What is Addiction?

So this seems like a relatively simple question and it is is some ways. Anytime we do something or take something that we know we shouldn’t but we do it anyway. That’s addiction. It is my belief that we all have some form of addictive behavior. Brene Brown sums up her definition of addiction as any behavior or substance that is taken to numb out and not feel what is really going on. I like her idea in that it is not so much what that action is but why we are doing it. For example sitting down to watch a favorite TV show with your family. It is done to share time together, be entertained, experience various emotions and reactions. Now contrast this with several hours of mindlessly flipping channels alone while munching on snacks. Same behavior but likely done for vastly different reasons.

We have a continuum here and as I said we are all on in one form or another especially if we add some common behaviors that people use to numb out: shopping, food, sex, TV, sports, news, getting angry, cell phones, social media, reading, gambling, internet surfing, video games, pornography… Yes this list goes on and on. A simple slogan in the recovery world is we are only as sick as our secrets. If you feel uncomfortable posting the behavior you do and the amount of time or money you spend on it on facebook or some other social media, then you probably are engaged in an addictive process. That is why I believe we are all addicts.

With that said this continuum is broad and really the question is how do you measure how bad an addiction has become. So if you answered yes to feeling guilty about a behavior and feeling the need to keep it a secret you want to move on to the next questions. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) helps us get to the nitty gritty. Simple, just honestly answer if any of the below pertains to your substance use or behavior. More about the honesty part later.

  1. Hazardous use: You’ve used the substance in ways that are dangerous to yourself and/or others, i.e., overdosed, driven while under the influence, or blacked out.
  2. Social or interpersonal problems related to use: Your substance use has caused relationship problems or conflicts with others.
  3. Neglected major roles to use: You’ve failed to meet your responsibilities at work, school, or home because of your substance use.
  4. Withdrawal: When you’ve stopped using the substance, you’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms.
  5. Tolerance: You’ve built up a tolerance to the substance so that you have to use more to get the same effect.
  6. Used larger amounts/longer: You’ve started to use larger amounts or use the substance for longer amounts of time.
  7. Repeated attempts to control use or quit: You’ve tried to cut back or quit entirely, but haven’t been successful.
  8. Much time spent using: You spend a lot of your time using the substance.
  9. Physical or psychological problems related to use: Your substance use has led to physical health problems like liver damage or lung cancer, or psychological issues, such as depression or anxiety.
  10. Activities given up to use: You’ve skipped activities or stopped doing activities you once enjoyed in order to use the substance.
  11. Craving: You’ve experienced cravings for the substance.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are a normal person see above. Come on, cravings, everybody has cravings now and then. Now if you answered yes to 2-3 symptoms above, congratulations you have a mild substance use disorder. Moderate is 4-5 symptoms and Severe: 6 or more symptoms.

So yah honestly. Perhaps that is not even the right word. It is likely the word accurately that is more precise. Unfortunately, one of the first effects of addiction on this part of the continuum is our ability to accurately assess our own behavior and the impact it is having on others. Thus it requires the eyes and compassionate heart of someone outside of us to more accurately gage the severity of addictive behavior. So when asking the above questions it is likely a very good idea to also ask others in your life if they see any evidence of the above. More often than not partners, kids, co-workers, bosses, and therapists can see the addiction more clearly than the person swamped by it.

So we all engage in addictive or numbing behaviors. It becomes problematic when it negatively impacts our own health and the sanity of the people we love. And we can measure how bad it is and measure when we are getting better and in recovery.

Published by James Hart CAC III

Certified Addiction Counselor III with over 25 years supporting individuals with a wide range of mental health and addiction challenges. I am comfortable working with all stages of recovery. The continuum runs from those currently using drugs and alcohol and thinking about cutting down to those who have multiple years in recovery looking to deepen the next steps in the process.

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