Breaking the habit

Breaking an addiction is a tough road, but possible. Picture: MEDICALNEWSTODAY.

How hard is it to break an addiction? According to the experts, breaking an addiction is a very complex process involving the physical, mental, emotional and even biological elements to getting the job done.

However, the good news is, with the right kind of treatment, support and care it’s possible to enable a breakthrough and quit the habit. There are numerous kinds of addictions that plague people on our planet and in so many different ways.

People have an addiction to gambling, shopping, stealing, drugs (both prescription and illicit), food, alcohol, yaqona, nicotine, sex, video gaming, internet and social media.

And can you believe, some people are addicted to their work and become a workaholic. An addiction of any kind is more complex and complicated than what we may realise because it impacts so many areas of life including family, friends and even work colleagues and school mates.

There are also financial and legal ramifications as well as the daily struggle of a family striving to support a loved one with a dependency. Understanding addiction and the behaviours associated with it can sometimes be an important first step in helping an addict turn their life around.

Experts suggest that the cycle of addiction is caused by a dysfunction in the brain linked to genetics including social andenvironmental factors. The brain, according to the experts, creates a compulsive craving for a specific substance or pattern of behaviour.

The rush an addict gets is the cycle of reward that has to be broken for them to become free. It’s very much the underlying driving force behind their habit. What we also need to be aware of is – something as simple as a pleasurable pastime such as playing a video game can slowly become a dependency.

Without the potential addict realising it, their gaming begins controlling their life, their sleep patterns and of course their working and even social and personal life. It can also have a detrimental effect not only on the life and health of the addict, but also to those who’re near and dear to them.

Some addicts in the early stages of an addiction are honest and open recognising they have a problem and need urgent help. Weaning an addict in the early stages of a dependency can achieve greater success than when someone’s heavily and firmly entrenched with a powerful all-consuming vice-like grip on their addiction.

Timing can also sometimes be the key and crucial to playing a pivotal role in getting an addict the help they need to begin the transition process of quitting. However most addicts will deflect, and even refuse point blank, any suggestion of treatment and change.

One of the reasons why they may do this is because of the strong emotional attachment they have to their dependency of choice which becomes like a feel good crutch in their life.

The experts suggest that any substance or activity that becomes a compulsion is likely to be considered an addiction. I was addicted to social media until my family intervened.

Stopping it was hard to begin with. But I finally got there. Many years ago I was also addicted to smoking and smoked between 20 to 30 cigarettes a day. I remember the moment I was given a thought provoking word of enlightenment and reality check from my wife’s doctor.

She was suffering a medical condition and the doctor asked whether I was a smoker. When I replied, yes, he told me straight up that my wife couldn’t be around cigarette smokers so she needed my help to get well again.

I enjoyed smoking, but my wife’s health and life was far more important than my enjoyment of a cigarette. Not long after I gave it up, I craved a smoke nearly every waking moment of every single day.

The hardest thing for me was watching someone drag on a cigarette while enjoying a hot cup of tea or coffee. Even though it wasn’t me that was smoking, I could almost feel the invisible hit of the drag as if it was me that was sucking on the cigarette.

In those moments of vulnerability I came ohh so close to saying yes again to smoking. But what stopped me was the image of my children’s faces pleading with me to give their mum a chance at life.

That powerful picture, while it was only an image in my mind, burned a deep hole in my brain. And thankfully it was one of the emotional motivations I needed that helped fuel my desire to stop.

My wife means the world to me and our children. And I wanted to make sure she had every chance to heal and live a full life. I needed her and our children needed her. And we needed each other.

Then ever so slowly the craving started diminishing and then it finally disappeared. I’ve never smoked since and don’t have any inclination to ever smoke again. In fact I’ve become allergic to cigarette smoke which is a blessing.

In those days we didn’t have patches or “blockers” to help us break free from the habit. We had to learn to wean ourselves off it with a great deal of will power, self control, discipline and determination.

However, breaking any addictive habit pattern or substance abuse can sometimes require a strong emotional purpose to kick and kill the habit. But more than anything, it requires professional help and support from people who are well versed and resourced in handling this highly complex problem.

Sometimes people who are heavily dependent on drugs, kava or alcohol need specialised treatment and care to wean them off it and to help them heal and turn their life around. It’s easier said than done.

Families who have an addict living with them will be able to relate. If it’s drugs or alcohol dependency you’re having to deal with then my heart goes out to you. We’ve been there and have lived with the ravages of a drug and alcohol dependent addict.

