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Do you have any addictive habits you or others in your life are concerned about?

To properly answer this question, you need to know that an addictive habit is a behaviour we engage in to change our feelings and thinking, especially when we are stressed.

Addictive habits fall on a continuum from low to high risk. The higher the risk, the more likely the addictive habit can negatively impact your quality of life, such as an addiction to food, drugs, gambling or alcohol.

This micro skill focuses on addictive habits and the risk of ignoring them.

Awareness

Addictive habits originate by learning how a behaviour provides some degree of temporary change and short-term relief from perceived stress.

Many addictive habits are developed accidentally to cope with an external trigger or stressor such as perception of failure at work, at home, or in a personal relationship.

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Through experimenting with a behaviour, the person learns that it temporarily reduces their emotional pain. Once learned, whenever they feel similar emotional pain and act on their urges to repeat the behaviour, the addictive habit is developed over time. For example, if you feel stressed and you eat something sweet and it makes you feel a bit better, you may begin to associate eating as a way to improve your mood.

Most addictive behaviours start out as psychological or compulsive habits. If not stopped, some can mature into compulsive disorders (such as gambling or video game addictions) or substance abuse dependency.

Nail biting may seem innocent enough and, in some cases, it may be a temporary habit a person does to simply fix the look of their nails. For others, nail biting can become an addictive habit that matures into a form of obsessive-compulsive behaviour called onychophagia (excessive nail biting).

Taking control of an addictive habit involves recognizing behaviours that we engage in for the sole purpose of changing our emotional state. Addictive habits come in many forms, such as food, work, shopping, video games and internet social networks. This Addictive Disorders Screen screens for 10 addictive habits that, if not addressed early, can become addictive disorders.

An addictive habit, such as eating a bag of chips at the end of a stressful day, may appear innocent, but if it becomes a compulsion that results in putting on 30 pounds you increase your risk for metabolic syndrome (a cluster of medical conditions). The first step is to be aware and honest with yourself whether you’re engaging in any addictive habits.

Accountability

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If you’re engaging in an addictive habit, you need to assess the degree of risk.

Once formed, addictive habits can be triggered by stressors, something that causes you stress, strain or tension, that fuel the urge or craving to engage in an addictive behaviour to change your emotional state – to reduce your feelings of being stressed. With the urge comes tension and pressure to engage in the behaviour that can be distracting and even painful until we engage in the behaviour.

Not all addictive habits are the same with respect to degree of risk. A compulsion to check your cell phone every five minutes doesn’t have the same risk as gambling with your paycheque.

Addictive habits that put chemicals into the body that change how we think, feel and interact with our world come with the risk of maturing into substance abuse dependencies.

Alcohol can start as an addictive habit where a person experiments and learns through trial that it changes how they feel about themselves and their situation. This pleasurable experience is stored as an option for how to make themselves feel good.

The danger with alcohol is that, based on the frequency, duration and intensity a person uses it to feel good, it can move from an addictive, feel-good habit to a physically-addictive behaviour that can result in a substance abuse dependency.

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Addictive habits need to be stopped before they mature into complex compulsive disorders such as gambling or substance use disorders. The earlier an addictive habit is recognized, the easier it will be to decide to curb it.

Action

Taking control of an addictive habit begins with awareness and conviction to act before the habit moves from controlling your emotions to controlling your life. Some addictive habits may be intermittent and not something you do all the time. It’s much better for your mental health to learn how to change your emotional state without resorting to an addictive habit.

Addictive habits may appear innocent but when left unchecked or tested some become all-consuming and take control of not just our emotional state but our entire life.

Addictive habit self-management:

· Forty-five-day challenge – Take the 45-day challenge where you commit to stop the habit. The goal is to provide you with evidence with the degree of control you have over your perceived addictive habit. If you can’t do this challenge on your own, this may be a sign that your addictive habit has become more clinical and you may need professional help to learn how to stop it. Don’t try this challenge if you drink alcohol daily; consult with a substance abuse professional first.

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· If needed, accept professional help – Wonderful advancements have been made in treating people who have compulsive disorders or substance-use disorders. If you can’t stop an addictive habit yourself, it’s important to know that every day thousands of people are getting help to learn how to take control of their addictive habits, so the habits no longer control them.

Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada, and former chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell.

You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

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