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As we’ve mentioned before our blog posts usually spark some interesting responses from clients – and often these aren’t what we expected. A recent example of this are the couple of posts we did on sugar, highlighting how easily it becomes part of our diet without us ever realising it AND why it’s so addictive. 
 
Much to our surprise, it was the second point – focussing on its addictive qualities – that has caused most comment. Not to mention some ruffled feathers with comments along the lines of: 
 
“How could we possibly say that sugar was addictive? That’s not a “proper” addiction. What’s wrong with a sugary treat? It’s nothing like alcohol or drugs. Those are real addictions.” 
 
 
From these comments – and many others like them – it quickly became clear that few people had any idea what really constitutes an addiction. They simply assumed that it was something illegal, dirty and furtive. 
 
While it’s true that some addictions can be categorised in this way, many cannot. So let’s have another look at this mis understood word, with no better place to start than a couple of online dictionaries: 
 
“Addiction: the repeated involvement with a substance or activity.” 
“Addiction: the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity.” 
“Addiction: a medical condition characterised by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.” 
 
From these definitions, it’s easy to see where the link to alcohol and drugs comes from. However they all hint at an addiction being much more than this. 
 
To start with an addiction may be to a substance or activity. Substances are the ones most people associate with addictions such as alcohol, drugs – prescribed, over the counter or illegal – or cigarettes. But what about less obvious substances such as caffeine? 
 
And if you think that you’re not addicted to your regular caffeine “fix” just look at what happens when you don’t have it. How you miss it, can’t stop thinking about it and those annoying symptoms you then experience. Headache, irritability, reduced concentration. While these symptoms may not be as severe as those from coming off alcohol or drugs, they’re still “withdrawal symptoms”. 
 
But what about addictive activities? Gambling, shopping, facebook, video games, sex or pornography are probably the best known. But what about to exercise or cleaning? 
 
Many addictions start as perfectly innocuous day to day substances or activities, which can be found in most people’s lives, but then tip over into addictions. And it can be virtually impossible to see where the demarcation line is, with many factors thought to play a part such as stress or unhappiness. 
 
An addiction provides pleasure at least at the beginning. It may be a temporary high – such as from alcohol or drugs – or, at least, a relief from cravings or boredom. Or perhaps it provides excitement from the release of adrenaline associated with gambling, shopping, video games, strenuous exercise or pornography. 
 
In an attempt to recapture this high an addiction involves repeated behaviour. However, over time, it becomes harder to recapture the same high and the person has less and less control over what happens. The pleasure is replaced with pain, but the person is unable to stop doing it. Not least because, if they do, a huge range of “withdrawal symptoms” are experienced. These then push them back into the addiction, as they try to ease the pain. 
 
 
Not surprisingly, over time, an addiction causes substantial harm to both the person themselves and those around them. Some of these are easy to see. Declining health, damage to interpersonal relationships and diminishing financial resources. Others less so. How an addiction takes over their lives consuming huge amounts of time, thoughts and energy. 
 
Often the person doesn’t see the harm their addition is doing and will deny they even have one. However, to those around them, it’s obvious. This is particularly so with many so called “healthy” – or more acceptable – addictions. Perhaps to exercise or cleaning. The question is where do they stop being healthy and start becoming addictive – and this is often difficult to see until too late. 
 
If we now go back to the example of sugar – or, perhaps, your favourite sugary treat – it’s easy to see how it can be considered addictive. It provides pleasure, is something we look forward to and are happy to repeat regularly. How we miss – or crave – this little treat when we don’t have it. 
 
The longer term impact of this innocuous little habit have already been covered in recent blog posts but what if you’re still not convinced? Then just try missing out on your favourite treat. Perhaps you may not experience the headache, irritability or sluggishness associated with missing out on a caffeine fix, but we can guarantee that you will feel its absence. And how quickly you’ll find yourself reaching for it again. 
 
And, now that we’ve opened this can of worms, how about looking at all those other little things you do regularly, but find so hard to stop? And probably haven’t ever stopped to think about. Those little treats or other foods you always eat. Fixation with the latest gizmo / clothing / other must have. Time spent on facebook, playing video games or surfing the internet. 
 
Whatever it is, we guarantee that you’ll be able to come up with a whole host of seemingly plausible reasons as to why you do whatever it is you do. But, take another look at them, and see if they really do stand up to scrutiny. You may well be very surprised by what you find. 
 
As always, the choice is yours. 
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