Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Stopping Addictive Patterns of Behaviour

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By Michelle Lee (24A01A) and Halyn Han (24A01A, Peer Helper)

Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.

“How do we stop addictive patterns of behaviour?”

Addicted Annie

Dear Addicted Annie, 

Thank you for your question. Perhaps you are struggling with managing addictive behaviour, or know a friend who is; we understand it can be very frustrating and exhausting, either way. 

There’s no denying that addictive patterns of behaviour are hard to weed out once they take root, but it all begins with our awareness and willingness to face it. In fact, reaching out to us is your first step towards tackling the problem, already taken! 

Before we delve in, let us define ‘addictive behaviour’. It is an activity or substance that has become central to one’s life to the point of exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially. 

Addictive behaviour can manifest in many forms; while it is frequently associated with substance abuse, it can also apply to activities such as gaming or social media, which may be more applicable to us. But no matter the type of addiction, the process of tackling it may be more alike than different. 

THE FIRST STEP: Recognising The Signs

It can be difficult to even admit to ourselves that we have an addiction, and if you’re unsure about whether this is a problem you are facing, you might want to look out for these common signs of addiction, which can be categorised into psychological, behavioural and physical symptoms: 


  1. Mood swings
  2. Increased temper
  3. Tiredness
  4. Paranoia
  5. Defensiveness
  6. Agitation
  7. Inability to focus or concentrate
  8. Poor judgement
  9. Memory problems
  10. Diminished self-esteem and self-worth
  11. Feelings of hopelessness
  12. Exacerbation of any existing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or stress


  1. Secretive or dishonest behaviour
  2. Poor performance and/or attendance at work or school
  3. Withdrawing from responsibility and socialising
  4. Losing interest in activities, hobbies or events that were once important to you
  5. Continuing to use the substance, or engage in certain behaviours, despite the negative consequences that these cause
  6. Trying but failing to reduce or stop misusing a substance, or engaging in certain behaviours


  1. Lack of concern over physical appearance/personal hygiene
  2. Disrupted sleep patterns, including insomnia

THE SECOND STEP: How did we get here? 

We cannot solve any problem without understanding its cause. In the case of addictive behaviour, common causes include peer pressure, escapism or rebellion. 

Peer pressure 

For a lot of us teens, all we want is to fit in and be accepted by our peers, but this may translate into feeling pressured to try something for the sole reason that everyone else is doing it. 

When we think of peer pressure, we often villainise the ‘peers’ in question, but in real life, our friends may not always have any ill intention to pull us into bad habits. For example, in online gaming, they might just be a little bit too eager to invite you to one more game, or one last boss fight. 

For this reason, it’s all the more difficult to stop; saying no can feel like you’re letting down a friend who just wants to play a game with you. In these cases, it’s important to set personal boundaries — what do you prioritise? 

By not communicating your own needs and boundaries to your friends, this may give rise to resentment and strain your friendship without meaning to. Constantly giving in to your friends’ requests even when you know you should not, can lead to addiction as you lose the ability to say no for your own good.  

However, with proper communication, you can retain friendships while letting the other know that you’re not comfortable with these activities. Although this might bring some discomfort or frustration at first, remember that this will be better in the long term. 

How to Deal with Pressure – News – HSE Illuminated – HSE University


With the high-stress environment we all deal with on a daily basis, it is common, if not natural for us to seek ways to cope with our problems through temporary forms of distraction or escape. 

While this can sometimes be helpful in allowing us to take a break and give ourselves space to breathe, it can become unhealthy when you make a habit of avoidance, and turn to destructive means to do so. 

Although escapism is not necessarily bad, too much of it can come back to bite you in the long term. Temporary distractions only give you temporary relief – too much of it may cause you to lose sight of the problem at hand, leaving it unresolved and plaguing you with more feelings of frustration and shame. Remember, everything should be done in moderation.


Most of us would be familiar with the feeling you get when someone asks you to do something that you were just about to do anyway, without them telling you—and being instructed to do it somehow makes you not want to do it anymore. 

Similarly, we may be tempted to behave rebelliously just because we are told not to, and more often than not, these behaviours are unhealthy and discouraged for a reason. Although it is undoubtedly part and parcel of the teen experience to go through phases of rebellion, we have to be cautious to not let it become self-destructive and show a little more kindness to ourselves where we can.   

THIRD STEP: Seeking help 

So now that you’ve identified your problem and understand the root cause of it, what can you do about it? Depending on the severity of your addictive behaviour, there are different channels of help you can turn to! 

  1. Professional help: Drop by the RGC to meet with our counsellors! 
  2. Friends and family: You might also want to consider enlisting the help of people around you. For example, if you want to tackle an addiction to your phone, you can ask a friend to try out a screentime challenge with you and keep each other disciplined. It helps to not embark on this process alone — spending more time with your loved ones might also distract you from your desire to engage in said addictive patterns of behaviour. 
  3. Others: You can make a request to speak to one of our friendly peer helpers, or approach your CT or one of your teachers for help. A good external resource for young people is CHAT as they provide personalised and confidential mental health checks. 

Trying to stop addictive behaviour is a long and arduous journey, so do not be too harsh on yourself if you struggle initially. Habits are inherently hard to break, especially addictive habits, but remember that you are never alone! It certainly requires a lot of courage to take the first step to acknowledge that you face this problem—thank you for reaching out!

Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 3 – 5 p.m. and Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at or fill in our request form at our website!

470800cookie-checkAunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Stopping Addictive Patterns of Behaviour


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