How to Break a Bad Habit

cigarette burning

Last week I was using my husband’s laptop to respond to some quick emails before heading to work. I was frantically typing away, wanting to hit send as fast as possible to still make my train, when a notification popped up on his screen: “don’t bite your nails today, Brian!” I laughed out loud and wondered — can you really break a three-decade habit with a Google Calendar reminder?

It turns out the answer is yes. Habits form after much practice and repetition, and that’s also how they’re broken. A daily ping on his laptop, cell phone, and iPad reminds Brian cyclically to change his behavior, making him more committed to reaching his goal. Of course, Brian’s habit is mild on the bad-habit continuum, so it’s easier to break as long as he’s dedicated. I have habits like this, too — eating meals in bed, almost always having a phone that’s out of battery, leaving my clean laundry in the hamper, unfolded for too long. But there are also strong, addictive habits, too, such as substance abuse, which can be much more difficult to break. Continue reading How to Break a Bad Habit

Why Self-Medicating is a Bad Idea

Person drinking liquor

I thought I was just like everyone else.

Joining my friends for happy hour, sipping on nice wine at client dinners, and spending Sunday afternoons at the local beer garden. It seemed perfectly normal that my social life revolved around alcohol. Since my drinking patterns did not seem any different from my peers, it never occurred to me to question them or view them as a form of self-medicating.

According to Kimberly Leitch, LCSW-R, and Talkspace therapist, there are many different forms of self-medicating. “Some of the more common forms of self-medicating that my clients engage in are the use of marijuana, alcohol, and sleeping pills,” Leitch said. From her perspective, self-medicating behaviors are often tied to poor coping skills. Continue reading Why Self-Medicating is a Bad Idea

Is Video Gaming Addiction Real?

A man sits in the dark playing video games

Video games provide a reprieve from our day-to-day life. We can escape into a fantastical, post-apocalyptic landscape in the Fallout series, or slay dragons and romance warriors in Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. After all, what’s wrong with a little make-believe?

Psychology researchers are trying to find out.

Continue reading Is Video Gaming Addiction Real?

Why We Took a Break From Drinking: A Talkspace Co-Worker Chat

Bartender pouring a drink at a dive bar

At the end of last summer, I had an existential crisis. I was about to turn 35, at a career crossroads, and on the verge of leaving the U.S. for good. I reflected back on how my adult years had been spent. They were self-serving, blurry and distant, and lacking deep personal connections with others. And myself.

I’d been living unhappily as a “man-child” — a lifestyle fueled by excessive partying and minimal commitment — for most of my adult life. Ashamed and disappointed I hadn’t accomplished more, I dwelled on squandered time and people I’d hurt along the way. I wanted to run from it all.

Rather than bouncing to Bangkok, however, I decided to clear my head. I was going to try an long-overdue experiment: a break from drinking. Half a year later, I’m still enjoying the positive benefits of that decision.

Continue reading Why We Took a Break From Drinking: A Talkspace Co-Worker Chat

Is Drinking Making You Depressed?

Woman on chair holding bottle of wine to her temple.

Drinking has a firm foot in our culture, and it seems to fit any occasion.

Having a birthday and turning 21, 30, or 50? Have a round on the house!

Getting married? Crank up Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That)” and throw one (or five) back while grooving on the dance floor into the wee hours of the morning.

Going on a first date? Why not meet at the bar for a classy cocktail or glass of wine?

Had a hard day at work, bad week, or even a rough month when you just can’t seem to shake that sinking feeling? Nothing a drink to lift the spirits can’t solve…

And that’s where we begin to run into trouble — self-medicating our depression through alcohol consumption.

Continue reading Is Drinking Making You Depressed?

7 Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Woman pouring a drink in the kitchen

Many people drink socially and feel that their drinking habits are normal and healthy. There are other individuals who acknowledge that they are addicted to alcohol.

But in between these two categories is a subset of social drinkers who are secretly worried that their drinking behaviors may indicate alcohol abuse. These people may not share their concerns with family, friends, or significant others, but in the back of their minds, they are anxious that their drinking is out of hand.

If you’re always wondering what exactly distinguishes social drinking from alcohol abuse, or if you worry about the drinking of a loved one, these seven points may help you figure out whether your drinking is something you may want to cut back on.

Continue reading 7 Signs of Alcohol Abuse

When Weekend Drinking Turns Into a Problem

Binge drinking during the weekend

In my practice, I work with many young adults, and some older adults, who insist that they don’t have an alcohol problem despite binge drinking every weekend. There is a myth that in order to have a true issue with drinking, someone needs to drink alone, or in the morning, or every day.

It is true that for most people who are physically dependent on alcohol, drinking is far more frequent than on weekends. But there is a large group of individuals who drink so heavily on weekends that they certainly meet criteria for alcohol abuse, or problem drinking.

Continue reading When Weekend Drinking Turns Into a Problem

Why the Holidays Are Difficult for People With Addictions

christmas dinner beer wine glasses cheers

The holidays can herald challenges for everyone: awkward family issues, travel stress, gift expenses, religious conflicts. Those with mental illnesses might encounter triggers for various symptoms and issues. Addiction is no exception and can be especially burdensome.

During a time of excess and indulgence, it takes even more self-control for people in recovery to abstain from substances. Friends and family members might offer them a drink or invite them to smoke. There is a higher frequency of ads for alcohol. It seems the entire world is consuming without a care, yet those in recovery need to be more cautious than at any other time of year. Continue reading Why the Holidays Are Difficult for People With Addictions

When Does Shopping Become an Addiction?

miniature shopping bags and cart on computer

All of us have wasted money on items and services we don’t need, purchases we eventually realized were not worth the time or investment. Think about all the expired food you have had to throw out, tickets to movies that looked terrible, clothes you don’t wear (but the sale made them too tempting to pass up).

Sometimes the experience of shopping provides more pleasure than what we end up buying. Children feel joy simply walking through a Toys R’ Us. Going to Macy’s during the holidays is a tradition for many families. Later they realize they most likely spent way too much, but it’s OK. The New Year arrives, and expenses return to normal until the next holiday.

But what about people who treat every day like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Christmas? This kind of excessive shopping isn’t only financially irresponsible. The behavior can be a mental health issue. Continue reading When Does Shopping Become an Addiction?