Mark Hillman, Ph.D., (Psy) LMHC
Individuals who recognize their behavior can learn how to cope with their addiction and recover a life free of their addictive disorder. In almost all cases recovering addicts must find ways to replace what they have lost with new and healthier ways of relating and dealing with life.
Addiction: The involvement in use of a substance, a relationship, or activity to the exclusion of responsibilities
Addict: Someone who has devoted or surrendered themselves to something habitually or obsessively
Addictive disorders may be subdivided into:
Whether the addiction is single or multiple, substance or process, legal or illegal or an unstable and shifting combination of all the above, certain recurring and recognizable common features distinguish addictive behavior from non-addictive processes. Characteristics of the addictive process are:
Because individuals suffering from an addictive disorder are prone to serious denial about the harmful effects of their behavior on themselves and others, efforts to reason with them and to convince them to stop causing such harm are frequently met with denial, defensiveness, justification or minimization, and even attacks upon the messenger of what to the addict is bad news: that his addictive behavior is irrational and harmful and therefore must be curtailed.
Talking to such addicts in a rational and objective fashion is therefore often useless or even counterproductive. In other cases the addict may agree with observation that his behavior is harmful to himself and others, may agree with the need for change, and in some cases even make an attempt to relinquish or moderate his addiction. But this is often followed by relapse and a repetition of the same cycle, sometimes up to dozens of times and extending over a period of years. Such people manifest remorse, guilt, and a passionate determination to "do better next time," or they say that "it will never, ever happen again." But the behavior recurs in spite of their apparent insight and desire to behave differently.
Those around such addicts become frustrated, angry, depressed and often hopeless. They are usually well aware that something is seriously wrong and that the addict desperately needs help. But they are baffled and helpless as to what to do when, as is all too often the case, the addict insists that he is just fine, that everything is under control, or that if in fact there is a very small problem, he himself is well aware of it and fully prepared to take care of it on his own resources. He does not, he assures anxious friends and family members, need any help. If they continue to press the point he becomes defensive and often angry and may begin to point out their own shortcomings, to drag up old conflicts, or simply walk out in a huff - usually to engage in still more addictive behavior in consequence of his resentment and self-pity for being so grossly misunderstood and badly treated as to be told that he has a serious problem for which he needs professional help!
The turmoil caused by addictions can be considerable - and it tends to get worse rather than better over time. Addiction causes people who are not naturally that way to become progressively more self-centered, inconsiderate, dishonest, defensive and suspicious. They may experience unpredictable mood swings, outbursts of emotional and sometimes physical violence, and make major decisions without adequate consultation or forethought. They come more and more to act like the proverbial loose cannon and can cause a great deal of destruction not only in their own lives but in the lives of others. Such people are correctly said to be out of control --and those who care about them often do not know what to do but stand helplessly by and watch as they create more and more problems for themselves and everyone else, praying that the outcome will not be a fatal one and that sooner or later the afflicted individual will hit bottom or otherwise come to his senses and either stop his destructive behavior on his own or seek professional assistance for doing so.
Treatment for the alcoholic or other chemically dependent person is sometimes unnecessarily and dangerously delayed because of the false belief that the addicted individual must first "hit bottom" and thus "want to get better" before he is ready for help.
There are many paths and ways to recover from addiction but all require the capacity for honesty with oneself and the willingness and ability to bear the temporary but often intense discomforts associated with the loss of an obsession.
To learn more about addiction and the signs of some common addictions click on the topics below