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Addiction is a Mental Health issue not a Moral one


“She goes from one addiction to another. All are ways for her to not feel her feelings"

Ellen Burstyn



Last week I celebrated 13 years of being free from all mood altering substances. In the past 20 years I have only drunk alcohol over one single weekend.

Addiction is an experience that is very personal to me. After having an abortion 26 years ago, I fell into deep depression and used alcohol to medicate my feelings.

In the space of five years, my personality, my behaviour and my values changed. I was lucky enough to have people in my life who cared enough about me to confront me on my behaviour.

VeryWell Mind describes addiction as a complex, chronic brain condition influenced by genes and the environment, characterised by substance use or compulsive actions that continue despite harmful consequences.

For a long time, addiction meant an uncontrollable habit of using alcohol or other drugs. More recently, the concept of addiction has expanded to include behaviours, such as gambling, and even ordinary and necessary activities, such as exercise and food.

For many people food was their first addiction. Due to its easy access some children used food to manage their moods from an early age. Like drug addiction, food addiction can also lead to cravings, tolerance, and even withdrawal.

Many people are surprised to learn that love addiction and co-dependancy are known as “relationship addiction”. People with love addiction or co-dependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.

There is a link between mental illness and addiction or substance misuse. Gabor Mate is my favourite expert on addiction, and he defines addiction as any behaviour that gives a person temporary relief and pleasure, but also has negative consequences, and to which the individual will return time and time again.

Maté believes that addiction originates in a person’s need to solve a problem: a deep-seated problem to do with trauma or loss. He goes on to say that it is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.

In my case the relief I sought was the elimination of the guilt, shame and grief that consumed me. For others it can be as simple as relieving boredom to maladaptive attempts at relieving painful emotions.

Addiction used to be considered a moral issue but we've advanced enough to understand it is a mental health issue. At its core, addiction is an attempt to self- medicate mental illness such as anxiety, depression and trauma. In the 12 step system, addiction is seen as a soul sickness or a hole in the soul.

It's my believe that for many people, the addiction is an unconscious strategy to cope with what is for them a very painful life, whilst staying alive until they are ready or able to access more healthy healing options.



"It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour"

Gabor Mate



There are two types of addiction, chemical or substance, or behaviour or process. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is when a person is unable to consistently abstain from a behaviour or substance. This is typically at the cost of their mental, physical health and their relationship.

Examples of Chemical or Substance Addiction:

  • nicotine, or tobacco

  • alcohol

  • inhalants, often household items like oven cleaners, spray paints, or other aerosol products

  • drugs, illicit or non-illicit

  • medication

Examples of Behaviour or Process Addiction:

  • gambling

  • working

  • sex/love/co-dependancy

  • shopping

  • video games

  • using the Internet or media


Examples of Behaviour or Process Addiction:

  • gambling

  • working

  • sex/love/co-dependancy

  • shopping

  • video games

  • using the Internet or media

5 stages of recovery from an addictive pattern by Cross Roads Recovery

Motivational Interview is the common framework used by therapists when working with clients to achieve recovery and healing from addiction.


1. Pre-contemplation Stage People who are in the first stage aren’t yet ready for treatment. This phase is characterised by defensiveness and endless justification of their behaviour. There’s a clear lack of insight into the negative impact of excessive drug or alcohol use and a strong focus on the positive effects they experience from using their drug of choice. Someone might remain in this stage due to a lack of information about addictive behaviours. Another reason we regularly see people get stuck in the pre-contemplation stage is disappointment with multiple failed attempts at recovery. Most individuals in pre-contemplation feel that recovery simply isn’t possible for them. The truth is that anyone can recover from any stage. 2. Contemplation Stage The next phase is characterised by contemplative readiness. This means the person is ready to bring about change in the future, but not immediately. Unlike the previous stage, they’re aware of the pros of becoming free from addiction. However, they are also still acutely aware of the benefits they perceive from the addiction. This is a critical stage for family members and therapists because the person is more likely to listen to reason. By avoiding blame, judgment and accusations, it’s possible to guide them to the next stage. 3. Preparation Stage When it comes to the preparation stage, the individual is building a sense of urgency regarding their desire to be free from addiction. They’ve usually made steps toward taking action, such as intending to join a gym, seeing a counsellor or attempting to quit by themselves without attending a treatment centre. It’s normal for people in this phase to go for a day or two without turning to the addiction, but it’s also perfectly usual to see people jump back to contemplation or pre-contemplation when triggers or difficult emotions arise. 4. Action Stage During the action stage, the person has made significant changes in their lives and is committed to change. This stage of change is characterised by prolonged periods of abstinence and the inclination to turn to professionals for help before or after relapse. It won’t just be a case of halting the destructive behaviour; change will be apparent in multiple aspects of their lifestyle. Self-care and self-understanding are both present in this stage, but counselling is required to keep them on the right path. 5. Maintenance Stage During the maintenance stage, the individual is working hard to prevent relapse. They’re also keeping up the lifestyle changes they made, like getting regular exercise, paying attention to sleep hygiene and attending support groups. They don’t feel the urge to relapse as frequently as people in the action stage, so their confidence grows and they truly believe in their ability to live long term with the addiction. This stage can last from six months to five years, depending on the severity of the addiction and the individual’s genes and experience. It takes a small minority of people six months of abstinence to reach the point where they don’t go back to their addictive behaviour. However, for most people, a commitment of two to five years is necessary to truly break the habit and solidify change.



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