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If you think you're addicted and want to stop, get help now.

  • Ask friends and family whom you trust for their support.
  • Attend a 12-step support group, such as AA (Alcholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), SLAA (Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous), or OEA (Overeaters Anonymous).
  • Call an addiction hotline and talk in private with a caring, trained counselor.
  • Call your doctor or local hospital and ask about medications and in-patient programs that may be available to you, often at low or no cost.
  • Consult an alternative healer in conjunction with traditional approaches ~ an herbalist, hypnotist or bodyworker can support you in overcoming addiction. (Make sure you continue to get medical advice and treatment, as directed by your doctor.)
If you are behaving addictively but don't want to or feel you can't stop, consider these ideas:
  • You have a right to feel as well as you can, using whatever tools and techniques are at hand.
  • Your addictive substance or actitivity is one way of taking care of yourself. Although there are often costs, the primary goal is usually to feel better. And that's a good thing. Good news ~ there are other ways to feel better that aren't as damaging to you and those you care about.
  • Sometimes we are punishing ourselves with addictions. Even if something you've done deserves such abuse, innocent others do not deserve to pay the costs of your behavior. And it is possible to save yourself; many have done so.
  • Almost anyone, placed in your circumstances, might have become addicted. Cultural acceptance, a family history of addiction, and personal failures (financial, family, etc.) are persuasive invitations to participate in addiction.
  • Now that you feel "hooked", it may be a lot harder to stop than you would have thought, if you'd thought about it. Sometimes, it may feel impossible to stop. This is a sign that you're addicted but not a deal-breaker. Many people have been as addicted as you, to the same substance or activity, with similar predispositions, and have successfully overcome their addictions. They, too, thought that they had special circumstances and could/should/would not be helped.
  • You may not be able to do it alone. Many of us who've struggled with bad habits and addictions have found that it's a lot easier to get your life back on track with the support of others.
  • It may not be possible to live a completely nonaddictive life in our culture ~ but substituting benign compulsions for damaging ones is a perfectly valid option. In overcoming one addiction, you may very well develop others ~ for example, coffee drinking and cigarette smoking are legendary at many AA meetings. Some addictions are less damaging, less costly, and/or less illegal than your previous one(s). Others are simply a step out of the frying pan into the fire; in those instances, you're fooling yourself if you think you've overcome addiction.
  • Each individual's path to a preferred life is different from all others.
Basic Information about Addiction

At the root of much addictive behavior is a sense that it is hard or impossible to achieve satisfaction in life. We can become addicted to food or drugs, for example, as a substitute for a lack of satisfaction in marriage or at work. This idea suggests that healing our dissatisfactions in life, including low self-esteem, failed expectations and disappointments and abandonments by others, is an important element in overcoming addiction.

But satisfaction (and the lack thereof) plays a role in addiction itself. The old adage about drug purchases, "the first one's free" has a corollary ~ "the first one's the best". The nature of habituation (see below) usually robs any addictive activity of the glow accompanying the "first hit". And we end up chasing that good feeling we had at first but can never regain.


Addiction is both a set of behaviors and change in our bodies. The ways of behaving can include:

  • frequent and intense urges to use or practice the drug or behavior of choice
  • impulsive and/or violent behavior
  • unproductive conflicts with significant others
  • feelings of shame, confusion, guilt, and anger
  • absences or lowered performance at work/school
  • financial difficulties(1)

The changes in our bodies can include:

  • Dependence on a particular substance or activity. Without the addictive substance or behavior we can experience physical and emotional tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, crankiness, fatigue, nausea, cramps, heart palpitations, hallucinations, and anxiety. In some cases, serious illness and/or death can result from the abrupt cessation of an addiction.
  • Chemical changes in certain brain structures. Research has shown that addictive patterns of behavior can alter underlying brain physiology and function.
  • Declining physical health. The costs of certain addictions in the body include lung cancer, liver dysfunction, kidney failure, heart disease and brain damage.
Tolerance and Withdrawal

"Tolerance" and "withdrawal" are terms used by therapists to describe experiences commonly encountered with repeated use of an addictive substance. Certain substances and activities do not produce physiological tolerance or withdrawal, though their users can experience psychological or emotional symptoms that resemble the physical ones.

Tolerance is defined as either of the following(2):

  • a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or the desired effect (you need more to get off).
  • markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance (the same amount no longer gets you as high as it used to).

Withdrawal is evidenced by either of the following(2):

  • a characteristic withdrawal "syndrome" associated with a particular substance (different drugs have different withdrawal symptoms).
  • taking the same or a closely related substance to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms (the "hair of the dog" approach).
Abuse and Dependence(3)

Substance Abuse and Dependence are terms used by therapists to designate the degree to which a person is compulsively using a substance such that she or he experiences significant impairment or distress, as evidenced by symptoms found in the same 12-month period.

Abuse is the recurrent use of a substance or activity despite harmful consequences. These can include:

  • a failure to fulfill major obligations (at work, school or home)
  • use that is physically hazardous (e.g., driving while drunk)
  • use-related legal problems
  • persistent social or interpersonal problems cause or worsened by the substance or actiivity(3)

Dependence is more serious and can include symptoms of tolerance, withdrawal (see above), or a pattern of compulsive use that is more pervasive and damaging. People who have become dependent on a substance or activity often:

  • use more during a certain period (an evening or a weekend, for instance) than was originally intended.
  • repeatedly but unsuccessfully try to cut down or control their substance use or activity.
  • spend a lot of time in activities necessary to obtain access to the substance or activity or to recover from its effects.
  • social, work and recreational activities are reduced or given up altogether.
  • use is continued despite knowledge of a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem caused or worsened by the substance or activity.(3)
Ways to Heal

Scientific advances over the past 20 years seem to show that drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that primarily results from the prolonged effects of drugs on the brain. As with many other diseases, addiction has behavioral and social-context aspects...The most effective treatment approaches to drug addiction take a holistic approach and include biological, behavioral, and social-context elements.(4)

Many activities to which people become addicted can be controlled or stopped through participation in 12-step programs. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and several other groups rely on the principles of the 12-steps of Recovery.

Good nutrition, relaxation, and exercise all play an important role in successful change. Learning to make healthy food choices is important to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Because they have often neglected their diet, addicts experience gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea, constipation, an inability to digest foods properly, along with a poor appetite. As a result, they have a special need for foods that are high in nutrients to rebuild damaged tissues, organs and regain appropriate functioning of the various systems including the nervous and gastrointestinal systems.(5)

Psychotherapy can often assist a person's efforts to overcome addiction. Therapy can be helpful in admitting the truth of one's behavior and its effects on yourself and others. It can also support us in taking responsibility for our addictive behavior and developing other, healthier ways of caring for ourselves.

1. "Substance Abuse Recovery Services", 2002. Brochure for Family Service Agency of Marin, San Rafael, CA.
2. "Criteria for Substance Dependence", 1994. DSM-IV (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th Ed.), p.181. American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC.
3. "Criteria for Substance Dependence", 1994. DSM-IV (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th Ed.), p.181-183. American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC.
4. "Addiction Is a Brain Disease, and It Matters", abstract. A. I. Lesher. In Science Magazine, Vol 278, Issue 5335, October 3, 1997.
5. "The Impact of Diet and Nutrition on Recovery", 2002. Christian Recovery Connection.

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