.  It is something you do without thinking.  Like always having a biscuit with your tea, or brushing your teeth as soon as you get out of bed in the morning.  You do them automatically.

Addiction refers to being unable to stop a particular behaviour, despite repeated attempts to do so.  It is more a psychological dependency which can build a tolerance requiring more and more to get the same effect.  It is no longer about pleasure, it is about need as though the person can’t function without it.  The tolerance build up can fool the person into thinking they don’t have a problem, such as the heavy drinker who doesn’t get drunk.  This actually means that he has built up a tolerance which can hide the dangerous consequences for his health.  An addict will experience withdrawal symptoms – both psychological and physical which can be extremely unpleasant.

An addict will also be unable to stop, will exceed self-imposed limits (I’ll only have one), the behaviour will cut into the time they would usually spend doing other things and they will use despite the negative effect it has on their health.

An addiction can involve substances such as drugs (prescription or recreational), stimulants, cigarettes and alcohol. It can also include compulsive behaviours such as internet use, sex, gambling, shopping, or work.

Substance abuse, by contrast, involves getting into recurrent trouble as a consequence of the behaviour.  It is defined as one or more of the following over a 12 month period: reckless behaviour such as driving under the influence; the behaviour affecting work or school; continued use despite the impact on personal relationships; legal and/or financial problems as a result of the behaviour such as being charged with disorderly conduct, or going into debt to fund the behaviour.

A habit can easily lead to an addiction and addicts can kid themselves that it’s only a habit.  So, good questions to ask yourself are “is this habit positive and balanced?  Or is it negative and out of balance?”  “Can I stop now?” If it has become out of balance and you are unable to stop – it has become an addiction.  Addictions can also build up as a means of distracting from what else is happening in your life.  Distracting yourself is not a healthy way of coping so it’s important to build up your internal resources so that you are able to deal with life’s stressors without the need to resort to distractions.

It’s also important to beware that, in stopping one addiction, you don’t start a dependency on another addiction, for example moving from a dependency on alcohol to over-spending.  This becomes the doorway to start drinking again.  It’s always helpful to see a professional to deal with these complex issues.

If you would like to find out more about any of this, contact Tricia Woolfrey www.pw-hypnotherapy.co.uk.

© Tricia Woolfrey 2012

Tricia Woolfrey is an integrative therapist, an advanced clinical hypnotherapist, master practitioner in NLP, nutritionist, and author and utilises bioenergetics to help you be the best you can be.  She has practices in Surrey and Harley Street, London.  She can be reached on 0845 130 0854 www.pw-hypnotherapy.co.uk.