Addictive Behavior - How Do You Know You Have It and What To Do About It? - Part One

We tend, to use the term “addiction”, these days, for any repeated action or powerful desire we consciously act on, such as being addicted to a T.V. show, a particular sport we like to play or shopping for shoes.  

In her Women's Day article, Gail Saltz, M.D., Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, points out the classic definition of addiction as the psychological and physical dependence on something that causes withdrawal symptoms because it changes body and brain chemistry, such as continuous use of an opioid drug or alcohol.  Dr. Saltz goes on to explain that although we may use the term “addiction” to describe the need we have to repeat a specific behavior, this is not, technically, an addiction,” but a “compulsion” – behavior (such as gambling or working) that does not exhibit withdrawal symptoms but may manifest itself in feelings of discomfort.

In their article, Tom Horvath, Ph.D., and his co-authors assign a slightly different definition to the term “addiction”:

Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable.

They add that there are four key parts to this definition of addiction:

1. Addiction includes both substances and activities (such as sex and gambling).
2. Addiction leads to substantial harm.
3. Addiction is repeated involvement despite substantial harm.
4. Addiction continues because it was, or is, pleasurable and/or valuable.

Despite the variance in definition, the truly important question is not whether certain repeated behaviors are addictive or compulsive, but whether or not they have a destructive impact on your life as well as on your family and friends.

Through our exposure to the tragic stories we hear and social experiences of those with whom we’re involved, we are acutely aware of the seriousness of substance addiction.   But activity-based addiction (also considered to be a compulsion) should be equally regarded as serious, as it’s behavior incurs harmful issues, such as financial debt from excessive gambling or shopping, decline in social relationships from extreme video gaming and other internet activities, health and body image issues from over-eating and emotional issues from constant anger and negative thoughts.

Efforts can be made to resolve addictive/compulsive behavior, but you must first acknowledge that you may be addicted to a given behavior, then find a way to evaluate if you do exhibit symptoms of that particular addiction/compulsion.

Dr. Saltz suggests you ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are you preoccupied with planning and doing the behavior?  For example, are you having trouble concentrating on and/or are behind at work because you're spending time shopping online and/or taking long lunch breaks to shop?

2. Is the behavior negatively affecting one or more areas of your life?  Are you fighting with your husband over debt you have from shopping?

3. Are you secretive about the behavior most of the time? Do you keep the shopping bags in the car and sneak them inside later?

4. Have you tried your best to stop the behavior but couldn't (or stopped for a bit only to restart)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be struggling with an addictive/compulsive behavior and need some help.  Part 2 of our blog offers some suggestions as to what you can try on your own before seeking professional help. 

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