Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Addictions are nasty nasty things, but I believe they are much more prevalent than people are generally aware. Let me explain by first taking a step backward and laying down some knowledge from my perspective about addictions and their causes. This will probably ramble a bit because I don't have my thoughts really concise on this yet.

Everyone I would imagine is familiar with substance-based addictions such as alcohol or drugs. You are probably familiar with process-based addictions as well such as gambling. What is interesting about substance- and process-based addictions is that at the core they are all very tightly related, even if the method of 'acting out' is very different. So, for example, in a drug addiction the acting out behavior is getting high due to the effects of the drug itself. In a process addiction like gambling, stealing, eating, sex, etc the high is the result of the whatever the activity is being undertaken. I've always thought of process addictions as just getting high off of the body's internal chemical reactions based on acting out, as opposed to an external high from drugs or alcohol.

Anyway, at their root addictions develop as a coping strategy in order to cope or run away from something you can't or perceive yourself unable to handle. Addictions probably have a genetic component as well that make some people more susceptible to forming full-blown addictive behavior while others may be in a more escapism sorta thing. I guess what I am saying is that you don't have to be a full-blown addict whose behavior controls you to have some feel of what an addiction is like. Escapism has some on the tenants of addiction, particularly when that escapism is obsessive.

I believe that society has a pretty good grasp of drug and alcohol addiction, and that is a good thing for sure. What society does not have a grasp on is process addictions that are somehow viewed as a lack of will rather than something that is just as debilitating as a substance addiction. The stigma around these addictions is in my opinion the way the stigma around substance addictions used to be several decades ago. Let me give you an example, if a trusted friend of yours was to come to you one day and say 'I am an alcoholic.' how would you react? Now if that same person were to come to you and say 'I have a sex addiction' would that change the way you react to them? What if they said they have a problem with eating, would you view it as simply a will-power issue or something else?

The definition of addiction at Dictionary.com is:
the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

The first part of that definition is right on in that anything can become habit-forming to the point of enslavement. This definition is probably somewhat out-of-date as a lot of the thinking on addiction has expanded to allow for process addictions that do not have the same sort of physical trauma associate with cessation. This goes back to the stigma around process addictions I was babbling about earlier. Anyway, the key point I want to make here is that process addictions can become every bit as enslaving as substance addictions and, additionally, a lot of substance addicts have process addictions and vice-versa.

Ok, so back to my original point now that I have some of the background out-of-the-way about process addictions. I believe that addiction, in particular process addiction, is pretty rampant in society. An addiction really becomes a problem when you obsess about it. When it start to interfere with social engagements and work or it starts to take over your thoughts. When you run into a stressful situation and the first thing you think of is that acting out behavior. When you start to isolate from people. Those are all signs that a behavior that has been escapist to you is or has crossed the line to an addiction. I'm willing to bet that a fair amount of people can associate with some of those things, particularly the bit about stressful situations. Does that mean you have an addiction? No. It doesn't even mean you may develop one. However, it does mean that something is going on there that needs to be looked at because rather than dealing with the situation you are looking for ways to run from it. For some, and I would argue a great many, that can eventually turn into addiction.

Anyway, look at TV, texting, video games and/or the Internet. Internet addiction is probably easily the number 1 process addiction that people just aren't aware of actually having. It has become pretty prevalent in our society. How many of you work at a company that have policies against using the Internet for anything that isn't work related? Those policies probably came into being because a few abusers were totally sucked in and either couldn't or wouldn't stop. There is a good reason why the porn industry is highly profitable and it isn't because of the story lines.

So why this post? This is a topic that I have found fascinating for many years because of the raw power that addiction has over people. It is absolutely amazing to me. The movie 'Fight Club' does a pretty good job a showing different addictions, the book does an even better job. People become addicted to power, to sex, to entertainment without ever really understanding that it is just as much an addiction as drugs or alcohol and just as hard to unravel.

I also want to see what kind of reaction it stirs up in people. There are a lot of opinions of addictions out there and a lot of experience with them directly or indirectly. If you feel safe, share some of those experiences here or with me in-person.


Shana said...

I've been thinking a lot about addictions lately too. My addiction is substance, and I don't really discuss it with any of my friends here because people look down on it, and instead of being supportive and understanding, tend to use it as against me when joking. It's not funny, it never is, it never will be, but people like to poke fun at weaknesses so I never really discuss mine in public, since it tends to make mine worse.

Anyway, my addiction has resurfaced in the last year... I'm working on it with my Doc, but it's still there. Either way, addiction isn't something that anyone, especially friends, should take lightly. If someone shares their addiction with me, whether substance or behavioral, I take it seriously, and will try my best to encourage them to turn away from it.

Unfortunately though, I've lost a lot of friends that can't stand to be faced with their addictions. I wish someone would make me face mine, but it seems that most people, when they discover it, just turn away. I guess they are my own demons and I should take ownership.

Anyway.. here I am rambling in your journal... but that's my thoughts on addictions.. what were you talking about again? ;)

Shana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SuperMel said...

Re: Lack of physical trauma associated with cessation. I think it makes process addiction much harder to understand and easier to minimize by someone who is unfamiliar. I had a friend who spoke of the social strata of rehab: heroin and cocaine addicts, top of the totem pole. Then alcoholics, gamblers, sex addicts, others. Last, eating disorders and cutters. A perverse sense of "I'm sicker than you". As if being a cocaine addict is "better" than being a gambling addict. The physical aspects may be different, but the consequences and pain are the same.

I also think recovery for process addictions can be harder to understand. With alcoholics, they can't drink. With a gambling addict, where's the line? Fantasy football? An idle bet among friends? Same with food. You have to eat to live, but where's the line between eating and escape? The addict knows, but how do you educate others? It's much easier for someone to say "just eat" or "just don't eat". There needs to be more awareness of the commonalities of addictions, the behavioral aspects and root causes instead of the physical aspects. The physical is important, but it's currently being used as the litmus test for how "sick" someone is. I also take issue with "sick", but that's another topic.

SuperMel said...

Now I know what I meant to say instead of "sick". Physical symptoms are easily used as a barometer for how serious the addiction is. I think that's why some treat process addictions as trivial.

Kirsten said...

I have thought about addictions as well, often wondering "do I have one"? At what point do I cross the line from just enjoying myself and having fun to having an addiction? I think that line is a fine one...and I hope I never cross it, but some days I wonder! :)