Five of the top addictions of the Singapore women that we polled include: online shopping, tracking and posting Facebook updates, playing computer games and buying makeup and skincare products and checking emails.

While these seemingly innocent activities aren’t as potentially destructive as, say drinking, doing any of these often enough, and feeling compelled to do them, could mean that you have an addiction.

Associate Professor Muni Winslow of Promises Healthcare, says that an addiction is a compulsive or substance-taking activity, which is done despite the consequences.

You may try to stop or draw back from the activity, but you won’t be able to, due to that compulsive urge to take it up again.

We ask Professor Winslow to brief us on how and why addictions happen, and five expert tips on overcoming such compulsive behaviour.

HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE AN ADDICT
No matter how innocent the activity may appear, it becomes an addiction when you pay too much attention to it, at the expense of other parts of your life and if it encroaches on your work or relationships.

If you can’t put away your phone for even an hour, or if you continuously check if no matter who you’re with or the situation you’re in – you’re addicted.

Almost anything can become an addiction. “Even activities like exercise, which are normally perceived as good – some people work out until they injure themselves”, says Professor Winslow.

WHY IT HAPPENS
They arise because the addictive behaviour serves a purpose to you, says Professor Winslow. Each addiction has an underlying emotional issue: it might numb your emotions, serve as a distraction to existing problems, or make the person feel powerful and in control.

HOW TO OVERCOME IT
1. KEEP A JOURNAL

Monitor how much time and money you spend on the activity and write about your feelings. It’s a safe place to be honest about what you’re going through.

2. OPEN UP TO A TRUSTED PERSON
This can be a family member, friend or even a counsellor who understands addictions. Share what you’re going through, and be open to receiving both support and stern warnings, if needed. They can also help you in potential situations you may be vulnerable to, such as blocking certain shopping websites on your computer or meeting up with you to prevent you from buying that extra cup of bubble tea.

3. BE ACCOUNTABLE TO YOURSELF
Stick to your goals of stopping your addiction and keep track of your progress. Don’t make excuses or beat yourself up if you slip up. Just try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

4. REMOVE THE SOURCE OF ADDICTION
Minimise the risk of relapses by removing sources of temptation, and rope in family and friends to support and protect you, if necessary.

5. LEAD A BALANCED LIFESTYLE
Meet your responsibilities as a person, whether at home with the kids or in the office. Look at your life as a whole – your life doesn’t have to revolve around that one activity. Focus on other things like building relationships with your loved ones and friends, pursuing other interests or simply working harder on your career. Image: Corbis

Associate Professor Muni Winslow is the executive director of Promises Healthcare, a mental health and addictions consulting and training centre. The centre is located at #09-23 Novena Medical Centre, S307506, tel: 6397-7309; email: clinic@promises.com.sg . Visit www.promises.com.sg for more information on Promises Healthcare.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer May 2011.