(by Gloria Arenson, LMFT, DCEP)
The first client I counseled after I was licensed was Jane, an alcoholic, drug abusing, compulsive overeater. Just as Jane was starting to control her food addiction she married a drug dealer and disappeared for a year! After she divorced him and stopped using drugs she returned to counseling. At that time, Jane was a waitress in an upscale restaurant. After work she and her coworkers would go out drinking.
Jane could never seem to get free of all three cravings at the same time. A short while later she moved to another city and decided to seek treatment from an addiction counselor. She wrote to me, saying that he told her, “Whatever you do, don’t drink!” She added, “I stopped drinking but I gained 30 pounds!”
What can addicts do if they can’t stop overeating, drinking, drugging, spending, gambling, smoking, sitting at their computers for hours watching porn, or something else that makes them feel good temporarily? Many people will suggest that you “just say NO.” However, as Jane discovered, that doesn’t work permanently.
Have you ever noticed that when addicts are able to stop one behavior they often begin doing something else compulsively? Many alcoholics overeat sugary foods; compulsive eaters often are shopaholics; compulsive spenders may also have food or alcohol issues. In the 1800’s thousands of alcoholics in Ireland who swore off booze became addicted to drinking ether!
How does someone stop going from one “feel-good” to another? The answer lies in the brain. Everyone experiences stress in their life. Stress creates an imbalance in the dopamine and serotonin in the brain’s pleasure center. The longing for relief from stress, whether physical or emotional, is what creates cravings. The craving is then directed toward any substance or behavior that will raise dopamine and make the person feel good again.
I call the kind of stress that causes most binges Super Stress. This occurs when you feel totally powerless over a situation or relationship in your life. You tell yourself, “Ain’t it awful and there’s nothing I can do about it!”
But the relief that comes after a binge is temporary. When the stressful situation continues the craving returns! The way to end craving cycles is to learn how to balance the dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Here’s what I tell my clients to do.
Follow these 5 simple steps to avert dangerous binges that lead to self-hatred and frustration.
Become aware of your craving for a substance or behavior that makes you feel better. Even if you are not near alcohol, food, drugs, or shopping malls right now, are you making plans to have a binge later today?
How strong is your desire? How intense is the feeling that “I gotta have it or do it?” Use a rating scale from 0-10, with 10 being so strong that you feel as if you have to give in to your desire immediately no matter what else is happening right now.
Let’s say that you answered that the intensity of your craving was 9. Ask yourself this question: What in my life today is a 9? Then take a deep breath and let it out as you allow the answer to pop into your mind. Remember that you will usually get in touch with something that you feel powerless over.
Some common examples: I just heard that my father has cancer; my son was kicked out of school for cheating; my wife lost her job; I can’t pay my mortgage this month; my fiancé left me for another woman; my dog got run over.
Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Put your hands over your heart and take 3 deep breaths. Allow yourself to get in touch with the emotions you feel about the situation. Perhaps you are angry at your fiancé and feel enraged, unloved, abandoned and insulted. If you can’t pay your bills you may get in touch with fear, despair and self-hatred.
Use EFT tapping to transform stress into strength saying something like this:
Even though I feel completely powerless over ___________, I am ready to release my Super Stress now.
Even though I am consumed by anger/sadness/frustration/ etc. and I am heading for a binge, I am willing to release my negative emotions.
Tap about each negative emotion or negative situation until you have reached zero and feel calm. The more that you practice this, the easier it will be to nip your cravings in the bud and avoid harmful binges.
Although it took years, Jane refused to give up. She finally achieved sobriety and became a substance abuse counselor herself.
Gloria Arenson, LMFT, DCEP
Author of: How to Stop Playing the Weighting Game, A Substance Called Food, Binge Eating: How to Stop It Forever, Born To Spend, Five Simple Steps to Emotional Healing, Grownup Love: Getting It and Keeping It, EFT Tapping: 64 Quick and Easy Tips, and EFT For Procrastination.
Gloria Arenson will be presenting a workshop, “How to Enhance 12 Step Recovery Using EP Techniques” at the 18th International Energy Psychology Conference | Santa Clara, CA | June 2-5, 2016. Learn more.