The loss of control, despite knowing its consequences, makes one do or use things repeatedly to experience its effects.

Hunter Biden, son of US President Joe Biden, wrote about his struggles with addiction in a memoir which released on April 6 this year. The book titled, Beautiful Things, centres on the younger Biden’s well publicised struggles with substance abuse. To this, the President and the first lady had said, “We admire our son Hunter’s strength and courage to talk openly about his addiction so that others might see themselves in his journey and find hope.”

Everyone hopes for courage and recovery in this sort of dependence. Addiction stigmatises or creates several barriers, and the sufferer is less likely to open up about his habits. There’s a sense of personal discomfort and at times acceptance is an issue.

It can often result from personal choices and habits which are different from biologically-based diseases. For instance, excessive consumption of television content can wreak havoc on personal and professional life. And this, Abhilasha Ojha, a self-confessed recovering television addict, realised it the hard way.

A singer-cum-vocal coach, Ojha shares her first-hand experience when she started watching Netflix series day after day, “at the cost of my professional commitments and personal goals,” says the Delhi-based freelance writer. “I was in a trance-like state, unaware when 30 minutes stretched to over six hours in one go. I hit rock-bottom, when one day, I realised that it was impossible for me to pause the ‘idiot box’ to drink water or even eat food,” says Ojha.

It all started during the stressful months of the lockdown last year when Ojha quit her full-time job in April to focus on music. Since the access to the substance of abuse—in her case television—was easy, and in her comfort zone, the process quickly spiralled out of control.

The loss of control, despite knowing its consequences, makes one do or use things repeatedly to experience its effects. Addiction or the dependency to do certain things is mindful and at the same time stressing. Even if Ojha knew about this behavioural change, she found some relief in stressful times.

But how does one decide when strange habits like watching TV, playing video games, flipping a light switch on and off five times before leaving the room, washing hands 10 times before eating and, worse, turn to addiction or the fact that they seem harmless but inadvertently become part of our daily lives?

According to Dr Megha Jain, psychologist, Apollo Spectra Hospital in Kondapur, Hyderabad, the pandemic has witnessed psychosociological symptoms and disorders where people have been dependent or addicted to any kind of substance or even a pattern of unhealthy living. “Getting addicted to something when physically you have nothing else to do is a very common and easily acquired behaviour. Addiction does not only relate to substance; it can also be getting attached to anything which hinders your daily living practice,” she says.

Dr Megha Jain, psychologist, Apollo Spectra Hospital

A rewarding realisation
Broadly speaking, addiction can be categorised into two main categories: substance abuse and behavioural addiction. Substance abuse is not only addiction to cocaine, and other drugs, but to simple substances like tea, coffee, sugar, etc. On the other hand, behavioural addictions involve excessive use of tools, something that is commonly seen in today’s lifestyle like addiction to mobile/ Internet or watching TV.

Actor-turned-entrepreneur Pooja Bedi claims she is a ‘tea-o-holic’, who could happily have 30 cups a day. Her mornings would certainly feel weird, incomplete, and perhaps even stressful without tea. “When you study NLP (neuro linguistic programming)—a psychological approach that involves analysing strategies used by individuals and applying them to reach a personal goal—you’ll know that your association fuels your responses. I have happy memories of dipping Marie biscuits and the laughter if it melted and sank to the bottom of our cups, looking forward to tea with hot bhajiyas on rainy days or its warmth and comfort during cold days in boarding school,” says the founder of Happy Soul, a health and wellness-focused lifestyle brand.

However, the emotional state of being in such stressful times is individualistic and is directly related to the degree of physical and mental support around. For socially hyper-active well-being crusader and mental health advocate Nina Kler, addiction to social media was both positive and negative. This Delhi-based entrepreneur felt she was on an overdrive and fell ill with an unknown virus that forced her to slow down in life. “In the absence of social and physical events, I spent major hours of the day on social media as its lure is certainly addictive without realising,” she says.

However, when her friends and family forced her to start her own venture it was her stress levels and anxiety that made such thoughts furthest from her mind. “The fear of failure, inconsistent income and putting myself open to judgment—all kept me away from exploring this option. Covid-19 forced me to experiment online with a video channel, Pursuit of Balance, where one can speak about wellbeing and mental health and within weeks. The feedback was so heart-warming that it forced me to face my anxiety head on and opened up a whole new gateway for me,” says the 40-something writer.

Dr Nimesh G Desai, director, Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS)

Can a harmful addiction help?

Most addictions, when they become a habit, make one feel good temporarily, boosting the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. The moment your body gets an addictive substance, the brain gets a hit from it. It’s only over time one can develop a tolerance for the addiction.

Take the case of 38-year-old Tina Roy* who quit her job post delivering a baby in December last year. From four to nine cans a day, the habit of consuming a carbonated beverage became an addiction for this Germany-based marketing professional. “Money and energy spent on consuming made me so anxious that if I didn’t get my drink in the fridge, I ran to the shop to buy one,” she says.

As Roy is on the verge of quitting, she tells us how her doctor helped in physical withdrawal from the caffeine in her drink. She watches TV and plays video games but nothing before bedtime as it can affect sleep and put her to the same process.

Individuals who invariably check phones every few minutes are also addicted to technology. In a media report, last year, a Patna-based newlywed couple split when the woman said she could live without her husband but not without her phone, as the phone was her sole source of entertainment at her in-laws’ home.

Addiction of technology among young adults is common and it’s possibly an underlying disease. Dr Nimesh G Desai, director, Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS), finds technology addiction or excessive use of social media is all about pleasure-seeking activities and often termed as a larger part of a lifestyle change. “As successive generations are becoming more disinhibited in their pleasure seeking, traditional Indian society is becoming restrictive. It’s an evolving behaviour,” says Delhi-based Desai.

Conscious control
Recovery is not an overnight process, but the good news is that such addictions can be controlled, and its acceptance is the first step forward. Dr Jain says making a proper plan of action with the help of a professional would ease out the situation, triggers that can have a relapse effect should be avoided, keeping it slow and steady, one step at a time, would give a more powerful result. She says, “Exercise is the most important activity to be included as it releases happy hormones leading you to a motivated self. Speaking out about the challenges you’re facing will help to move towards eradicating it.”

In Ojha’s case, she took to daily journaling, maintained a daily habit tracker along with a daily timetable. These tools gave a breakup of the number of hours and allowed her to see how much could be achieved after prioritising goals for the day.

Bedi avoided tea and learnt Reiki Level 2 of energy healing, an ancient practice to reduce stress, improve health and quality of life, and supports physical and emotional healing. She abstained from dairy, sugar, meats, grains, or tea for 90 days.

As Dr Maheshwari suggests, one must understand why one relies on it, try using the timer and restrict the use, distract oneself with other activities or simply connect with people more often. “Simple strategies are not working or if you are experiencing physical/ withdrawal symptoms, it’s time to visit a doctor,” she says.

* Name changed on request

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