Substance & behavioural dependence

What is a substance or behavioural dependency?

A person with a dependence on a specific substance, or repetitive behaviour, experiences rewarding effects that make them want to and/or need to repeat the activity, despite detrimental consequences.

The following characteristics are commonly seen:

  • Wanting to stop using the substance or change the behaviour but not managing to
  • Spending a lot of time on actions related to the substance or behaviour
  • Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of the substance or behaviour
  • Continuing to use the substance or engage in the behaviour, even when it causes problems in relationships
  • Craving or feeling the urge to engage in the behaviour/use the substance
  • Tolerance – needing to use more of the substance, or engage in higher risk activities to get the same feeling
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not able to use the substance
  • Continuing to use the substance/engage in the behaviour in spite of it causing physical, legal and social harm

Most people are aware of substance dependencies on alcohol, cocaine, opioids (e.g. codeine, heroin, morphine, oxycodone) and cannabis. However addiction may include the unhealthy use of non-illicit substances, and many other types of compulsive behaviours including:

  • Gambling
  • Tobacco
  • Computer gaming
  • Pornography
  • Sexual behaviours
  • Food
  • Prescription medication, pain-killers
  • Shopping
  • Risky behaviours
  • Exercise
  • Social media use

Addressing substance and behavioural dependence on your own can be very difficult. That’s why we’re here to help you to find your path to recovery when you’re ready.

What causes substance and behavioural dependencies?

There are a wide variety of reasons that someone may develop this behaviour.

Research suggests factors include:

  • Genetic factors about family history and physical vulnerabilities, powerful physical withdrawal effects following use
  • Life stressors including work and familial, social and intimate relationships
  • Exposure to adverse childhood and life events such as abuse, trauma
  • Normalisation of behaviour within a peer group, social modelling and peer pressure.

Some individuals use a substance or behaviour as a coping mechanism for their anxiety or low mood. These actions can be powerful ‘reinforcers’ and may prevent people from developing more helpful coping strategies to manage stressors over the long term. Sometimes the original feelings can become lost from the lasting habit.

How we can help

At Re-centre we understand that any substance dependence is a painful and distressing experience for the individual and their families.

We will always create a compassionate, respectful and non-judgmental space for anyone reaching out for help. The important therapy and ‘work’ around recovery can then be undertaken when the individual feels ready and supported.

At Re-centre we facilitate both group and individual therapies focused on learning, relapse prevention and lifestyle management strategies, while exploring issues at the root of the addictive behaviour (e.g. shame, guilt, depression, trauma and difficulties regulating emotions).

If you are wanting some support and help with a dependence issue, we have many incredible specialists who can offer you a range of therapeutic options and treatments.

Options of care that can help:

  • Psychopharmacology
  • Psychological therapies
  • Lifestyle and mindfulness training
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Programs for exercise
  • Art and music therapy options.

Courses and workshops

If you’re looking for an alternative to 1:1 personal therapy, we also offer courses and workshops to help you plan and manage your recovery.

Recovery focused courses and workshops:

How do I support a loved one struggling with substance or behavioural dependencies?

Connection is the answer – having support from those that love them is the most important tool a person can have on their recovery journey.

  • Keep your communication open, calm and honest 
  • Listen to their opinions and experiences, be calm and respectful in response
  • Try to avoid making judgements. Addiction is a health issue, and not a result of poor willpower or selfishness 
  • Set reasonable boundaries, and communicate with them calmly and clearly e.g. what you are/are not willing to do, what behaviour is or is not accepted in your home 
  • Don’t breach an adult’s privacy by intruding into their space – this can lead to suspicion and distrust, and hiding their behaviour 
  • Encourage the person to seek help, and help them know what services and options are available, but do not force them into treatment until they are ready 
  • Know you can’t fix this problem for them, as much as you want or feel responsible to do so 
  • Encourage them to see their doctor or psychologist, as they may be more willing to listen to a professional 
  • Support a person in recovery by steering past triggers, or places where they are confronted with cues to their dependency (e.g. remove alcohol from the house, meet them at a café or for a walk rather than a bar) 
  • Understand that recovery is a process, and takes as much time as needed; relapses can be part of the process, and don’t mean failure. 

Discover better mind health with Re-centre