Behaviour

The Science Behind Addiction And How You Can Kick It

Mark Twain said that quitting an addiction to tobacco was easy; he had done it often. But what is an addiction? According to Psychology Today, an accepted definition for an addiction is: ‘a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities.’

We intuitively know what an addiction is; when a behaviour becomes an addiction is more problematic. Is someone watching television for eight hours a day an addiction? Do two cigarettes a day constitute an addiction? Is gambling £10 a day an addiction?

Quite what causes a treat to lapse into an addiction is open to debate. Addictions such as smoking and drug abuse will arise as some form of biological alteration, where the brain and body decides that it likes a certain chemical and wants more. When an attractive and pleasurable behaviour occurs in the animal brain the neurotransmitter dopamine is released into the system, but the brain can grow to desire more, and the initial hit is not enough – combine that with cues around us such as availability and advertising, and the hit becomes irresistible.

Other addictions may be generated by one’s life situation or state of mind. Behaviours such as polishing off pints of alcohol, placing £100 on Arsenal to win, and purchasing wigs do not seem rational or even comparable, but each may counteract a feeling of emotional stress. That stress might be counteracted by one behaviour, or many; a highly-addictive personality might swap between an uncontrollable need for alcohol or drugs, simply because they must quell the needy parts of their behaviour.

This substitution method at least gives an option for the person desperate to kick a habit. Smokers worldwide, for example, have tried many methods of breaking their addiction such as gums and nicotine patches, with varying results. E-cigarettes however not only recreate the addictive chemical element of nicotine, but also the physical actions of lifting a tool to the mouth and drawing.

It is perhaps no surprise then that sales of patches and gum fell by 3% last year, dropping for the first time since 2008. Meanwhile vaping device sales grew by 75%, thanks to the efforts of scientifically astute companies such as EL-Science, creating an alternative to traditional smoking that’s fun, funky and a viable alternative to smoking.

According to journalist Johann Hari, who has researched drug addiction across the globe, a combination of cues and an unhappy, deprived lifestyle can often be the impetus behind an addiction. His theory, revealed in the Huffington Post, was partially based on experiments on rats that had developed an addiction to drugged water before being placed in more pleasant conditions and subsequently kicking their habits.

Combine that with worldwide evidence that seems to suggest placing people in recuperative, replenishing and pleasant environments to conquer their demons, as opposed to punishing them, and the likelihood of success is higher. Much like prisoners, removing negative cues and giving a sufferer a desire to achieve, and more than anything, human connections, seems to work.

July 16, 2015

Using Psychology Instead Of Diets To Control Your Weight

Ever been on a diet, lost the weight and then put it back on? This has to do with conditioning; a type of learning that occurs, which dictates how we behave. If you want more control over your weight; learning about conditioning is better than any diet, you will ever try.

What is conditioning?

Conditioning is the basis of how we learn to behave. This includes our habits, which cause us to be the weight we are. Three types of conditioning have been identified; classical, operant and observational. Each plays a vital role in controlling weight gain and loss.

Classical conditioning

Learning via association. For example: have you ever been to movies and headed straight to the snack bar for some popcorn, even though you aren’t hungry? That’s classical conditioning at work. In many people’s minds, they associate a trip to the movies with popcorn or a snack, while they relax and enjoy a movie.

For people wanting more control over their weight, they need to be aware of conditioning which pre-exists for them, about food and exercise. As an example; if you consume your nightly meal on the lounge, in front of the TV (as many people do); each time you sit down to watch TV, there is a greater chance of you associating this activity, with eating. This is why it’s recommended that you find a designated place to eat; like at the dinner table. This reduces the likelihood of eating in front of the TV at night.

Some people also find that they eat when they experience different moods or physical states; such as being tired, anxious, confused or worried. Eating, is therefore, a coping mechanism. From past experience, food made them feel better and it becomes a viable solution, each time they experience this feeling. The only way to cease it, is to identify, acknowledge and change these types of associations.

Operant conditioning

Learning via consequences. For all behaviours, we are either rewarded or punished. Rewards encourage us to increase a behaviour, while punishment reduces it. These can be added or removed. For example; when we diet, we are usually rewarded with removal of weight. However, when we gain weight, we are punished by addition of weight.

Rewards and punishments, encourage which behaviours to choose. Sometimes the punishment of weight gain, isn’t enough to deter, increased weight gain. Perhaps the reward of consuming particular foods, overrides the compulsion to avoid the punishment of excessive weight gain.

