- Mental Health
The Different Types of Addiction
If someone off the street came up to you and said, "Are you an addict?"
What would you say?
The word addiction comes with all sorts of associations and stereotypes. You might think of a drug addict, an alcoholic, or a gambler. You imagine the extreme scenarios depicted in movies and on television. The truth is, that most of us are addicts. Some people have extreme addictions that are obvious. Others have addictions that are less destructive on the surface, so they go unnoticed.
Genetics play a role in the predisposition a person has to becoming addicted to a substance, but we throw the word around without really thinking about what it really means.
What is addiction?
Addiction is an enslavement or habit that causes extreme stress when removed from the person's life. We can use other words to describe what addiction is.
With this definition, we could say that we are all addicted to sleep, water, and oxygen. When those things are removed from our lives, we suffer extreme stress (and eventually, death). So are we addicted to sleep, water, and air? Yes, in a sense.
Addicted to toxic activities and substances
When a substance has a negative impact on the human body or mind, that is when we use the word addiction. It is meant to suggest that too much of whatever we are craving, will negatively impact our lives. The removal of our addiction causes extreme psychological and physiological stress, but ultimately- we are better off without it.
So we come to the standard list of addictions:
- Other drugs
If all of these things disappeared off the planet, the body and mind could function just fine without them. In a sense, these are unnecessary addictions- cravings that cause a lot of problems and stress in the life of the person and the people around him or her.
But what happens when we are addicted to things that are inherently good?
Addicted to natural needs
In this category, let's look at people's addictions to:
These addictions are far more complicated because the human being is designed to have these things in every day life. An alcoholic can ban alcohol forever, but a food addict can't ban food! In some ways, these addictions are harder to manage because you can reason away your addiction. Well everyone needs exercise right?
When someone says, "I am addicted to food", what they mean is that they are addicted to using food as a comfort for negative feelings. If you reach for oreos whenever your mind thinks back to your last breakup, you can make the connection that food is a great distraction when depression or anxiety comes upon us. Are you addicted? The fastest way to know is to remove the habit.
The next time you are in a stressful situation (normally adding food to the equation), take it away. Your level of stress and/or anxiety without the habit, determines how addicted you are to food as your comfort.
We are all physically addicted to sleep as mentioned above. However, a sleep addict will use sleep as a way of escape. Whenever something stressful happens, they go to take a nap. When you can't get to bed at your normal hour and start stressing out, that is a red flag. When left to your own devices and you sleep past lunch time, that is also a sign that you are addicted to using sleep as a way to avoid your depression or other problems.
You might be saying, "Who cares if I am addicted to exercise? There are worse things in life." Yes, there are. But people who are addicted to exercise use it as a way to feel "okay" as a person, suffer from the same mental and emotional malady as food and sleep addicts. Exercise becomes the way you fight feelings of self-hatred, poor body image, and depression. What happens if you get injured and can no longer exercise for awhile? What would happen to your self-worth?
This addiction is slightly different than the above three, since you need food, exercise, and sleep to survive. We might like to think sex is necessary to survival, but it is not! However, it is a healthy, natural, and normal function of the human body, so it is in the category of an addiction that needs management, rather than obliteration.
Sex addiction can be very dangerous emotionally and relationally. This addiction not only causes suffering for the addict, but suffering for the people around him or her too. Just like any addiction, sex is used to distract the person from feelings of boredom, self-hatred, depression, and/or anxiety.
Addiction is substitution
Ultimately, any addiction is designed to act as a substitute to real and true healing. Behind every addiction is an emotional or mental "hang up". Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, bio-chemical imbalances, childhood trauma, abuse, stressful relationships, regrets, unrealized dreams, and grief all can tempt a person into reaching for a bandaid to mask the pain. In some ways, this is a normal response to pain. Make it go away, as quickly as possible.
There are lots of other types of addictions as well. These are more "accepted" culturally, so it is easy to ignore them or write them off as no big deal. However, people can be addicted to:
- Books (i.e. romance novels that distract from an unhappy marriage)
- Reality TV (distracting a person from getting up and making their own adventure)
- Internet (perhaps a person is fearful of real connections)
- Video games (a synthetic way to feel excitement and adventure)
- Money (an attempt to feel secure and powerful)
- Publicity (narcissism, power hungry, people who are afraid of being alone)
- Religiosity (addicted to rules and practices that make a person feel okay)
- Image (look, fashion, staying young)
- Shopping (a way to feel an adrenalin surge- excitement)
- Adrenalin (sky-diving, surfing, etc.)
- Falling in love (someone who continually restarts relationships because they enjoy the feeling of falling in love)
The fastest way to know if you have an addiction is to simply remove it from your life for a period of time! Look at your past patterns and habits. You might start to see a repeating cycle in your life. When something negative surfaces, how capable are you with sitting in the middle of the pain?
The science of addiction
Do you think you are better than an addict?
When we suffer from feelings of self-doubt, it is easy to console ourselves with, "Well at least I'm not a homeless drug addict." We look around for someone worse off than us to feel better. People (especially those who are addicted to religious rules and practices) can easily boost their own self-esteem by pointing the finger at someone else. But when you take away those rules (or the person ends up in a unfortunate situation), usually what happens is he or she comes face to face with their own terrifyingly low self-esteem.
We are all addicts. We are all subject to the same weaknesses, hangups, and issues. There is not one person on this Earth that is exempt. Some of us have channeled our addictions in more healthy ways, but for each person, there is always going to be something that you cling to for comfort. It is the nature of the human condition. So let's not judge those with addictions okay?
The ultimate goal
Addicts are slaves. There is nothing worse than being subject to a non-living object, substance, or process in order to feel okay. It creates anxiety and robs us of peace, because we all know that at any moment, it can be stripped away.
For each of us, learning to let go of our addictions is a lifelong process. Since our addiction may not be something that is "bad" for us per say, the goal is to get at the root of the addiction. The more we can reflect and process the negative feelings in our lives, the better able we are to give out love and compassion to others.
About the author
Julie DeNeen is a freelance writer and mom of three children. She has her degree in psychology, and is an a food, Internet, and book addict.
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