Do you often find yourself scrolling through online stores and loading your carts with gazillions of things that you do not even need? Or when you are stressed out or simply bored, do you find yourself gobbling down pints of ice-cream and chocolates because you think it makes you feel better?
If you have ever caught yourself stuck in such a loop, then you might be dealing with a certain addiction. While drug misuse and chemical addiction is generally more prevalent, behavioural addiction such as compulsive shopping, food addiction, gaming, and social media, are equally detrimental and invasive; most of which remain undetected most of the time.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), addiction is defined as a feeling of strong craving for something that urges a person to act upon it to the point where the person’s ability to function in day-to-day life becomes impaired, leaving them unable to ignore the temptation despite being aware of its harmful consequences.
This vicious cycle of addiction begins at the reward system of the body where you find the act pleasurable due to the release of dopamine. The desire to rekindle this euphoria then leads to cravings from time to time, and before long, your body is adjusted to the high levels of happy hormones. In the end, it comes to a point where you lose control over your impulses and you are unable to rid yourself of the constant dependence.
Apropos of the severe health crisis inflicted by these addictions, healthcare experts from around the world stress on quitting the habit immediately as the only definite measure for good health. However, in light of strong addictions and high risks of relapse due to withdrawal symptoms, the concept of harm reduction has gained increased popularity across the global healthcare sector in recent times as one of an effective approach to minimise negative health consequences associated with certain substances and behaviours. While it was developed initially to counter drug abuse problems, now it is being used for a wide range of health and social issues where abstinence or instant withdrawal is not feasible.
Grounded in the principle of respecting and understanding the physical and psychological needs of the people, a harm reduction approach comprises a set of tailor-made strategies that work for the specific needs of the people struggling with problematic habits, with the sole goal of protecting their health and bringing positive changes to their lifestyles.
Today, as we are in the midst of a pandemic and stress levels are running high, we have become increasingly vulnerable to falling prey to different kinds of addictions one way or another. To overcome these dependent behaviours and addictions, here are a few top outtakes from harm reduction strategies that can help weaken the pattern and quit the addiction completely – eventually.
Cut down the chain: While quitting the addiction instantly is difficult, it is always easier and effective to cut down on the amount of substance-intake or the time spent on the habit. If you are addicted to cigarette smoking, reduce your daily count or dump a cigarette before you have taken all the puffs. If you are dealing with caffeine addiction, limit your coffee or tea breaks to a minimum.
Set a budget: Whatever it is you are addicted to most likely has a lot of share in your budget. To reduce the harm on your health and the burden on your pocket, allocate a specific budget to your source of addiction and ensure you stay within the set limit. This will automatically help bring down your habit.
Find alternatives: As you juggle with the temporary pleasure and the permanent harm your addiction gives to you, try finding and bringing alternatives into your routine that may be equally pleasurable but less hazardous to your health. For instance, when you get a sugar craving, try substituting your regular chocolate with dark chocolate which may also contain some sugar and fat, but its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body definitely outweigh the harm. Similarly, for your smoking addiction, try substituting your regular cigarette with reduced-risk alternatives that can eventually help you get off your habit completely by slowly and effectively reducing the harm to your body.
Where most of the traditional approaches to abstinence are myopic in nature that fail to take possible relapses into account, leaving the person bouncing back and forth from continuing and quitting; with the harm reduction approach, these risks of falling back into habit can be substantially reduced, giving you the elbow room to cut down on the harm according to your own specific needs, while also giving you the gentle push toward absolute cessation.
Thus, bringing these simple changes to your habits can work wonders for your physical and psychological health in the long run. However, the key is to acknowledge the harm these habits are doing to you and show the willingness to change for the better. And just like that, without even realising, you will be on track to quitting your addictive behaviour once and for all.
The author is a certified yoga instructor.