Substance & behavioural dependence

What is a substance or behavioural dependency?

A person with a dependence on a specific substance, or engaging in a repetitive behaviour, experiences rewarding effects that provide a compelling incentive 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 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 behavior 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, but addiction may include the unhealthy use of non-illicit substances, and many types of compulsive behaviours: 

  • 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: Re-centre can assist you to find your path to your best life, when you take the first step. 

What causes substance and behavioural dependencies?

There are a wide variety of reasons that contribute towards someone developing this behaviour. No single cause can be determined, instead a complex personal ‘biography’ needs to be recognised.   

Research suggests causes 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 about current stresses or escape from troubling memories. 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 can Re-centre help me?

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

We know that judgement and blame can prolong rather than help people resolve these difficult issues, and therefore we keep a compassionate, respectful and non-judgmental stance. The important therapy and ‘work’ around recovery can be undertaken when individuals feel 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). 

We also assist people to access novel technologies and broader information as they find effective, in their journey to wellbeing. 

Please see the following links for further detail:

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 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 – recovery is a process, and takes as much time as needed; relapses can be part of the process, and don’t mean failure. 

Who, at Re-centre, can help me with substance and behavioural dependence?

Discover better mind health with Re-centre