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We say we’re “addicted” to a lot of things: the newest trendy seltzer, travel to far-off places, the new season of Stranger Things. When we throw around the term “addiction” like this, it can make it seem pretty harmless. In reality, though, addiction is a complex and serious condition that involves compulsive behavior and loss of control. Some become addicted to substances, like drugs and alcohol, to the point that it can take over their life—or even end it. In addition to substance addictions, people also can deal with behavioral addictions—gambling, sex, cutting—that can be just as crushing. So, why do people become addicted? Well, it’s complicated. Genetics, home life, family history, mental health conditions, prescription drug use, and life’s circumstances can all play a role. Whatever the causes, the effects are not in doubt—addictions can be totally devastating for your body, mind, and spirit. Chronically taking drugs and alcohol, for example, has a negative impact on your organs and immune system, which makes addiction that much more damaging for those who already have compromised immune systems (oh, hey, that’s us!). And behavioral addictions, even to something that’s “good for you” like exercise, can still be unhealthy. Now there’s mounting evidence that autoimmune and some viral conditions actually lead to neurological changes that can make you behave very strangely, even self-destructively, and one of the results can be addictive behavior. Like we said, it’s complicated! It’s important to mention that many people use drugs and alcohol recreationally, and some never have problems with addiction. Likewise, lots of people enjoy activities like exercise, sex, and shopping, and it doesn’t turn into a compulsion they can’t stop. Still, substance use can easily veer into abuse and addiction territory, so it’s important to be aware of the signs. These include feeling a lack of control or being unable to stay away from a substance or behavior, decreased socialization (aka abandoning commitments or blowing off relationships), and ignoring risk factors (like knowing something isn’t good for you…and doing it anyway). You should also be attuned to physical symptoms, like withdrawal (headaches, shaking) or needing higher dosages for effect, especially if you are taking medication. If you suspect you have an addiction, first of all…give yourself a lot of credit. In every 12-step program the first step to conquering addiction is admitting you have a problem, because many people are in denial. There are more addiction treatment options than ever before, and they often include medication combined with some form of behavioral therapy or counseling. In-patient and out-patient rehab programs as well as 12-step programs and support groups are often recommended. These programs may or may not be your path to recovery...but it’s important to take the first step and get some kind of help, even if you ultimately need more support down the line (which is 100% ok!). As you start to take steps toward getting professional support, you should also see your practitioner—and tell. them. EVERYTHING. (If you already have a mental health practitioner in your corner, so much the better.) Together, you can tease out if and how your addictive behavior maps back to your chronic or invisible condition. With the support of a professional or group of professionals, you can make small steps toward stopping harmful behaviors. One of the best actions you can take is to show up at a 12-step meeting—they are held in every city across the country. And while you’re going through the recovery process, you can give your body and mind a lot of love—you deserve it! Many find yoga and mindfulness to be especially helpful when recovering from an addiction. Lastly, shame and isolation are rich soil for addiction. Don’t let it flourish. Reach out to your WanaFam, because you definitely, definitely are not alone. Despite how hopeless addiction can feel, many people who’ve walked in your same shoes have recovered—and you can too.

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