Observational conditioning

Learning via observing others. For example; large people usually have large family members. Sure, genetics comes into play, but learning and adapting the habits of parents is much greater. Children are like sponges, absorbing a significant amount of knowledge from their role models. If their role models are healthy and active; they will likely, be so too.

By the time kids reach adulthood, they have learned a great deal from mere exposure. For example; if you take the kids shopping, be aware, they are learning what types of foods to put into the trolley. Even if it appears they aren’t really paying attention; repetition and exposure is teaching them. This is primarily where most habits begin.

Lastly, when you become fully aware of the roll food and exercise plays in your life, long term weight control can be achieved. Ask yourself these 6 vital questions and you will be well on your way.

  • Why are you eating?
  • When are you eating?
  • Where are you eating?
  • What are you eating?
  • Who’s watching you eat?
  • Exercise… pleasure, pain, chore or choice?

By Kim Chartres

June 25, 2015

Coping With Determined Kids And Teens

Loads of parents teach their kids to think for themselves, have goals, opinions and not follow their mates, if they want to jump of a cliff. We encourage them to be proactive in making the world around them a better place. After all, we want them to be able to cope in the world without holding their hand.

Despite this being an excellent way to raise productive, responsible, thoughtful individuals; the major downfall is the determination which presents itself, as they get older. By the time they reach double digits, they have strong beliefs and values, feel comfortable voicing their opinions and question the authority of their parents. You might be thinking to yourself, “What on earth have I done?”

Don’t despair, because if they are questioning you, they are also questioning the world around them. They won’t be likely to smoke that cigarette, because their mates are doing it or go against their values and beliefs in other ways. The main thing you need to know, is how to cope with this determination, without undoing all your hard work or passing them along to a family member, in fear grounding them for life!

Firstly, congratulate yourself on making it this far and creating a determined kid. Every child on the planet at the age of around 10-12 will begin to break away from their parents. Some start earlier, some later, but during this critical age, they are developing their self identity. Therefore, there is a lot going on behind the scenes, which they aren’t even aware of. Hormones are playing havoc with their brains and their bodies. 

As the supporting parent, you need to let them become the person they are envisaging and the person you have encouraged them to be. This doesn’t mean they can get away with being disrespectful or rude either. This is where boundaries will be a parents best friend. Set your boundaries and stick to them.

This can be easier said than done. If your child is especially determined, they will push every boundary you put in place for them. They want to see how far they can go, before you set the limit. They are actually pushing to find that limit, and if you don’t give it to them; be prepared for anarchy. They will run the household. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a home run by hormone consumed kids or teens!

They need to know that you are still the parent and they are still your child. This won’t be an easy time as a parent. You thought toddlers were hard work, right? Well teenagers are much like toddlers, except they know they are making your life a living hell! Don’t show them that they are wearing you down and if you have a partner, you need to work together and be a united front; unbreakable and un-dividable.

If there are any cracks in your relationship, your determined kid will find them. It won’t be something they do on purpose. At this age, they are entirely egocentric. You will need to constantly remind them that they are not the only person on the planet.

It’s not all bad though. After this time in their life, your teen will thank you for the support you have given them and the boundaries you set for them. They will know that you have their back, no matter what. Calm will then return to your home. Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour, knowing you have created a very strong, capable person.

Image via pad3.whstatic.com/images/thumb/e/e0/Deal-With-Difficult-Teenagers-Step-9.jpg/670px-Deal-With-Difficult-Teenagers-Step-9.jpg

By Kim Chartres

September 4, 2014

Understanding Addiction

Are you unable to put down your smart phone? Maybe over eating or drinking is your problem? Perhaps you’re indulging in too many prescription pills? Whether someone is overcoming an illegal or legal addiction is irrelevant. Most addictive behaviours can be treated similarly and have a similar pattern and path. Once these are understood, it is much easier to overcome any type of addiction.

Addiction in it’s most basic form, is excessive behaviour. The difference between regular behaviour and an addiction, is that regular behaviour can be ceased without distress and can be absent from ones life, without causing a significant impact.

In today’s society we have many behaviours than can easily lead to addictions. The following scenario depicts an addictive behaviour, associated with mobile phone use.

