How Addiction Can Impact On Relationships & Life Balance

How Addiction Can Impact On Relationships & Life Balance


Most of us spend our daily lives thinking of ourselves as some kind of a single unit.  For example, we tend to think of our body as one thing which doesn’t seem to change much from day to day, and our body as being bound up with our thoughts and experiences; all together these leave us with some kind of a feeling about who and what we are.

But is this feeling that we are some kind of single thing actually true?

Let’s start by considering your body.

The various different organs in your body are made up of very large numbers of cells.  For example, your liver is made up of approximately 200 billion cells.  But these are not the same cells every day.  Over a period of about 9 months they are completely replaced by new cells.  If we consider the cells on the outside of your skin, these are replaced completely every 20 days or so.  If we consider the lining of your gut, the cells that make up this lining are completely replaced every 2 to 4 days.  And talking about your gut, there are about 100 trillion bacteria in there which your body needs to function healthily.  These bacteria are also dying and being replaced by new bacteria all the time.

Although it may seem from the outside that your body is changing very little from day to day, this is just not the case.  But there is something about your body that changes very little: the relationships between the different parts.  While the cells that make up these parts (organs and systems) are changing the whole time, the relationship between those parts – how they work together to maintain life – changes very little.  The cells that make up your organs and systems are dying and being replaced by new cells the whole time, but the relationships between them remain quite stable.  If those relationships break down, you become ill, and if they break down severely, you die.

What about your brain?

We tend to think of the brain as a single organ.  However, in reality it is made up of many different ‘sub-organs’, which, just like the different organs which make up the body, need to work well together for us to remain well.  There are many examples of people who have suffered an injury to a specific part of the brain or to the nerves connecting the different parts, which can result in very unusual behaviour.  For example,

  • If the nerves (wires) connecting the right and left sides of the brain are cut, this can result in one side of the body being unaware of the other side – for example, if you try to do the buttons up on your shirt, you might find that your right hand fights your left hand in the process.
  • The famous case of the man with damage to part of his brain which resulted in him seeing his wife and believing she was a hat.
  • Brain damage resulting in a complete lack of awareness that part of your body belongs to you – for example the man in hospital who believed a joke had been played him by a nurse leaving a severed leg in his bed – he tried to throw the leg out of the bed, but it was his leg and he ended up on the floor.

My point is that, as for the body, if the different parts of your brain are not working in harmony with each other, you become ‘ill’ (at least as far as the rest of us are concerned).

The examples of poor relationships between different brain areas given above are obviously very extreme.  However, there are more subtle examples which may be much more relevant to many of us in our everyday lives.

Unlike most of the cells in your body, those which make up your brain (called neurons or nerves) do not tend to die and be replaced.  However, the connections between them are continuously changing, and changing depending on your experiences.  For example, the part of the brain which coordinates fine finger movements becomes visibly larger (from many more connections being built) if you practice the piano every day for a year or so.  The same thing in different brain areas occurs when you learn to ride a bike.

One part of our brain (the amygdala) is concerned with the processing of fear and anger.  In children who have experienced severely unpleasant situations, especially if those have been ongoing for long periods of time, the amygdala becomes overactive and actually increases in size due to formation of many more connections between the neurons it consists of.  The overactive amygdala is wired up to parts of your brain and body which release speeding-up hormones into your blood, leaving you in a state of constant alertness (and then stress).

Just as the increase in size of the part of the brain responsible for fine finger movements may be helpful for the piano player, the increase in size of the amygdala may be helpful for the child living in an abusive household by leaving the child more alert to danger, and thus more able to protect itself from harm.  But whereas there is no downside for the piano player if they cease to practice piano, there is most definitely a downside for the traumatised child when they are no longer in the abusive household.

Just as the piano player has ‘programmed’ themself to play piano, and this ability remains many years after they last practiced (think of riding a bike if you don’t play piano), the traumatised child will have a lifelong tendency to anxiety, stress, and difficulty in forming stable and loving relationships with people later on in life who are no threat to them whatsoever.  Quite apart from these unpleasant effects, the high levels of ‘speeding-up’ hormones circulating through the body throughout life cause (by dysregulating the immune system) damage to body organs and lead directly to reductions in lifespan.

In short, the ‘relationship’ between the traumatised child’s brain structure and the inner (body function) and outside world (interactions with people) was a helpful one in the short term but has become unhelpful now the situation has changed.

