Addiction is a psychological and physical craving that is defined by the inability to stop the pursuit of physical pleasures, that are detrimental to your health and well-being of yourself, your family or your work. Mostly we think of alcohol, or cocaine, or opioids like heroin when we think of addictions. These and other substances are particularly dangerous because they tend to create such euphoric states and tend to cause rapid health deteriorations or even cause death.
Addictions arise in many other forms too, like shopping, video gaming, gambling, sexual promiscuity, viewing pornography, eating, compulsions around money. These types of addictions are less immediate as a life-risk, but self-destructive just the same.
It is important to make the distinction between substance abuse and addictions. Substance abuse involves the non-therapeutic, misuse of substances. Substance abuse makes a person more vulnerable to falling into addictions. Addictions refer to more long-term inability to cease or moderate intake in substances and indulging self-destructive behaviors.
If someone you love or care about might have an addiction you can look for several signs and symptoms: (use of substance and pursuit of behaviors that harm a person’s health like video game use or viewing pornography can be inter-changed below).
- Does the person tend to lie, especially about behaviors related to using substances?
- Has the use of substances substantially effected their performance at work, or home?
- Has the person received one or more DUI’s or DWI’s in the past few years?
- Does the use or pursuit of the substance consume large amounts of time?
- Does the person need more and more of the behaviors or substance to fulfill their “need”?
- Does the person have one or more family member that has a history with addictions?
- Are you witness to profound personality changes when the person is on the substance, or coming down from it?
In today’s world, through research and increased medical technology we have come to understand addictions at all new levels. We know most addictions do not cease without help.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has a saying that goes like this: The person with the addiction does not have a problem, its everyone around him. If you are witnessing someone you love wrapped in a cycle of self-destructive the best thing you can do is reach out for help.
Often times it may seem unimaginable that the addicted person would be amenable to getting help. Usually when the addictive compulsion takes hold, we deny that we are having a problem.
Denial is a very primitive and powerful defense mechanism. Denial may seem like lying, but its more complicated. We all use denial sometimes. We might not want to believe something about ourselves and so we refuse its truth.
Mostly addictions are shame based. Shame is a very powerful and compelling feeling. Most of us will work very hard to avoid shameful feelings. So sometimes denial winds up connected to our needs to avoid shameful truths about shame-based behaviors.
As this avoidance of shame reveals, mostly what is being denied are feelings. AA states that abstinence is necessary but insufficient. Why is ceasing the addictive behavior not enough? Because denial drives the addiction. It is up to each individual to gain sobriety and figure out what feelings are being denied as a means to maintain sobriety.
The addictive cycle involves several stages:
- Planning – here the addict maps out their intentions to seek out, obtain, and then use the substance. Usually plans are very specific down to when and where they plan to use.
- Handling and partaking of the substances – this usually involves a highly ritualized process of touching, smelling, tasting, setting up and ultimately using the substance.
- Euphoria – or the period in which the person is inebriated or high on the substance.
- Shame – feelings of regret shame and pain over having fallen into the re-use of the substance. Promises are often made to resist the compulsions the next time.
- Rinse and repeat.
Many observers of a loved one caught in the addictive cycle get confused by this seemingly endless stream of conflict. As a caring witness you may hope that this time will actually be the last time, only to have your hopes dashed again the next time he uses.
Some addiction cycles are hourly, others daily and still others weekly or monthly. It can be easy for caring witnesses to believe that while not using the addict is somehow “cured” or no longer addicted. The cycle offers an deeper explanation of what is happening during times of not using.
There is hope for all involved. There are so many strong and caring people and systems in the community that want to help people break the cycle. The first step is to reach out for help.