Alcohol and other addictions

If you are wondering if you or someone you care about is an addict or not, below are the 8 questions that doctors use to make a diagnosis. Although aimed at substance abuse, the questions apply equally to gambling and other non-substance addictions.

You are classed as an addict if three or more of the following features are present:

  • A strong desire or sense of compulsion to take the substance.
  • Difficulties controlling the substance-taking behaviour in terms of when it occurs, and or being able to stop, and or being unable to control the amount consumed once started.
  • A physically unpleasant withdrawal state when not consuming the substance.
  • Further substance use to relieve or avoid the withdrawal state.
  • Evidence of increased tolerance (increased doses are required in order to achieve effects originally produced by lower doses).
  • Progressive neglect of alternative pleasures or interests because of the substance use.
  • Persisting with substance use despite clear evidence of harmful consequences.
  • Narrowing of a person’s ‘personal repertoire’ or lifestyle – i.e. taking the substance becomes more important than anything else.

It is rare for someone to deliberately set out to seriously damage/destroy their own life or the lives of others. People become addicted to something because it gives them pleasure or prevents them suffering pain and it develops through repeated use. In their mind, what they get from doing it far outweighs the consequences it has for them afterwards. Normally the time someone seeks help for an addiction, whether it is alcohol, binge drinking, gambling, smoking, shopping or drugs, is when they have gone beyond denial and reached the point when they realise that their addiction is beyond their control.

In fact, reaching the point of accepting you are an addict and wanting to break free of the dependency, is seen as an essential first step in the process of change. There has to come a point when someone says “enough is enough”, and means it, for real change to occur.

Sadly, this point usually occurs when the self-destructive behaviour has already caused significant damage to life – health, wealth, relationships, career and self –esteem. Strong feelings such as self-loathing, guilt, anger, self-pity and hopelessness also contribute to keeping people trapped in the vicious cycle of their addiction.

People also find an addictive, compulsive habit difficult to break partly because they may also have often tried to quit and failed. And when people keep trying but don’t succeed it can lead them to convincing themselves that they’ll never be able to succeed.

There is also a notion that there is a genetic cause for the addictive behaviour, an ‘addictive personality’ type. This term ‘addictive personality’ is used so commonly in our culture that few of us question whether an addictive personality type really exists, yet any search on the internet will show that many doctors and psychiatrists believe that the term means little or nothing. Certainly, there is little scientific evidence for an addictive personality as such. Personality is also complex and the role of personality in addiction is uncertain.

My own view not only is the “addictive personality” notion unproven but, it is also very unhelpful – to believe that you are as you are because you were born that way can simply become a self fulfilling prophecy that stops you from taking action to change.

I subscribe to the cognitive model of addiction – cognition is the process by which we attain knowledge and awareness of the world, and an addiction is not inherited but is learned behaviour. The more one consumes the more likely one is to be become addicted. Addiction can thus happen to anyone.

However, that said, you do not need to subscribe to the cognitive model for hypnotherapy to help you to change*. You may instead prefer to think of an addiction as an illness or disease yet also recognise too that the mind plays a significant role in the process of becoming well again.

* results of course may vary from person to person

What matters most is that someone is motivated to change his or her behaviour and is prepared to help themselves to be better –  if that is the case then hypnotherapy can hel as hypnosis enables someone to access their unconscious mind and activate their potential for changing a certain habit, way of thinking or feeling*.

For overcoming addictions, my approach involves helping someone to:

  • Develop a strong belief that he or she is able to quit and overcome any cravings if and when these occur.
  • Visualize themselves being the way he or she wants to be, getting a sense of  what it would look, sound and feel like to be in control and entirely free of that old habit*;
  • Build determination to succeed, to keep going along the right path and feel compelled to do things differently;
  • Develop new helpful habits and be free of the addiction*.

Depending on the addiction and the person, treatment would typically involve 4-6  sessions* and I also provide special recordings to be used between sessions that support the work we do together. This resource can continue to be used by someone as necessary long after our work together is done.

If you would like to know about addictions in general click here  – Although the article is called ‘Men and addiction” this is a useful article for everyone on the whole subject of addictions.

*Results may vary from person to person