MOST of us are partial to the odd guilty pleasure, whether it’s a sugary treat or an occasional glass of wine.
Or perhaps your secret vice is to peep at Facebook while you’re at work, or maybe you indulge in retail therapy by shopping until your drop?
Most of the time it’s probably harmless, but for some people life’s small indulgences can easily escalate into a full-blown addiction.
Interestingly, the urge to consume more – whether it’s food, sex, or alcohol and drugs – affects everybody from time to time.
Very few people are completely immune – all of us exist somewhere on the addictive spectrum – but for most of the population it doesn’t cause serious problems.
However, for a sizable proportion – perhaps as many at 10 per cent – addiction has the potential to become a serious affliction.
These are the people I call ‘addicts’, even if they may not currently be in the throes of an active addiction. Instead, the condition might be dormant.
I believe that we can become addicted to almost anything with the power to alter our moods – and this can include ‘processes’ such as shopping or exercise as well as substances. People become addicted to something because they are trying to change the way they feel.
Here are a few clues that might reveal whether or not this applies to you:
ARE YOU SENSITIVE? – If deep down inside you are emotionally sensitive it can open the door to addiction. I believe addicts are born with a pre-disposition to be hyper-sensitive to life’s trials and tribulations.
ARE YOU A WATCHER? – Addicts are often highly intelligent people who work in the creative spheres of life. They have a gift for watching what’s going on around them and they are super-attuned to danger, but they struggle with the feelings this creates.
ARE YOU A PERFECTIONIST? – Many addicts are high achievers. This may be because their self-esteem is reliant on being seen to do well in order to feel good, instead of having an inherent sense of self-worth.
ARE THERE CLUES IN YOUR CHILDHOOD? – If you experienced emotional trauma during childhood – this could be overt, hidden or seemingly minor – then it can become locked in your brain’s limbic system and make you highly susceptible to addiction in later life.
A good way to find out if you’re using something in an addictive way is to ask yourself a very simple question: does it cause you consequences you’d rather avoid? If the true cost includes damage to your health, or to your relation- ships or to your self-esteem (or to your work or anything else), then it might be time for a wake-up call.
David Smallwood is a leading therapist who previously managed the addiction unit at the Priory Hospital North London and he is currently Treatment Director at the One40 Group in Harley Street. His new book, ‘Who Says I’m An Addict’ was published in June by Hay House.