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Understanding Addiction

Recently I attended the UK and European Symposium on Addictive Disorders (UKESAD) as an online delegate, and was able to listen to some of Europe's leading experts on addiction and the treatments available to support those suffering with addictive behaviours.


Addiction was defined by one of the speakers as "a consuming relationship with a substance or behaviour that is driven by a conscious or unconscious desire to feel something different, which results in a range of harmful consequences." (Action on Addiction)  This is certainly a powerful definition, and perhaps suggests something of how strong a force addiction can be in an individual's life.  Whether a person is addicted to alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs, or to food or even exercise, the message at the UKESAD meeting was that over time the particular substance or behaviour takes over many parts of a sufferer's life, creating imbalance and negatively affecting relationships with others.


I have worked with clients struggling with addiction to alcohol, and have heard how slowly the bottle or glass can take over more and more of a person's thinking time, more and more of their financial resources, and can steal away the intimacy they once shared with friends and family.  It seems that someone's whole identity can be consumed by the contents of a tin can or screw top flask.  Gradually, the only thing that matters is how long it is going to be before the next drink, and sometimes where the money is going to come from to pay for that next 'fix'.


If we have a clear idea of the problem, what then of the solution?  Those who have battled addiction and have experienced a measure of success often refer to themselves as having 'recovered', but what would this recovery look like and how can it be brought about?  The idea put forward at UKESAD was that recovery involves the repairing of an old identity, or the creating of a new one.  In other words, to put back what the addiction took, or to build something new in its place, is the goal of therapy treating addiction sufferers.


If we think of our life as a book which starts to be written in on the day we are born, and then is concluded on the last day of our life, we could perhaps imagine that each one of us has a personal 'story', or narrative, by which we live.  It was argued at the conference that one of the key ways of helping someone to (re)create their identity following addiction is to assist them in writing the next few pages of their life, either by getting the story back on track after a digression, or by starting a brand new chapter in which the main character takes a new direction.


When a trusting relationship has been established in the therapeutic space, the client can feel safe and comfortable enough to open up and retell what has been happening to them in either the recent or distant past.  Once the story of days gone by has been told, attention can turn to the next words the client wishes to write, and to how they would like their story to continue.  What I have frequently found is that the main character of this narrative, having overcome the obstacles of the previous pages, often continues the tale with much more wisdom, empathy and strength, and serves as an inspiration to others authoring their own books.


"In order to start writing the next chapter of our lives,

we must first let go of the last one" - Anonymous



Rob Oglesby MBACP (Accred) B.A. (Hons) BSc | Ashwood Therapy


Ashwood Therapy provides a discreet, confidential and professional online counselling service by encrypted video call, live instant messaging and secure email.  More details, including tips on wellbeing and information on current counselling session pricing, can be found at www.ashwoodtherapy.com


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Understanding Addiction | Ashwood Therapy Blog