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Various Classes of Addiction

Updated on June 10, 2015

Various Classes of Addiction

The traditional image of an addicted person is a skid-row drunk or the stereotypical “dope fiend” who must have his periodic “fix” in order to fend off withdrawal. But in recent years, as we have gained greater understanding of the issue, we have learned addictions come in all shapes and sizes and afflict people from all walks of life.

Joe had a great job as manager of a shopping center, pulling down almost $200,000 a year. The center was sold to a large corporation, which fired Joe and installed its own management team. Even though Joe had been in the top 1% of American wage earners and had a daughter about to start college, he didn't have a dime of savings when his job ran out. In fact, he and his wife were thousands of dollars in debt to credit cards. For years, they had spent his considerable income like it was water. Joe and his wife have an addiction: they are “spendaholics.”

Kathy was raised in a dysfunctional family where she received little affection, attention, or affirmation. She views herself as unlovable, and her life is empty. She stuffs her emptiness with ice cream and chocolate, and now weighs more than 300 pounds. Kathy has a food addiction.

Norman is a church elder and pillar of his community. His wife dragged him into counseling after a discovery she made while cleaning out some file drawers in his den office: a huge stash of explicit hard-core pornography. Norman is addicted to pornography.

Steve runs for his life. He is lean, hard muscled, and fit from running as much as 20 miles a day. He has few friends, no outside activities or interests, and he's been divorced three times. Even though his last wife was also a fitness enthusiast, even she thought his devotion to running was excessive. “I feel great when I run,” Steve says defensively, “and when I'm not running, all I think about is getting back on track. I'm a health nut. What's wrong with that?” The problem is Steve is an addict. He is chemically dependent on endorphins, natural opiate like chemicals released in the brain during extended exercise.

Sherry is in her 30s, the daughter of a rigid, legalistic church deacon. She married a man who is a virtual carbon copy of her father: Stern, moralistic, condemning. Sherry's whole world revolves around her church, and she is continually involved in religious activities, trying to expunge a gnawing sense of guilt and shame within her. She has a long list of rituals she follows whenever guilt feelings start to oppress and fill her with a fear of eternal punishment. She prays repetitive phrases. She fasts for days, until she is almost too weak and dizzy to move. She sleeps with a Bible under her pillow. Is it possible to get too much religion? Absolutely! A genuine relationship with God produces peace and joy, not fear and guilt. Sherry's problem: she is addicted to religion. Clearly, addictions, come in all varieties.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a compulsive or physical dependence upon a substance or person, or behavior that provides a temporary sense of well-being; with the emphasis on temporary. The gratification that comes from indulging in addiction never lasts long. But the destructive effects, the damage to relationships, feelings of shame and failure addiction brings are long-lasting and far-reaching. The focus of an addiction, the substance, person, or behavior upon which a person may form an excessive dependency, is called an addictive agent. The list of addictive agents includes, but is not limited to:

  • Drugs and Alcoholism

  • Food (compulsive overeating, bulimia)

  • Sex

  • Work and Success

  • Control

  • Money (overspending, hoarding, gambling)

  • Approval (the need to please people)

  • Rescuing Behavior

  • Physical Illness (hypochondria)

  • Exercise, Diet, and Physical Conditioning

  • Perfectionism

  • Cleanliness and Avoidance of Contamination

  • Obsession with Being Organized and Structured

  • Materialism (obsession with acquiring things)

  • Preoccupation with Entertainment (video, computers, movies, music)

  • Obsession with Physical Beauty (cosmetics, sun tanning, clothes, style, cosmetic surgery)

  • Religiosity or Religious Legalism.

Most of us can find our own addictions in this list.

Warning Signs and Treatment

All addictions are harmful, but the most dangerous forms of addiction involve substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs. You should be aware of symptoms and warning signs of substance abuse. The warning signs of alcoholism or drug abuse in young people and adults are:

  1. Deterioration in family relationships, withdrawal from family activities, responsibilities, and chores.

  2. Deterioration in school or work performance.

  3. Negative personality changes, including listlessness, depression, nervousness, talkativeness, lying.

  4. Lifestyle changes-hair length, address, and choice of music reflecting identification with the drug culture.

  5. Changes in sleep patterns-insomnia, sleeping in late, sleeping at odd times, and being reclusive.

  6. Legal and moral problems-theft from home, shoplifting, vandalism.

If you observe any of these warning signs of substance abuse, you should be aware of treatment options that exist. The cure for substance abuse must take place in four phases:

  1. The addiction must be identified, and the substance abuser must recognize and admit their problem. This may require an “intervention,” in which friends and family members, with the help of a professional therapist, surround and confront the substance abuser and force them to recognize the pain and destruction caused by the addiction.