The more we think of ourselves as the sum of our inner (body) and outer (other people) relationships (as opposed to thinking our ourselves as some kind of unchanging unit), the greater insight we can develop into who we are, and into our health.

Those relationships are changing in small ways every second of every day, and sometimes there are dramatic and sudden changes to them.



Why should relationships need to remain in balance?  What has this got to do with our health and survival?

A small earthquake occurs in a mountainous region of the world.  Hundreds of large boulders roll down a hill.  Most smash into the ground at the bottom of the hill and split into tiny fragments – they cease to exist (as large boulders).  By a quirk of fate, one boulder hits the hill at just the right angle, its course is diverted, and it comes to a gentle halt just on the edge of a rocky outcrop.  It remains there, an unusual sight for people passing, for thousands of years, before the wind and rain slowly weather it, reduce it in size, and it too finally ceases to exist.

It was very unlikely to occur, but because unlikely events do sometimes occur, one boulder survived for much longer than the others because it came to rest, literally in balance with its immediate environment.

This is an example of what physicists call the second law of thermodynamics.  Let’s forget the fancy title.  What it says is that, overall, things get more disordered with the passing of time, and that’s just the way of the world.  Overall, and by a long way, there were less intact boulders, but by a quirk of fate one survived by finding itself in perfect balance with its immediate surroundings.  But then look at a longer time span, and the surviving bolder also ‘died’ in the end.  You can only temporarily beat the second law of thermodynamics!

This applies to life just as much as boulders.  As I write this, we are in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic.  By a completely random process, millions of variants of the virus are emerging which may help a new version of the virus to continue to infect us even if we have had a vaccine.  Nearly all the mutations arising will not help it survive, or quite likely will make it impossible for it to survive.  But it takes just one mutation out of millions to work well for that virus to start infecting more and more people, and for its population to grow.  New strains of the virus replace old strains, and the ones predominating at a particular point in time are those most in balance with their surroundings at that point in time.

Actually, no one can quite work out whether viruses are living things or not.  But when it comes to humans, we seem pretty certain we are alive.  Just like the surviving boulder, and just like a virus bypassing a vaccine, human beings have emerged from other animals by i) a quirk of fate and ii) because they just happened to be in balance with their environment at the point in time the quirk of fate occurred.  This was first explained by Darwin in his theory of evolution, and later by our understanding at the level of genes (random mutations just like the virus) as to how this occurs.

We are here in the first place because we happened to be in balance with the environment when we emerged, and to continue to survive we need to remain in balance with our environment – both internally (body) and externally (the outside world) – as that environment changes around us.  If we fall out of balance we will perceive that as feeling unwell or unhappy, and in the worst case (but eventually inevitable) scenario, we will die.


What has this got to do with addiction?

Different addictive drugs have different effects in the body and in different brain regions and pathways.  However, they have one thing in common – they all cause the release of a naturally occurring chemical called dopamine in the Nucleus Accumbens.  Whether you are energetic (cocaine; amphetamine; ecstasy), or relatively sedated (alcohol, heroin), the underlying positive nature of the experience is associated with dopamine release in this area of the brain – a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure.  It is the combination of these sensations that leads to the overall experience (e.g. feeling ‘all powerful’ after taking crack cocaine; feeling ‘wrapped in cotton wool’ after taking heroin).  From a ‘brain science’ perspective, this is ‘why’ people take drugs.  It’s pretty obvious really – after all, I’ve never heard of anyone who actually took a drug to feel bad.

Earlier, I mentioned the fear and anger centre in the brain called the amygdala, and that this centre can become overactivated for life and actually grow physically larger in people who have experienced severe psychological trauma in childhood.  As it happens, the amygdala is very closely wired to, and physically merges into the brain’s main reward centre – the nucleus accumbens.

People with an overactive amygdala are much more likely than others to have a tendency to counteract all the fear and anger by the use of addictive drugs, which can reset balance through release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens.  In this instance, the difference between people who choose to use drugs and use them occasionally, and those that are driven to use drugs and use them repeatedly is not that they are fundamentally different kinds of people; it is that the latter type of person needs to use drugs repeatedly, directed by their fundamental programming to achieve and maintain balance.  In contrast, many people who are lucky enough never to have experienced difficult childhoods actively dislike the experience of taking addictive drugs – it takes them out of balance.

