Hidden Problematic Behaviors and Addictions

Most problematic and addictive behaviors are hidden. People tend to want to hide it from others unless they have people or a group in which they can comfortably share it with.

People also tend to hide the problematic or addictive behavior from them selves in order to minimize the negative effects and to be able to continue engaging in the behavior.

No one likes to think of them selves as engaging in problematic behaviors or being addicted to a mood altering substance or activity because we all want to believe we are ultimately in control of our lives.

We tend to believe we can stop the behavior at any time but prefer not to stop. If we try to stop, we may succeed for a while but like seeing an old friend are usually glad to return to the behavior, activity or substance again even if it has become problematic in our lives.

Being addicted implies we are helpless or powerless in stopping the problematic behavior. This doesn’t sound good. What is worse is how the behavior or activity is getting in the way of us having more of the quality of life that we want to have.

Addictive behavior is the result of a person developing a committed dysfunctional relationship to a mood altering substance or mood altering activity with the expectation of a pleasurable reward or emotional state.1 (Adapted from McAuliffe and McAuliffe 2007)

It may start out as an occasional activity or use that brings with it a compelling mood change. For some people, if it is only happening on occasion and is not habitually relied on it may not become problematic.

For others, it is too compelling and they engage in the behavior, activity or substance again and again to the point of it becoming habitual and self-reinforcing.

Engagement in an addictive activity or substance may start developing into a repetitive pattern to get pleasure, relief, for mood change or escape from the stressors in our lives. The more you do it; the more you want and need to do it.

The mood altering substance may be alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, caffeine, other drugs, and certain kinds of food.

The mood altering activity may be shopping or spending money, exercise, sports, hobbies, gambling, sex, watching TV, playing video or cyber games, searching the internet, viewing pornography or other exciting or risk related activities.

Some mood altering activities or substances, if engaged in excessively and chronically can alter our brain chemistry and structure, as well as, affect other biological systems in the body.

It is usually difficult to talk someone or our selves out of engaging in a problematic or addictive behavior when there seems to be a short-term reward.

Change is challenging for all of us. It is easier to perpetuate what we are used to doing than starting and sustaining something new.

Insight doesn’t necessarily guarantee change. We can know what to do and how we might go about reaching our desired outcomes, but the real challenge is in figuring out how to make sense of getting ourselves to do what we think is in our best interest.

People change for their own reasons not someone else’s and change is a process that takes place over time with stops and starts along the way.

If you have become concerned about a problematic or addictive behavior, activity or substance; there are a few things you might consider doing:

  1. First begin to track how frequently and how intensely you are engaging in the problematic or addictive behavior.
  2. Second, allow yourself to become more aware of the tradeoff between the positive benefits versus the negative outcomes of that behavior. Usually, the tradeoff is short-term benefit versus ongoing problematic outcomes.
  3. This may mean that engaging in the problematic behavior creates wider mood swings with lower engagement in constructive or productive activities you would prefer to engage in. As a result, care taking or more meaningful life goals are compromised resulting in lower returns and fulfillment in your life.
  4. Third, you may begin to spend time researching how the behavior or addiction is problematic for others and what they are doing to address the problem in a meaningful way.
  5. Finally, you may also consider talking to close friends, family members or a professional counselor in considering how you might more effectively address your own situation.

M. Douglas Evans LMSW

Copyright 2012, Hidden Problematic Behaviors and Addictions by M. Douglas Evans, All Rights Reserved.

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