  2. Detoxification (“Detox”). A medically supervised withdrawal from the drugs or alcohol. Detox must occur in a hospital environment. Substance abusers who attempt to detox themselves without medical supervision run the risk of convulsions and even death.

  3. Rehabilitation. A process of counseling and restructuring the life of the patient to be drug-or alcohol-free. Rehabilitation can be performed on an inpatient or outpatient basis through:

  • Treatment programs in the workplace, and community.
  • Hospitals and mental health clinics.

  • Family or group therapy.

The Addiction Cycle

We all, to some extent, are codependent. That is, we all engage, to some extent or another, in attempts to control our feelings and gratify our emotional needs by manipulating people, substances, or events outside of us.

This codependent neediness compels us to seek some sort of addictive behavior to meet that need. For some, that emotional, codependent neediness arises because our parents or primary caretakers in childhood treated us with:

  • Neglect

  • Abuse

  • Lack of Love and Nurturing

  • Smothering over Protectiveness

For others, the emotional void may be the result of a disastrous love affair, a severe career disappointment, family trauma, major health problem. This emotional emptiness is a perfect setup for codependency and addiction.

Stage 1 in the addiction cycle is emotional emptiness. In this cycle, one factor leads to another, around and around, driving the addicted person deeper and deeper into addiction and robbing them of any measure of control over their life and behavior. Another name for this first stage in the addictive cycle is love hunger, a gnawing emptiness and craving for love, affirmation, and a sense of value.

Stage 2 is low self-esteem, a sensation of emotional pain, and this stage flows directly from stage I. Whenever we feel pain, we immediately reach for an anesthetic. So it's only natural when people feel the emotional pain of low self-esteem, they will reach for something to dull that pain, a chemical substance, pint of ice cream, a burst of endorphins from a heavy workout, immersion in a work addiction, a new expensive purchase, or whatever it takes to feel temporarily “okay.”

Stage 3 flows directly from stage 2, the addictive agent. It can be drugs, food, sex, rage, spending, and even religion. They are all just anesthetics for the pain of low self-esteem. Addictive agents always bring harm to the addicted person.

Stage 4 involves consequences. The consequences of an alcohol addiction may include broken relationships, lost job, lost reputation, deadly traffic accidents, driving under the influence citation, and liver disease. The consequences of a food addiction may include obesity and heart disease. The consequences of a money addiction may include loss of credit reputation and bankruptcy. It is at this stage, when the consequences often mount so high and the addicted individual has sunk so low, that healing can begin. Because it is here the addicted individual “hits bottom” and the pain is so intense they are willing to do anything to be healed of the addiction. Usually the individual will have to go around the cycle many times, encountering consequence after consequence, before a true “bottom” is hit.

After experiencing the consequences of the addiction, the individual naturally moves to:

Stage 5 which involves guilt and shame. They began to think, “I don't deserve to be happy. I don't deserve to be healthy. I don't deserve to be sexual. I don't deserve financial security.” Most experts in the field of addiction and recovery agree, at some level, all addictions are shame-based.

As shame worms its way into the individual soul, it festers into:

Stage 6 which is self-hatred. Self-hatred takes the person down to an even deeper level of emptiness and love hunger. Essentially they are back at stage 1, ready to go around again, spiraling deeper into self-destructive addiction.

Recovery from Addiction

Once you understand the cyclical nature of addiction, it becomes clear what must be done in order to recover from it by finding a way to interrupt the cycle and escape this terrible emotional merry-go-round. You must find a way to satisfy, in a true and lasting way, the love hunger. You must raise your self-esteem and heal your emotional pain so an emotional anesthetic, the addictive agent, is no longer needed. By intercepting and halting the use of the addictive agent, you turn off the consequences, ending the guilt and shame. You reverse the process of self-hatred.

That is why addiction requires a multidimensional approach. Addiction can never be cured by simply removing the addictive agent. The addiction is a symptom of much deeper problems at work in various dimensions of your inner makeup. To be truly healed of addiction, you must first find healing and the various dimensions of your personality, including your relationships, your feelings, your childhood memories, and your relationship with God. To experience this multidimensional form of healing you must:

  • work through the painful memories of dysfunctional family of origin.

  • repair your present relationships (in some cases, that may mean reconciling and growing closer and relationships; but in distorted or abusive relationships, it may mean redrawing boundaries and increasing the space or safety zone in the relationship).

