What makes you feel like you’ve got drugs on the brain? subconsciouslythinking.com/photos

So you’re out shopping with friends and you see shoes you would just die to have, but they cost $300 (oh yeah, designer!) and you have no money left. Here’s a point  that separates an addict and an average shopper. A person who just likes shopping would be able to say no to those expensive designer shoes. It’s just not in the budget. Someone suffering from shopping addiction (medically  known as oniomania) would get those shoes—in three colours.

Addictions are all about lack of control. A person who is not an  addict is in complete control  of what they do (e.g., not buying  a pair of shoes) while the addiction is in control of the addict. A  shopping addict runs up multiple credit cards and takes a  nosedive into debt just for that  moment of happiness when  they get something new.

An addiction can be anything—shopping, drinking, drugs,  exercise—but it is all essentially the same idea. Addictions are  associated with positive emotions, usually sheer ecstasy, which  makes people keep coming  back to the addiction over and over again. But as time goes on, more  of the addiction is required to capture those positive feelings  and numb the darker ones.  The need keeps getting sharper, and the satisfaction weaker.

We get addicted when something makes us feel good, but some people have a genetic predisposition to addiction. Addictions can also arise out of the attempt to numb the pain and memory of shame or trauma, especially from childhood. Addictions can even begin in response to current stresses or traumas in life. For instance, a person with anxiety problems or depression may develop an addiction just to forget about that other aspect of their life, even for a short time.

Beyond drug, gambling, and shopping addictions, new research by Dr. Mark Hyman has proven  that food, especially sugary,  fatty junk food, is actually  addictive. Many alcoholics turn  their addiction to sugar during recovery. Commercial food companies know how to make the right combination of sugar and fat to make it addicting. Because of this, food can be as physically and psychologically addictive as drugs and alcohol.

Junk food replicates the effect some drugs have on the brain. Endorphins are released, which makes you feel good—even if it only lasts through the last crumb of a chocolate bar. This addiction drives the fast food and snack food industries; people literally “can’t get enough” or “can’t have just one”. Being addicted to sugar is the same as anything else: the addict needs more and more to get the same effect. People who can squash their cravings for food, usually by doing something else, obviously aren’t addicted. But the people who eat even when they’re not hungry are definitely hooked on sugar.

Despite what every magazine is insisting nowadays, the only way to really kick the sugar addiction is to quit cold turkey. Take juice, chips, sweets, and soda out of your diet to let your body get back to normal. Eating any of those things actually triggers cravings for more, creating an unhealthy cycle that’s only profitable for the food industry.

Immediately after stopping the compulsive behaviour of an addiction, an addict has withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can result in physical symptoms (headaches, shaking, and sweating, to name a few) and can drive the addict right back to the fix. As with anything else, practice, hard work, and routines that override the addiction have the best results.

So what else does an addict do to kick the addiction? Join a recovery program. The best types of programs are ones that are ongoing (AA, for example, and other AA-based programs such as Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Shopaholics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous—and more anonymice!). These intensive, community-based programs have double the success rate of short-term programs.

There are two types of recovery programs. For more severe, even life-threatening addictions, people can go to a recovery centre (inpatient), where they will stay full-time for counselling and coping methods. The other type of program is meetings (outpatient), where the person talks with other addicts and learn how to overcome the addiction. The main part of recovery is to be able to admit there’s a problem and be held accountable for it.

Both outpatient and inpatient programs are at least 90 days, as required by the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA). Anything less than this, and it’s likely the addict will fall right back into their addiction. It’s best to be in a program for a lot longer than 90 days to ensure an effective recovery. Even inpatients usually continue in an outpatient program after being in a recovery centre. The honest truth about recovery is that it’s extremely difficult. Only 20% of alcoholics recover for good. But that doesn’t mean recovery is impossible.

The main attraction of addiction is getting lost in whatever makes you feel good. The majority of drug addicts admit that they did not seek help even when the drug stopped making them feel good. This is also how addictions get bigger, involve harder drugs, and consume more money, and lead to the desperation that makes an addict engage in more and more hazardous conduct (like buying a $1,000 pair of shoes!).

Addiction develops mainly out of our environment. Advertisements fool us into thinking we need certain things to be happy. (One poster ad for HP laptops that’s been around campus lately even uses the word “addiction” as a selling point).

People will be drawn to find happiness in any way they can, especially in hard times, and it’s important to find happiness in different ways and places to avoid addiction to one thing.

Though we will always be in danger of addiction, there is treatment. The first step is admitting it, and then, with time and effort, working to get life back to  the healthy normal.

So really, think twice before you buy those unnecessary (and expensive!) shoes. If nothing else, make yourself wait until you have the money. Then the thrill doesn’t just come from buying something. It comes from earning what you want, and hey—that’s something to feel good about.