You hear the tone of your phone go off during a funeral. Instead of switching it off or declining the call; you choose to pick it up and start a conversation. You therefore need to answer your phone, regardless of your physical situation. In this instance, you may have an addictive behaviour attached to the use of your mobile phone.

Why this person felt inclined to answer the call, could have been, for one of two reasons. Either they did it automatically and neglected to notice their surroundings or they felt an overwhelming compulsion to answer it. In the later, they may have needed to answer the call to relieve distress or considerable discomfort they felt, when the phone rang.

This would have occurred through conditioning. Behavioural Psychologists such as Pavolv and Skinner, did extensive research into how behaviours were learned, maintained and extinguished. This has been exceptionally helpful in the field of addiction.

According to behavioural psychologists, the first step toward changing behaviour, is recognising it. For example; alcoholism can’t be treated without the drinker being aware they have a problem. So if you or someone you know has a problem that goes unnoticed; the behaviour isn’t likely to change.

Once the behaviour is recognised as being excessive, measures can be taken to correct it. In most cases this will involve acknowledging and understanding triggers which lead to the behaviour. Triggers are those things in life which prompt a behaviour. Using the scenario above; the ring tone would be considered the trigger and answering the phone, the conditioned behaviour.

Once a behaviour is learned and has been maintained, it can be difficult to extinguish. Maintenance usually occurs so the person can avoid the negative consequences of avoiding the behaviour. For example, alcoholics and drug abusers maintain their addiction, by knowing they need to ingest their desired substance, to avoid withdrawal.

Avoiding negative consequences can be a powerful maintenance tool. Once this is overcome, the process of extinguishing can commence. This involves avoiding the behaviour and reprogramming the conditioning process. With the mobile phone scenario, an example of reconditioning could involve ignoring the ring tone so it diminishes the conditioned behaviour. It may cause the person considerable discomfort to initially ignore the tone, but after a time, it would become much easier.

To alter the behaviour to answer the phone only when appropriate; the tone should be changed and the behaviour of only answering at specific times, would be practised. This would encourage a less addictive behaviour. Similar practices are done with food intake, such as eating only at the table or designating food free zones, such as the lounge room, where people often snack on unhealthy foods.

In theory, overcoming addictions is quite simple. However, emotions complicates the process. If you view an excessive behaviour as a conditioned, rather than emotional behaviour, your chance of overcoming it will be increased.

By Kim Chartres

August 15, 2014

The Ultimate Parenting Tip: Consistency

Do you have toddlers or kids that have taken over of the household? Do they manage to get what they want by screaming, yelling, tantrums or other negative behaviour? If you want a simple solution to your problem child….this article is for you!

Don’t beat yourself up about what’s happened in the past, because you have the power and opportunity to change things. It doesn’t matter how hopeless you feel the situation has become either. Rather than giving your child the impression they might get what they want by screaming, nagging or tantrums; you need to let them know that they won’t. No matter how bad the behaviour gets, don’t give in. Being consistent with you child is the only way your child will learn, when you say no, you mean it.

So, how do you do it? Obviously, things will take some time to rectify, so don’t start this change in the middle of the shopping centre! The best place to start is in your own home, with smaller things. For example; smaller children often play up at bedtime. Being consistent with their bed time routine is essential. What they want is your attention. Don’t give it to them. Engaging your child each time they call out or are out of bed only reinforces the behaviour.

Once they have been put to bed, unless they need your attention, rather than simply want it; ignore them. Even if they scream, cry, hurl things across the room; whatever. Sit against the bedroom door if you have to so they can’t get out or hurt themselves. Be prepared for a full blown episode on the first and possible second or third occasion. An hour or two to start is not unusual. Within a week, they will get the idea that there is no point in getting up and down and when they go to bed, they will stay there. This is the foundation of consistency for your child.

Whatever the situation is, consistency should be your number one objective. If you go to the supermarket, don’t give in on that one or two occasions at the checkout, unless you are prepared to do it each time you visit. If you tell you child you are leaving the park, don’t give into their demands when they want to stay, unless you are prepared to deal with their negative behaviour each time you leave.

Being consistent will also provide valuable boundaries which every child craves, plus teach them essential life skills. As they get older you won’t have children who run your home, abuse you or use other methods of manipulation to get their way. Remember, your child will get older and giving into small demands when they are young will turn into more extravagant demands in years to come! 

By Kim Chartres

June 12, 2014