Guilty pleasure/coping mechanism/addiction – the difference

Maybe this is all in my head and no one really cares. But I thought that some of you might find it strange that here I mention drinking as a coping mechanism – and then in my last post I’m drinking at the end of a semi-stresfull  day.  And although no one commented on it, I still feel like I should say something on the matter.

There’s a difference between a “guilty pleasure” a coping mechanism and an addiction. One of these things is harmless, and can in fact be benefitial. Everyone has things have things they enjoy doing and that help them relax- for some people it’s a good workout, sitting down to a relaxing meal, going shopping, playing computer games. Some of us less saintly ones have a “guilty pleasure” of some sort – be it watching trash TV, reading celebrety magazines, drinking coffee, drinking a beer in the evenings.  All these things are benefitial for us in some way – either they help us relax, put us in a good mood, provide an outlet from stress when we need one, or give us a break from the day – to -day reality we are faced with. These things aren’t wrong, but the key here is moderation.

When we stop losing moderation in what we do- these harmless things start taking on a more negative spin. Instead of using them to enjoy ourselves we start using then to escape the reality we are faced with. Instead of dealing with our problems, negative emotions or the issues in our lives we run to the things we know will give us temporary relief. And by doing so we might feel better momentarily – but in the long run the problems don’t go away. However we are still unwilling to face them, so we get sucked into the cycle of engaging in these activities to block out everything else from our lives. Some of these things when used in excess (alcohol, exerciese, coffee) may have negative effects on our bodies , while others such as – watching too much tv or spending too much time on the computer affects us in other ways. We become reclusive, our social life suffers and we become far more dependent on these “happiness fixes” then we should be.

WE go from let’s say this:

To this:

Unfortunatly there’s a very short drop from coping mechanisms to addictions and it’s only far too easy to jump from one to the other. Addictions come about when these “guilty pleasures” as we call them stop becoming just a way to escape our problems and become an integral part of our lives. We are dependent on them so much that we can’t imagine our lives without them. These are no longer activities we choose to engage in – but things we feel we HAVE to do , or our little world goes to peices. And addictions (as we all know) are just one, long downward spiral.

I enjoy a drink about once a week or so. I don’t feel this is in any way detrimental to my physical or mental health. I very rarely drink alone, usually it’s in a social gathering or with close friends. It’s a way of relaxing and bonding and it’s something I enjoy. Drinking only becomes detrimental for me when I drink in order to forget something I’m facing at the moment, or to deal with negative emotions. It numbs me temporarily which is why I like it, but it leaves me feeling even worse later on. It’s not the act of drinking that is wrong – it’s the emoitions motivating it. Same can be said about exercising – it’s not wrong till it becomes a way to escape your problems, or something you HAVE to do.

For people who have struggled with ED’s they need to be particularly carefull about any activity becoming an alternate coping mechanism. Restricting,controlling food, overexercising, binging – all these things have a numbing effect on them. I’ve personally found in my recovery efforts that when things get rough I want to resort back to my old habits, and since I don’t want to do that – I look for new ways to “numb” those feelings. That’s why I keep my drinking and exercise habits under very close scrutiny. If I feel they are taking too much importance in my life I cut them out all together, or at least drastically minimize them.

Coping with negative emotions, situations and people isn’t easy, but ignoring problems nevet makes them go away. Reaching out to others, asking for help and stepping back from the situation to gain perspective – these are all productive, helpfull and benefitial ways of dealing with the blows you are dealt in life. Not only that, but every difficulty you face and overcome makes you a stronger, better, more experienced person.

Now over to you : do you have any thoughts on the matter?

Have you ever engaged in coping mechanisms of any sort?

How do you usually deal with difficulties/problems/set backs?



  1. I used to use alcohol as a coping mechanism as well and a few months ago I went through a stage where the urges to drink for unhealthy reasons were coming back to haunt. Fortunately, I fought and I overcame those feelings and I no longer have the desire to drink in order to numb myself from the world or to help me forget. I simply drink with my friends in a social setting and to have fun!

    I used to be frightened of drinking because of the calories but now I just don’t care. There is something so soothing about sitting down with a glass of red and enjoying the company 🙂

  2. Exercise endorphins are extremely addicting, but I find that they’re the best when I’m exercising and I don’t feel like I have to. Kind of odd, but I get the most enjoyment out of running after I get done with the “10-15” minutes of exercise I feel I “have to do.” Controlling my food intake is another way to feel in control without confronting the problems and I’m glad I’m finally getting away from that.

    I’m very happy that you wrote this post! It’s extremely well-written and very insightful; the whole thing is true and you did a fantastic job of wording it to get your point across. 🙂

  3. I believe that when your “guilty pleasure” becomes a source of stress — that is when you have a problem. When your problem interferes with your functioning and you continue to do it — that is addiction.
    I’m glad that you have a handle on drinking because, like you said, you enjoy it!
    I know that alcoholism and ED and ED recovery can go hand in hand so it is something I am very aware of. I drink wine all the time and sometimes I wonder if I really want it or I’m just used to having it with dinner.

  4. Very thought provoking post thankyou. I recently started drinking socially as with friends and is something that I do see as helpful in my recovery as I would never drink before becauise of the calories and allowing myself to have some fun. However I can see how it can be unhelpful and lead to a negative coping mechanism. I sometimes drink for confidence when I go out and am not sure if that’s all healthy but I only drink once or twice a week.

    In terms of exercise it can be helpful so long as you wat enough to fuel it and don’t get obsessive my having to do it as opposed to wanting too. Exercise has helped my ed though as was able to gain weight to be able tp do my sport at a good level and gave me something to eat for and I felt that I could be good at it I do a lot of cycling.

  5. It is so true how the line between guilty pleasure and addiction is so thin. People get used to schedules so much that they can feel like they have to have that drink because it is time. Something I’m really starting to get used to is listening to what my body wants. If it’s not hungry, then I don’t need to feed it.

    This is a wonderful post. It’s very thought provoking.

  6. thanks for opening up about this and being so honest about your struggles! i think some of us – myself included – tend to have addictive personalities because we push ourselves hard in everything that we do. but i agree that there is a fine line between guilty pleasure and unhealthy coping mechanism. i think the latter is an extreme version of something that should be practiced in moderation. i have tried to develop healthier coping mechanisms like talking to my mom or sister or calling a friend – i feel like whenever i can making a coping mechanism relationally-based, it automatically becomes healthier.

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