September is National Recovery Month, which makes this a good time to both celebrate those who have been successful with recovery and to stop and learn how we can avoid falling into the trap of addiction and dependence.
Addiction is defined as the habitual or compulsive surrender to a substance or activity. If you have an addiction or struggle with substance abuse, it can have an enormous influence on your happiness, success and productivity. It can even impact perceptions and behaviors.
The Roots of Addiction
One cause of addiction is the need to escape. Drugs, alcohol and other activities provide vehicles for denial and avoidance of real life. This particular form of escapism, however, never works in the long term. Instead, those who become addicted ultimately end up hurting themselves and others—often in life-altering ways.
Much like a baby craves a bottle, pacifier or favorite blanket, adults have a similar pull toward various substances and activities that give them happiness and comfort. When this pull becomes an insatiable need and interferes with daily functioning, it is considered an addiction.
Three elements combine to help create an addict: genetics, upbringing and the social factor (for example, you have a workplace where everyone goes out drinking together and drug use is condoned if not encouraged). If one of these is already present in your life, you should be cautious: the seeds of addiction are there. If two are present, there is a higher chance you could become an addict. If you have all three, you’ll need to be vigilant in order to avoid falling into addiction.
Is there a substance you use or activity you engage in frequently that pulls you away from relationships, success, accomplishments or hinders your life? Whatever is causing you to pull away from other activities or people you once enjoyed needs to be examined. If something compulsive is getting in the way of you leading a fulfilling and satisfying life, follow this rule: Assess it and address it.
Here are some of the best ways to do that:
Listen to the voice.
Almost every addict remembers a certain point right before things got bad when a small voice in his or her head said, “I think I might be an alcoholic/drug addict/compulsive overeater/sex addict.” Do not ignore this little voice. Give yourself time to question and assess whether you think you have a problem and work toward improving the behavior you are worried about.
A support system is key when it comes to potentially addictive behaviors. If you are not sure whether you really have a problem, ask five trusted people: Do you think I shop too much? Drink too much? If a quorum of them says yes, it is worth examining.
Call a professional.
If you reach the point where you're doing something that is harming you and you cannot stop, it is time for professional help. When it comes to something as powerful as addiction, many of us do not have the proper tools to handle it—but professionals do. Reach out to a medical doctor, mental-health professional, religious leader or a 12-step group. In times of struggle, it is important to seek others and get the help we need.
Keep good company.
Role models are key when it comes to maximizing our potential in any area of life. When it comes to addiction or potential addiction, consider who you spend your time with. In order to recover, or stop from becoming addicted in the first place, you may need to change the company you keep. Make sure you spend time with people who model positive behavior and lead a high-functioning life.
As the month of September comes to a close, I encourage each of you to take a good look at your behaviors and how they impact your life. There is no better time than the present to work on improving any weaknesses that might be getting in your way. For all of those working on their recovery, I salute you—it is not easy, but it is worth it. Find your peaceful and healthy place and visit it often.
Read more: 5 Reasons to Stop Hating Your Body
Stacy Kaiser is a Southern California-based licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. She is also the author of How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, and editor at large for Live Happy.