Jenny Rees Davies - MBACP (Snr Accred), Post-Grad Dip Couns, UKRC

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Registered Practitioner with the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy

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Addictive behaviours   

Any behaviour that is carried out in a compulsive manner can become, over time, a type of addiction.  The behaviour becomes an addiction when other areas of a person's life such as work, relationships or health suffer as a result.  The distinguishing characteristic between an enjoyable activity and an addiction depends on the degree to which a person depends on it within his or her everyday life.

Behaviours include physical addiction to chemicals such as alcohol and cocaine, or psychological dependence on activities such as work, exercise, gambling, sex, pornography or computers.  However someone who has what can be described as an 'addictive personality' may have nothing to do with these substances or activities but will exhibit similar behaviour traits just the same.

Compulsive behaviours are based in a need to reduce tension caused by inner feelings that a person wants to avoid or control;  to change the way they feel;  to manage difficult situations.     Examples might be a person who finds intimacy or bonding with a partner difficult choosing to zone out in front of the TV, or a person who has never had enough love filling up on a tub of ice cream.

In the absence of the substance or activity, a person may suffer withdrawal symptoms such as a change in mood, motivation or the ability to focus and concentrate. A person may crave, or look forward to indulging in the activity, meaning the activity has become a significant motivation - a central activity in that person's life.

The most helpful counselling approach is one that can combine three elements:  some work focussing on the actual behaviour such as CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy);  a humanistic approach which is accepting and non-judgmental;  and an understanding of relationships and how old patterns are repeated.

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