Treatment Corner: Addictions

Is it an addiction…

Yikes, this is a big topic. Who isn’t “addicted” to something? What’s the difference between a habit and an addiction? How do you know if yours is a problem?

In truth, addictions are not always open-and-shut cases. An “addiction” to coffee or exercise might not be as seriously affecting as one to alcohol or porn. But here are some warning signs that your behavior might have taken on an addictive nature.

  • Your behavior is keeping you from doing things you used to enjoy
  • Those close to you are concerned about your behavior (whether they tell you so or not – ask them!)
  • Your behavior endangers yourself and/or others…even once
  • You feel you would not know how to cope with resulting cravings if forced to go without this behavior.

Here’s my rule of thumb when someone is concerned about a possible addiction: Can you take it or leave it? If you cannot leave it, you better not take it. If the thought of going without spin class on vacation makes you sweat anxiety bullets, for example, even this “healthy habit” is worth a second look.

Addictions look different to each therapist. Here are three examples:

  1. Disease Theory is the idea that there is something biological or genetic about the way we crave our addiction. These models stress abstinence (Alcoholics Anonymous is a good example).
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is effective with addictions. These therapists would agree there might be something genetic that makes you crave alcohol, but that it is a cognitive choice to raise a glass to your lips.
  3. Family/Systems Therapy: Dad’s alcoholism can be seen like this: Dad spends Friday nights drinking at the bar, which means that Mom gets to be in control of the kids, which she likes, and the kids get pizza instead of gross home-cooked pork chops and spinach dinner, and everybody is “happy.” But bring Dad home sober and on time and you get parenting control issues and kids who want pizza. The therapist must treat the family’s secondary gains to Dad’s addiction.

Speaking of secondary gains, (remember?) those with an addiction must address them up front and develop replacement coping mechanisms, often before giving up their addiction. I would never take an addiction away without addressing this; it’s like stripping someone naked and sending him into a snowstorm.

Addictions are sneaky; they creep into life and fill a need that you might not have even been aware of. Here are some addictive behaviors that I think will only be increasing in the coming months. Be on the lookout!

• Information and news monitoring, especially via technology (email, texting, Facebook, CNN…)
• Online pornography and gambling Video and computer games, including fantasy sports leagues
• Hypochondria (not technically an addiction, but it can feel like it with its obsessive fear and seeking of health information through research and concern over product safety)

Please give this newsletter to someone who might find it useful with an obsessive habit or addiction. We are all in this together and can be each other’s keepers.

You can contact me and we can figure out together if your issue really would benefit from talking about it.

Don’t let your habits and addictions run your life!
…or a reward?