The stress and trauma a family has to live through is not something anyone can put into words to describe the heartache, suffering and despair watching someone you love slowly destroy their life.

Even writing about it makes me extremely sad because it was a time in our lives we’d rather forget. But it happened. And looking back on it still upsets me because there was so much wasted time, energy and effort in helping a human being we absolutely love break the cycle and the habit.

By the grace of God and the help of experienced professionals, the habit has been broken and the person is now free and living a very full addiction free life. So we have a very clear, first-hand and firm view about drug and alcohol abuse and dependency.

Which is all the more reason why I’m careful about how I refer to people who may be addicted to alcohol, kava or drugs. Calling them “dopes” or “dopey” or any other negative stereotyping label is not only repulsive and demeaning, it’s undignified and lacks compassion and understanding for the families who’re having to cope with the destructive effects of an addict’s life.

Please understand that I’m aware there maybe well meaning people who’re more direct in their assessment and approach to the problem. But the challenges associated with any form of dependency can be like walking through a minefield.

Putting a foot wrong can have disastrous consequences because it’s an insidious disease that’s extremely difficult to navigate out of. It’s easy being an onlooker passing judgement on someone’s misfortune without having any idea what a family is having to deal with daily on so many challenging fronts.

Please let me say to you in the most respectful way that you can become a positive agent for change in the life of another human being by being understanding and compassionate instead of using negative statements vilifying those in urgent need of help, guidance, support and care.

We’ve been there and know the complexities of addiction through first-hand experience. The absolute heartache everyone went through has taught us all a great deal about how to love the unlovable.

We had to shed our judgemental attitude and turn to God and to His guidance about true unconditional love and compassion to help all of us overcome what seemed like an unconquerable and insurmountable mountain of pain, heartache and stress.

We have since been gifted with a human being who is one of the most amazing lights in our lives and who we would walk through hell and highwater for.

God has shown us that unconditional love is about pulling back the veil of judgement to begin seeing another human being through the eyes of His infinite grace and mercy.

When we begin doing this, God’s love will begin to shine even through the darkest moments of an addicts life, guiding them gently into the light of His glorious presence.

Those professionals engaged in the tireless work of walking through the minefield of addiction with an addict deserve our love, support and prayers. Because they are like God’s angels.

If you’re looking for a way to help someone, here’s a few helpful hints and tips from the experts:

• Educate yourself and get as much information as you possibly can about the addiction. Get a handle on understanding the addict’s disease process. That’s right, addiction is a disease and if you go online, the internet has lots of helpful insight and information.

• Find a support group who you and your family can share your journey with and to learn how to handle the complexities of the addiction. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved.

• Get counselling for yourself so that you’re able to manage all of the challenges you’re going through. Debriefing with someone who’s completely independent will help lift the load you feel you’re carrying all by yourself.

• Seek specialist help and advice on financial and legal matters so that you don’t feel you’re having to navigate a minefield with which you may not be conversant with.

• Don’t become an enabler. Without realising it, some well meaning people become enablers by buying an addict groceries or giving them money etc. Don’t rescue the addict. Let them experience the consequences of their disease. Don’t financially support an addict thinking it will help them change their behaviour. Intervention is sometimes the tough love that’s needed to bring an addict around to seeking the help they need and are willing to agree to making the hard decision for rehabilitation to begin.

• Have realistic expectations. Please don’t preach or lecture an addict. They will immediately shut down and run for cover. Continue to hold them accountable to agreed expectations and offering help to direct them to the treatment they need. And whatever you do, don’t expect an addict to keep their promises. They’re unable to do so while in the process of working through their disease to quit. And don’t react with pity or anger.

• Take care of yourself. Focus on your health and well-being by staying fit and healthy and even taking time out to do the things you love and enjoy. Because your physical, mental and emotional health is vital to help see you through the rough and tough patches you will encounter along the way. And whatever you do, please refrain from becoming bitter, resentful and angry towards the person you’re helping. Remember above all, you’re not alone in your struggle with this disease. So be kind to yourself and reach out to God and to those people around you to help you fight the good fight. If you’re giving it your all and there seems no change in sight, remember everything good takes time, patience and bravery.

May God guide you with wisdom and strengthen you to help enable your loved one to be equipped with the help they need to quit their addiction. Stay strong and God bless.

• COLIN DEOKI is a regular contributor to this newspaper. The views expressed are his and not necessarily of this newspaper

More Stories