You may ask what the problem is with using drugs repeatedly if they help to reset balance in the user?

There are two main reasons, already discussed above: i) many parts and systems in the body and brain are individually programmed to achieve and maintain balance, and ii) we are made up of many different parts which need to maintain balance between themselves.

The first of these reasons is associated with the development of ‘tolerance’ to pleasurable effects of drugs.  In its adaptive attempts to keep everything the same as before  – to retain ‘balance’ or ‘stability’ or ‘normality’ – the brain’s reward centre (nucleus accumbens) becomes less and less responsive to the pleasurable effects of drugs the more you use them; the outcome of this process, is that if you use drugs repeatedly, you will need a larger and larger dose to achieve the same effect.  In theory, this may have no downside, apart from the financial cost of the drugs.  If by using more and more drugs you can still counteract the fear and anger, why should that be a problem?

The second reason provides the answer to that.  The different parts of the brain and body have developed at different times through evolution, and in some cases have been more or less cobbled together.  They happen to work well in their relationships with each other in ideal circumstances, but those relationships can be quite easily strained.  In particular, different parts of the brain and body develop tolerance to the effects of drugs at different rates, if at all in some instances.

For example, the part of the brain which controls our breathing when we are asleep (you would stop breathing and die when asleep if it stopped functioning) is sedated and slowed down in its function by drugs which are sedative in action such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates, alcohol and heroin.  The more barbiturate you take on a regular basis the more tolerant to this slowing of breathing effect you become.  However, the tolerance in the breathing centre of the brain develops more slowly than that developed to the pleasurable effects of the drug in the nucleus accumbens.  The outcome is that as you up your dose of barbiturate to achieve the same feeling of ‘cotton wool’, you place yourself at greater risk of accidentally going to sleep and stopping breathing.  The same is probably the case for heroin and may be less so for alcohol.

If we take the example of alcohol, while you drink more and more to achieve the same level of pleasure as before, some body organs completely fail to develop tolerance to the increased levels of alcohol.  Your pancreas and liver may start to fail, you are more likely to develop cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, your brain in general, and your memory in particular, may be damaged.

How to Help Your Relationship Survive Covid-19 Lockdown & Tiers

Relationships in a time of Covid-19

We all find ourselves living through unprecedented times. The Covid-19 pandemic is a flash torch on relationships like no other. If we didn’t have an awareness of our partner’s annoying habits before, we sure do now! Perhaps you’ve found yourself asking one of these questions…

Why are we suddenly arguing so much?
How do I stop being annoyed by my partner’s habits?
Why am I only seeing this in my partner now, after all these years?
How can we help our relationship survive this?
Does this mean we are not suited after all?

With life losing its usual structure, being in lockdown with your partner can be intense. Back in March, it may have initially felt romantic, or an opportunity to let go of the busy lives we find ourselves living and reconnect. However, nine months later, for many people, those ideas slipped out the side door a while ago.

Adjusting to the significant changes we’ve experienced takes time, whether those changes are working from home; losing a job; working on the front line; financial stresses, loss of socialising or worry about family and friends. All these things have a significant impact on how we manage our lives and our relationships.

There is no shame in recognising that being with a significant other so consistently during this time has brought some annoying habits to light and put strain on relationships. It’s not surprising and in fact, it is important that it is acknowledged. Some couples will manage to work their way through – we have six ways to help your relationship below – however, if you would like support from a professional counsellor, please call 01227 903 503 and we will connect you with one of our experienced relationship therapists.

Six tips to help your relationship survive lockdown and the tier system

1. Regular check-ins
Decide how often you’d like to do this – weekly, daily, twice a week. During the check-in, turn off the TV, set your phones on silent or leave them in another room and talk. Talk about how you are feeling and what’s on your mind. Discuss what’s working between you and what needs adjusting. Look at your partner when they are talking. Rather than thinking about what you want to say next, listen fully to what they are expressing.

2. Agree on ‘alone time’
It’s not healthy for any couple to be together 24/7. We all need our own physical and emotional space and work time doesn’t constitute healthy alone time. Agree on specific times each of you will get this. If you have children, one can look after them while the other has time alone and vice versa.

3. Create separate working spaces
Whether one or both of you are working from home, create a ‘work space’ separate from your ‘home space’. This way, after work, you can return home and come back together as a couple there.

