Guest blog post by Myles Van Camp, MA
If you or a loved one is struggling with overcoming addiction and destructive habits, you may be wondering what is causing this? I know this was one of the first thoughts that sprung into my mind when I first began my training as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) in 2018.
Self-destruction may seem like a counter-intuitive response when working through addiction, but this can be a common reaction to stress, anxiety, or trauma.
What is Self-Destructive Behavior
Self-destructive behaviors occur when an individual, intentionally or unintentionally, acts in a way that creates negative consequences in their life. The trend to habitually sabotage your life comes from a highly critical inner voice fueled by low self-esteem.
“No one wants me”
“I’ve done nothing with my life and never will”
Everyone has thoughts like these that can momentarily derail you, but it is the frequency, duration, and severity that leads to self destruction. The more often and intense these thoughts occur, the more it can hinder forward progress.
Even though there is a psychological connection between addiction and destructive habits, understanding can lead you on the path towards recovery.
There is no one cause for addiction, but there are elements that may contribute to it. Recognizing and understanding these triggers can help break the pattern of behavior and reroute unhealthy habits.
Addiction can be created and continued because of the environment you choose to participate in. If you frequent a location or spend time with others who are associated with the addictive behavior, you will be more likely to engage in that behavior as well.
The psychosocial triggers found in that environment can create stress and your typical response to stress maybe to escape through a self-destructive or addictive behavior. By avoiding such locations and/or individuals, you may also avoid being tempted.
Along with environmental triggers, it’s essential to pay careful attention to your emotional triggers when overcoming addiction and destructive habits. Psychologist Mariana Plata defines emotional triggers as a topic that makes us uncomfortable, or aspects of our lives that make us frustrated or unsatisfied when the topic is approached.
These emotional topics vary from person to person and can have a large range of levels of intensity.
Addiction And Destructive Habits
Addiction and self-sabotaging behaviors are learned responses to environmental and emotional triggers. In response to stress, everyone chooses to act in a way that provides them relief. Some actions, are not healthy, productive, or useful in anyway; and they only provide temporary relief.
By recognizing the triggers and root cause of destructive habits, you can change the reaction to be a calm, calculated response.
Healthy Plan For The Future
Define Your Behaviors
Self-destructive habits are harmful coping mechanisms that control, punish, mask, or numb your genuine feelings.
What are you trying to cover up?
Giving the pain a voice lessens it’s power so you no longer have to turn inward and suppress it with addictions.
Regular self-destructive actions may become viewed as a part of your identity instead of a coping mechanism. This makes working through addiction and destructive habits more complicated and may require support from a licensed addiction counselor.
Identifying triggers is not always the easiest because they may not directly be connected top the destructive habit. Ultimately, triggers are broken down into two categories: stress cues linked to substance use and actual exposure to substances.
That is why visiting certain places or seeing old friends may result in a trigger. Dr. David Sack states that drugs can literally alter the connections our brains associate substance use with, making feelings and associations stronger.
Once you have identified your triggers, the easiest way to manage them is to remove and avoid them completely. However, that is not always practical. Here are some ways to manage triggers when they do occur:
Participate in healthy activities that distract you long enough to overcome the trigger. Some activities could be reading a book, playing a game, or going for a walk.
Talk through your trigger with someone who supports you to understand it better and perhaps prevent it from occurring in the future.
Change your perspective and instead of remembering the good things associated with substance use, reflect on the negative things that happened.
Track Your Behaviors
Becoming aware of what these triggers are, when and where they most frequently occur, and how they affect our decision making process toward relapsing is essential. By understanding what surrounds your addiction, you can make healthier life choices.
Recording these occurrences in the form of a journal or a small note to keep inside your phone’s schedule can help you keep track and reflect. This type awareness is not only beneficial for you, but can also provide insight for a therapist when developing a preventative strategy.
Too often physical and emotional triggers can easily be silenced with a simple relapse of behavior. It is effortless to go back to a destructive behavior that quickly took the pain away. But that does not solve the problem.
Practicing mindfulness in the midst of a trigger gives you a moment of space between stimulus and response to see other possibilities you didn’t notice before and make a choice on how to proceed. That moment is powerful because you can choose how to respond; you are not powerless and not a victim of your addiction.
Practicing mindfulness is taking a moment to observe what is happening inside you. This awareness can be created by asking yourself a few simple questions in the moment. What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Is this where you want to be? For example:
What happens after you’ve noticed your heart is beating faster when you’ve missed a deadline?
Or what happens next after your breathing becomes shorter and rapid when a loved one tells us something that hurts more than we expected it to?
There is a brief moment in time, as all of these emotional moments can happen very fast, for us to stop and reflect on how the situation is affecting us and to calm your breathing. This allows our heart rate to slow down just a few beats and gives you a moment to process what is happening instead of instantly reacting.
Does relapsing solve the missed deadline?
Or will relapsing make the phrase or statement of a loved one disappear into thin air?
I find that the answer to these questions are realistically no. These habitual responses are a temporary fix, similar to a band-aid for an open cut. They are not a permanent solution like treating the wound and caring for it to avoid a future infection.
You can discover what is occurring in your body and mind before and after the emotional moment occurs. With this knowledge you see what really matters and make choices that better fall inline with your values.
Overcoming addiction and destructive habits is not meant to be a journey handled alone by yourself. Instead, it is important to remember that we, as human beings, are social creatures that thrive and grow stronger when we are among supportive people who relate to your struggles and want to see you succeed.
It is empowering to reach out to friends or local support groups who are interested in seeing us remain sober and successful with your new choices. They also want to hear from you when you’re not at your best emotionally and need an outlet to be heard. Allowing yourself to be supported provides you with a healthy alternative besides relapse.
Seeking Help For Overcoming Addiction And Destructive Habits
Overcoming addiction should not be a process you do alone, and sometimes a licensed therapist should be included in your treatment plan. With the support of a therapist, you can learn positive behaviors and work towards eliminating self-sabotaging thoughts and actions.
Overcoming addiction begins with you. Healing from addiction is possible. If you are in the Glen Ellyn or Jefferson Park area and what to know more about treatment options and what you can do to overcome addition, please contact us today.
So today, as I continue my journey toward becoming a CADC, I return to my original question: Why do so many people struggle with overcoming addiction and destructive habits? We seem to be in a society that has more and more factors added to the reasons why these addiction struggles continue to occur. But coincidentally we should also be able to construct, initiate, and execute clear healthy plans that counter act these reoccurring challenges.
As our world constantly changes around us and evolves into something new, we should be encouraging ourselves to also change with that world too. Relapsing to addictive tendencies and destructive behaviors can and will exist everyday without hesitation.
Do not hesitate to take the extra step to explore other options. Motivate yourself with the help of friends and support groups. Identify your real emotions and stresses that exist. And surround yourself with new experiences that encourage positive choices. And always remember, one day at a time.