  • choose an affirming, supportive recovery family where you can be re-parented, encouraged, and held accountable, preferably by a Christian-based recovery program.

  • Rebuild your relationship with God.

To recover from a problem as powerful and controlling as addiction, you need a strength beyond your own. In the case of severe physical directions, such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or food addiction, your own body is fighting you. Your body chemistry has been altered, and not for the better.

Obsessions and compulsions are stronger than the human will, so you need a supernatural will at your side, empowering you every step of the way.

Starting a Recovery Group

A 12 step recovery group is a fellowship of people who have come together for one purpose: to find healing from their addictions. Recovery groups come in all shapes and sizes, and exist for a wide variety of purposes. Some recovery groups average two or three people per meeting. Some average over 100. Some are for men only and others for women only. Some are focused on a single issue, such as alcoholism, codependency, or compulsive overeating. Some gather people with various problems into a single fellowship, all focused on healing their individual addictions but working the same 12 steps together. Whatever its shape, size, or focus, every recovery group should provide eight things:

1. Mutual Support.

2. Opportunity to listen to the stories of others and learn from their experience.

3. Opportunity to confront those who are in denial or otherwise hurting their own recovery.

4. Opportunity to learn about addiction and its causes.

5. Opportunity to gain insight into one's own issues and motivations.

6. Opportunity to work through one's own resistances and penetrate one's own denial.

7. Opportunity to express and ventilate emotion.

8. Opportunity to become involved in helping others.

Note: A Christian recovery group has all of these eight dynamics, plus one more: fellowship with Jesus Christ at the center.

The basis of a recovery group is the support we gain in relationships. This concept is as old as the book of Genesis, where God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It is not surprising then, that the process of healing from addiction should occur within a network of relationships. Recovery is a group experience, it cannot take place in isolation.

A recovery group is a fellowship of healing, not a treatment center. An alcoholic, for example, does not go to a recovery group to get sober. He must first go to a treatment center for medically supervised detoxification. It is then the alcoholic is welcome to join a recovery program such as a Christian 12 step group in order to maintain his sobriety.

So you pray. And you read books and literature about recovery. Learn the traditions that have kept recovery groups functioning more than half a century. If you are not intimately familiar with recovery issues, seek out several recovery “old-timers.”

Group focus

Is the group concerned with recovery from addictive behavior such as substance abuse, overeating, workaholism, or an adult/child issue such as abuse, neglect, or incest? If so, the group is a recovery group. Is the group intended as a mutual support system for a stress issue such as divorce, chronic illness, or parenting? Then it is a support group.

Group size, structure, and membership.

Effective 12 step groups can range in size from three or four people to more than 100. In a group of about 20, everyone can have a chance to share. In recovery groups there is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all.” Some groups are structured and include lectures, workbooks, or scheduled themes for discussion. Some groups have an open membership, in which people are free to come and go, but groups that command an especially high degree of trust and confidentiality (such as incest or rape) are best structured as closed groups.

Ground rules. In order to have a safe place in which members can discuss their issues openly and honestly, the boundaries of the group need to be settled in advance. The ground rules governing participation in your group should be spelled out in literature and referenced occasionally by group leaders.

Atmosphere of acceptance. The key to an effective recovery group is unconditional acceptance. No one is ever judged or criticized for what they share in the group or for what they believe. Atheists and agnostics are received just as warmly as Christians. There is no condemnation, no Bible pounding in a true Christian recovery group.

In every effective recovery group, there is accountability and sometimes even confrontation, especially when a group member is clearly in denial. But the accountability is surrounded by an atmosphere of total support and caring. This means there is a bond of empathy and unconditional love. One noted psychiatrist called it “a perfect commitment to an imperfect person.” Members are accepted regardless of their shortcomings, however they must not self-destruct in the process. For example, if there is an abusive person in the group who tries to control the meeting, and in the process harms the recovery process of others, they must be confronted and the rules repeated to them.

Affiliation. A Christian recovery group is not a Bible study, nor is it an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. A Christian 12 step group is a fellowship of brothers and sisters in the Lord who come together to learn how to gain control of the areas of their lives that are out of control. It is not intended to take the place of the church or secular program such as AA. It is, in fact, a violation of AA traditions for AA groups to be affiliated with the church. AA and similar anonymous groups can rent meeting space in churches but are not sponsored by them. That is why we want to have recovery groups where Jesus can truly be named as the higher power of the 12 steps.


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