4. Address any disagreements as soon as possible
Arguments may well have become more frequent. Leaving them to fester will cause resentment to build up. Often we think we have forgotten our last disagreement only to find the bad feelings it caused rear up again during the next one. Once you have calmed down, come together to talk about it. Remember to talk about how you feel (I feel…) rather than accusing the other (You are….)

5. Simple kindness and affection is important
Be mindful of your relationship and the strain you are both under. Affection is important – hugging, telling your partner you love them. Take time to consciously remember what you love about your partner, then tell them about it. Small acts of kindness towards your partner will make significant differences in how you both feel. Perhaps a loving note; a cup of tea; a bunch of flowers; running a bath for your partner or simply showing interest in them and how they are.

6. Date night at home!
You may be stuck at home, but you can still arrange a special evening together. Cook a meal; play a game; go for a walk; watch a movie. Perhaps you can even get creative and find something new to do together at home. Use this extra time you have together to truly get to know and understand one another. You can increase your emotional intimacy this way. Make it fun, you could each disclose something your partner doesn’t yet know about you, risk being vulnerable. Vulnerability brings greater intimacy and allows you to create an even deeper connection.

Most importantly, realise and admit that this is a difficult time. Give yourself a break. If problems arise that seem too challenging to resolve then seek help from a professional therapist. You may need one or two sessions with a trained counsellor to understand and work through the issue. Call 01227 903 503 to speak with someone about the possibilities.

Seeking help isn’t a failure, it is often a necessary preventative measure. Resolving problems before they get too big and learning better ways to communicate are key in helping relationships not only survive, but thrive.

How to Know Whether My Partner a Sex Addict?

This is a question you may be asking yourself. You may also be wondering:

  • Is sex addiction a real thing?
  • What does sex addiction look like?
  • How does sex addiction affect relationships?
  • How can I tell if my partner is a sex addict?
  • Will my partner’s sex addiction affect our level of intimacy?
  • Will my partner’s addiction destroy our relationship?

Most people don’t understand what being a sex addict means, for the person as well as their partner. It may be that your partner is suffering with a sex addiction, or it could be that you are simply feeling dissatisfied with your relationship and wanting things such as your sex life and levels of intimacy to be different. How can you tell the difference? Below are some signs to look for.

8 ways to know whether your partner is a sex addict

  1. They have been unfaithful numerous times – This is not one case of infidelity, but a history of cheating on partners and what seems like an inability to remain faithful to your relationship even if he or she is stating that they want this.
  1. Compulsive use of porn – Perhaps at one point in your relationship you used porn together as part of foreplay, but now your partner is needing to use porn alone or secretively, maybe staying up later than you to use porn and attempting to hide the habit. He or she may need more stimulation to achieve the same level of sexual excitement they used to.
  1. Using adult sites / chat rooms – Creating a profile that they check on a regular basis. Sending and receiving intimate pictures with people they don’t know. Consistently chatting to potential partners though they have not met them or had a sexual relationship with them.
  1. Visiting sex workers – Choosing to pay for sex with people outside of the relationship.
  1. Lack of control around sexual behaviour – Being driven by sexual desire as the main focus in the relationship or in life in general. A feeling of the sexual behaviour being out of control.
  1. Excessively secretive – Hiding their phone, being secretive around their use of technology and passwords. Over emphasising that certain things are ‘private’ for them and none of your business.
  1. Sexual behaviour negatively influencing other areas of life – Are there problems relating to sexual behaviour that your partner is encountering at work, in relationships, in the area of finances or even health?
  1. Inappropriate boundaries and behaviour – Perhaps you have observed, or someone else has complained, that your partner is not adhering to appropriate boundaries regarding physical space. Or you and friends around you are noticing your partner being overfamiliar, making inappropriate comments or excessively using innuendos.

It isn’t necessary to tick every one of these boxes, but you will find a pattern of these kinds of behaviours and consequences when your partner has a sex addiction. All is not lost, there is help available both for those trying to cope with having a sex addiction and for their partners.
Addiction is no cause for blame

People often find compassion for those who develop an alcohol addiction, whereas sex addiction tends to be a more controversial topic. Any addiction can drive good people to do bad things. Many people are sceptical about the reality and causes of the condition, however, attitudes are slowly beginning to change. It’s important to remember that if your partner does have a sex addiction, there is no need for blame or self-doubt. Similarly, it’s helpful to remind yourself that they have a condition that needs treatment.

