Soft Addictions: Are They Dangerous?

The spectrum for addiction is varied and long. As the world evolves, so does the list of potential addictive substances. The question arises of what seemingly harmless activities can turn into devastating addictions? How can this behavior be curbed before it becomes out of control? And what is the major underlying facet that contributes to living an addicted life?

Gray areas in the field of addictions contain soft addictions. On the surface, these soft addictions may appear as a bad habit, and they often do begin as such. However, the motivation and the continuation of engaging in these bad habits can foster an environment where addiction can manifest. The following are a few activities that can start as a bad habit and move into the realm of addiction.

•    Emailing
•    Chatting Online
•    Texting
•    Talking On the Phone
•    Caffeine
•    Nail-Biting
•    Hair-Pulling
•    Watching T.V.
•    Gossiping
•    Procrastination
•    Shopping
•    Smart Phones

Any of these activities is harmless in moderation. Many of these activities are a common occurrence in the day-to-day activities of a large portion of the population. None of these activities are illegal, but dependence on these items can lead to an addiction.

When Casual Use Turns To Abuse
The world we live in creates an environment where bad habits are easily formed. Individuals find themselves with not enough hours in the day and not enough money in the bank. Habits are formed when the behavior creates a reaction that the individual finds pleasing. Once a person feels that he or she is relaxed, numb, preoccupied or that their problem has been fixed by an activity, that person will continue to engage in that behavior. For example, if someone feels stressed or that his or her life is out of control, the escape of chatting online with the virtual aspect of another human being creates a sense of comfort. Thus, the individual will start to turn toward chatting online to alleviate any pain and discomfort they experience.

While chatting online may seem harmless on the surface, the motivation behind the behavior is where the danger exists. The motivation behind any action is entwined with the person’s “why”: Why are they developing a bad habit? Are the consequences of the bad habit being ignored? Is more time spent thinking about the habit? This pre-occupation is taking time away from activities that should be a higher priority. The individuals engaging in the bad habit are avoiding pain and swallowing their fear. By avoiding the core issue that is causing discomfort, they are not in a position to work on their issues. This avoidance leads down a slippery slope toward being dependant on the bad habit.

When Abuse Turns to Dependence
Abuse of a substance or an activity can turn into mental and physical dependence. When that line is crossed, the behavior is leading toward addiction. The crucial differences between abuse and dependence can include the following qualities:

•    More time spent on the habit and less time spent on important activities (food, sleep, work, school).
•    Tolerance: The body becomes tolerant of the amount of a substance or the length of time spent engaging in an activity. As the body grows accustomed, more and more is needed to attempt to achieve a desired result.
•    Withdrawal: The mind and body begin to experience extreme signs of discomfort if the person doesn’t engage in their habit.
•    Emotional and Physical Effects: This can include extreme mood changes, drastic changes in sleeping habits and physical discomfort when the habit is stopped.

Physical and mental dependence are the final stage before an individual becomes addicted.

When Abuse Turns to Addiction
Addiction is a combination of a physical and a mental need for a drug of choice. Soft addiction can result in dire consequences, which can be physical and financial. Spending the majority of one’s time engaging in an active addiction leaves little time for anything else – the addiction becomes the focal point. The addicted individual does very little except concentrate on his or her addiction, thinking about how to acquire and fund the addiction.

While all of an individual’s time and funds are used to support their addiction, everything else gets pushed to the wayside. Families can be left devastated, jobs can be lost and bills do not get paid. In extreme cases, this can lead toward being destitute. The road to these consequences may seem excessive, but they do occur. For instance, if an addict is spending all of his or her time, energy and money sitting at a computer chatting in chat rooms, that person is prevented from having a fulfilled life. However, with any type of addiction, recovery is possible.

How Are Soft Addictions Treated?
Soft addictions are treated in a similar fashion to hard addictions. The first step is being aware of it and desiring a change – this element of surrender is crucial. There are fellowships, 12-Step programs, therapists, counselors and recovery coaches who are trained to help. These professionals have the tools necessary to empower the addict to move toward sobriety and recovery.

In being aware and pro-active, if someone discovers that he or she is beginning to lean on bad habits to cope, he or she has the opportunity to deal with those issues head-on. This creates an environment of healing that is safe and productive. By frequently taking inventory of one’s life, many bad habits can be dealt with before extreme consequences can occur.

Soft addictions come in many forms, but they often begin as a bad habit that quickly becomes a crutch. The core issue that needs to be examined is the motivation behind the need for the habit. Fear, escape, denial, a false sense of control and a desire to numb emotional feelings can all fuel negative activities. Once the harmful issues are treated, the need for the bad habit will dissipate, but this is always a work in progress for the addict and the trained professional. These bad habits can be replaced with healthy habits, tools to cope and an increased self-awareness. This is the place where addiction can be bravely faced and recovery becomes possible.

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