Addictive Behaviors: Coping with Stress in the Modern Age

Ellie Wolf, MS, BCB, Associate Fellow, BCIA


What do smoking, eating disorders, and texting all have in common? They often result from stress and anxiety.


"Stress and anxiety are definitely big players in the process of what drives some of these addictive behaviors," said Ellie Wolf, MS, BCB, Associate Fellow of the BCIA. She hosted a recent WebTalk Radio show about the topic.


During the show, Wolf talked about how stress can create dangerous cycles and negative emotional distractions. She recommended options for people who want help facing their own stress and related behaviors.


In addition to addictions, those behaviors include compulsions. While there is some crossover between the two, compulsions typically don't cause repeated pain or negative consequences. Common behaviors of both types include:


• Alcohol abuse
• Over- or under-eating
• Chronic texting
• Smoking
• Over-cleaning


These behaviors often develop as ways to modify a person's "fight or flight" response to stress triggers. Stressed by work?


Fighting or fleeing may not be options-but calming your nerves with a drink is.


"It all boils down to being able to recognize the stress and then intervening with something healthy," Wolf said.


Finding help

Taking that step can require external assistance. Counselors, group therapists, and other qualified professionals can help people reach a level of self-awareness that enables them to manage their own stress. 


After all, Wolf said, "It's not easy to be introspective alone." If you're going to beat ingrained, chronic behaviors, you'll need outside perspective-and a lot of support.


Wolf recommended individualized treatment, not only because the root causes of people's stress are unique, but addictions themselves take different forms. For example, two people may be addicted to smoking, but one may be addicted to nicotine while the other is drawn to the ritual of going outside and taking a break from work.


Good, meaningful counseling and training "can help the person unravel what's going on here and begin to replace some of these behaviors with healthier, more productive and happier ones," Wolf said.


Being honest

However, no amount of therapy is going to help if you don't have a reason to deal with your stress and correct your behaviors.


Ask yourself: Do you really want to get help? Are you ready to change?


Change takes commitment. And many people struggle to stick with it, Wolf said, because they simply don't understand the deep-seeded nature of stress. "You're fighting an unseen enemy."


Others struggle because looking more carefully and deeply into themselves scares them, which can be discouraging.


However, if your goal aligns with Wolf's-to learn to live better, not just longer-find the right starting point for you. And take it a step at a time from there.  


For more information, listen to Wolf's WebTalk Radio program or join us on May 19, 2015 as Ellie presents on Biofeedback for Addictive Behaviors.


To schedule an appointment with Ellie Wolf, call (312) 276-1212.


Good thoughts are half of good health.
- Proverb: Yugoslav