As with alcoholism, a full recovery is possible with the right help and support. If you and your partner want to work through things together, though it may not be easy, it is possible. Relationships can survive addiction to sex. Call me on 01227 290 098 to begin working your way through addiction to a healthy, balanced relationship.


Five relationship tips to help you communicate better

Five relationship tips to help you communicate better

1. Don’t ask your partner for things when your emotions are running high, wait until you feel calmer. This way you will find it easier to be clear and assertive rather than angry and aggressive.

Relationship tip: When you’re feeling angry, take yourself to a quiet room and journal for at least five or ten minutes. Allow the anger to spill out onto the paper without editing it. Don’t read it back afterwards, throw it away, let it go.

2. Make a request without blame.
Own your feelings: “I feel angry when I see….. I’d really appreciate it if you could ….”

Relationship tip: Use ‘I’ statements when you are talking to your partner about something difficult.

3. Choose a good time to make a request. For example, when your partner is tired and overwhelmed, it is not a good time.

Relationship tip: Take a walk together, when your partner is feeling more relaxed, make your request, with kindness and consideration.

4. It takes courage to ask for a need to be met because it means being vulnerable. Be clear with yourself that it’s okay for you to ask.

Relationship tip: Often we learn as a child that we shouldn’t ask for things. Spend time reassuring yourself in a loving way that it is okay for you to ask for what you want.

5. Think of something you are grateful for and let your partner know how much you appreciate them. Over time this can build your intimacy.

Relationship tip: Each day, try writing down five things about your partner you are grateful for. It will get easier as you go and begin to change the way you see them.

“I’m looking for help with my relationship”
Finding a skilled relationship therapist is an important step in identifying the everyday patterns that can slowly but surely destroy your relationship. The counsellor can help you move through patterns, improve your communication and nurture the space between you, which will enable you to have a far more loving, satisfying and joyful relationship.

Learning to give time to the space between you will bring you both a depth of happiness you deserve.

How to get more of what you’d like in your relationship

How to get more of what you’d like in your relationship

In relationship therapy, there are certain issues that come up time after time.
Almost all couples, once they come to a place of reaching out to find counselling, are asking at least two of the following questions:

• How can I get my partner to listen to me?
• What can help us have a more satisfying sexual relationship?
• I want to feel part of a team with my partner. How can we make this happen?
• How can we bring more romance back into the relationship?
• What will get my partner to help more around the house?
• I want more emotional support from my partner. How can I get this?

The space between you
Any relationship is made up of two individuals plus the relational space between them. In fact, your relationship is the space between you, the place where you meet, and it cannot survive on its own, it needs care, time and commitment. You, and your relationship, deserve more of your care, your time and your love.
Sometimes all that’s needed is a new lease of life, a burst of energy and enthusiasm along with a commitment to doing things differently. All too often we get caught up in patterns of communication that don’t work. We end up doing, saying or asking for things in the same way over and over again, expecting different results, getting increasingly exasperated and wondering why nothing changes.

How do I communicate better with my partner?
These patterns can be tricky to identify. Relationship counselling can help with this. The space and time that therapy provides allows patterns to surface, while having a trained relationship counsellor present can help you identify them and find a different way of approaching things. For example, simply asking for a need to be met in a way that can be easily heard by your partner immediately leads to a new level of intimacy. Feeling heard makes a huge difference to intimacy, which in turn feeds connection – it feeds that space between you, your relationship.

Two things that are simple, but so often forgotten when you are having difficulties in relationship, are consideration and kindness. Here’s a typical example of the way you might end up asking your partner to do something:

“Do I have to ask again? For god’s sake, can you just put the rubbish out?”

Imagine being on the receiving end of that, and how you would feel – even if you’d forgotten to do it. Now imagine hearing this instead:

“I’d really appreciate it if you could put the rubbish out as it’s bin day tomorrow. Thank you.”

Which would you prefer? It’s exactly the same request, one has consideration and kindness, the other doesn’t. Who doesn’t like to be spoken to kindly? I know I’m far more likely to really hear my partner and want to help out when I’m spoken to warmly.

This is just one everyday example, there are many different patterns and many elements that feed these patterns we get stuck in.