How can I tell if I have addiction problems?

By Licia Ginne, LMFT

WARNING: If you are taking medications, street drugs or alcohol and you want to stop using them you must first check with your medical doctor. It may not be safe for you to stop immediately.

My good friend Rod Allison of Monterey Recovery Center defines addiction as an “enslavement to habit”. A medical definition of addiction is a state where the body relies on a substance to maintain normal function and when removed will experience a physical withdrawal.

In more common usage addiction has come to mean and include psychological and physical dependence and abuse. It has come to include more then alcohol and drugs, but gambling, sexual activity, food and eating disorders, computer activity, relationships, and many other substances and processes.

Addiction is doing something over and over to the point where you have regrets (shame), or until it causes harm in your life. It’s a good chance it is addiction or abuse if your behavior includes any of the following: shame, remorse, denial, minimizing and / or secretive behavior. The problem drinker will claim to have had fewer drinks than actually consumed or claim not to have even been drinking. The drug abuser will downplay the amount or type of drugs taken. The gambler will lower the amount lost and increase the amount won. Shame is such a crucial part of the addictive pattern that you can assume the person is underestimating or overestimating their story.

It is important to ask yourself does your indulgence affect your work, play, relationships, emotional or physical health?

Compulsivity is the behavior underlying addiction and we can become compulsive about most anything. In the early days of treatment this was referred to as cross-addiction. Current research on brain activity supports the theory of compulsivity as brain patterns are similar whether it is from cocaine use, alcohol or even eating disorders, it seems to be the pattern of any addiction in the brain. It is important when addressing addiction to consider the addictive nature and how it can move across the board from substances into processes and back again.

Substances can include:
Drugs: amphetamines, caffeine, cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, nicotine, opiates (street drugs or prescription drugs)

Processes can be:
Food; restrictive eating, compulsive eating, binging and purging.
Internet use
Money & Finances
Sexual activity; anonymous sex, pornography, strip clubs, compulsive masturbation, multiple partners, prostitutes
Love addiction; infidelity, obsession with partner (stalking type behavior), relationship after relationship, being in love with love

Relationships can be:
Co-sex addict
Traumatic bonding relationships

What may start out as casual use or activity soon becomes compulsive and a demand. You tend to schedule your activities around the behavior or the planning for the behavior. Many report the preoccupation with planning is more stimulating and exciting than actually completing the event. You may become so preoccupied with your desire that it is hard to focus on anything else; you find your mind wandering back to the compulsive behavior. You attempt to control your behavior with rules; limiting use or abstaining without a support group.

Once you remove yourself from the self-defeating addiction pattern you can reassess your life and see what really needs to change; maybe you are lonely, insecure or feel you lack confidence and alcohol helps you feel confident and makes it easier to meet people. Addictions will always have a major downside; hangovers, health issues, financial problems,legal problems, loss of relationships, loss of employment or careers just to name a few.

If you are not certain if you have an addiction stop the behavior for 6 months (or even 3 months) and see how you feel, see if there is a difference in the quality of your life. If you cannot stop the alcohol, drugs, gambling or whatever your compulsive behavior than it’s a good guess it is at least a problem if not an addiction. People who don’t have issues with compulsivity can stop the behaviors for 6 months, they may have cravings at times but do not struggle with urges.

If you want to know more about your behaviors: contact me, contact an expert in addiction in your area, talk with a psychotherapist, M.D., social worker or psychologist who specializes in addiction or attend a 12-step meeting and see if you find people talking about situations and experiences that you have had.

12-step programs offer support and assistance for free or a small donation.

Alcoholics Anonymous
Narcotics Anonymous
Cocaine Anonymous
Marijuana Anonymous
Overeaters Anonymous
Gamblers Anonymous
Debtors Anonymous
Sexaholics Anonymous
Sexual Compulsives Anonymous
Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous
Support for Friends & Family Members

Al anon –support for family members and friends of problem drinkers.
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) – support for those who grew up in alcoholic or dysfunctional homes.
Codependents Anonymous – 12-step program for women and men seeking support to learn how to have healthy relationships.