Kicking the habit
By Oksana Tashakova
Friday, May 11, 2012

Conquering your addiction is not only about being able to keep your promises to yourself — it’s about taking charge of your life

is a word we throw around loosely today: “I’m so addicted to checking my Tweets!” or “I just can’t stop watching that TV series even if something else is going on that evening!” But addiction is a serious issue. There are addictions that may seem benign but are actually signs of a serious lack of control. Alcohol, drugs, gambling and sex addiction are common topics in the media but relationship addiction, shopping addiction, even addiction to work can all have a serious impact on your life.

An addiction is anything that you often wish you could do in moderation or could say “No” to but can’t seem to bring yourself to do. Even those seemingly harmless addictions, to chocolate for example, can have unforeseen consequences — that’s because you’re taking on the stance that something external can control your choices and decisions rather than you taking control of yourself. That’s a slippery slope to step onto.

What are some of the addictions affecting us today? How about cell phone addiction, texting and tweeting? Many of us are hooked on checking and answering our email at every sign of an incoming message. Internet addiction is becoming a serious obsession, from gambling or shopping to cybersex or information mining. TV addiction has become so common that no one even takes note of how many hours they actually spend in front of the screen, while exercise addiction is another trend that is finding plenty of followers today.

Five to 10 per cent of Internet users are thought to suffer from addiction — to the point that their education, health, work and relationships suffer. In research on Internet addiction, MRI scans have been used to find changes in the brain similar to that which occurs in the brains of alcohol and cocaine addicts. These white matter connections are those linked to emotional processing, attention, decision-making and cognitive control.

The thing is, when it comes to such addictions, recovery is more about moderation than it is an all-or-nothing situation. In the matter of food, sex, Internet use, shopping and the like — all-or-none isn’t really a realistic option.

Conquering your addiction is about personal integrity as well — being able to keep your promises to yourself. That’s not an inborn quality — it’s something you can learn with practice. And success is about recognising what reward you get from indulging in the addiction. Once you understand that, you can make substitutions that make sense or plan realistic goals to moderate your indulgence.

So how do you regain control of your life?

1.   Identify your addictions. Take an honest inventory of behaviours that you regret, wish you could change or laugh off much too often. Are you an over-achiever? A gossip? A midnight snack binger? Are you obsessed with making lists or finding the best deal on the Internet? Assess your time and discover how much of it you spend indulging in behaviours that impact your life in a negative way.

2.   Identify the reward. For each of the addictions you identify, try and determine what’s behind them, why you do them, what you get out of indulging them. Do you watch TV to wind down? Stay on the Internet to keep in touch? Practise extreme sports for the constant adrenaline rush? It takes some real reflection and honesty to determine what’s going on. TV and the Internet, for example, actually do the opposite of relaxing your brain, studies show. And adrenaline addiction can sabotage your relationships if you put such excitement before all else. In fact, some experts believe that addiction to adrenaline, excitement and novelty are what lie behind many addictions. Ever encounter someone that has ongoing crises in their lives or that surround themselves with people consumed in drama? This could be adrenaline addiction. So also for those who create impossible schedules for themselves or those that procrastinate until the last possible moment. What are you distracting yourself from? What are you avoiding dealing with?

3.   Brainstorm for other activities that could fulfill the need. If you spend too much time on social networks to feel connected, consider joining a real-time group or indulging in a face-to-face interaction. Invite a neighbour to dinner or for a walk; take a dance class or go to a community meeting; take up an activity you’ve always been interested in that involves others. If excitement is something you value, consider planning constant challenges for yourself that improve your life in some way (instead of jeopardising it.) Take a college course; volunteer to mentor high-risk kids; consider taking courses in paramedics or mediation.

4.   Bargain and ration. Make deals with yourself that are possible to keep. Instead of having a few drinks four nights a week, plan on just two and schedule something new and different to do instead that fulfills the same need or drive. If you spend far too many hours on Facebook, plan real-time social activities for some of those hours. You can practise a gradual moderation schedule wherein you scale back on your indulgence gradually. The key is to substitute another activity or behaviour so that you don’t feel that you’re lacking. Even if you slip up at first — practice makes perfect.

Addressing your addictions can become an addiction itself. Taking control of your life will give you immense satisfaction, increase your self-esteem and your sense of personal empowerment. That’s all besides how much your life can improve when you free up time from your addiction so that you have more time for relationships and self-improvement activities.


Oksana is a life coach based in Dubai; she’s an expert in stress management, addictions and phobias, relationships, communication skills and emotional pain management.

Visit her: or email her:



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