When is a problem an addiction?
By Addictions Therapy Nottingham
Before I start my little article here, I want to say that I respect that more than one understanding of addiction and recovery exists. I hold a pluralistic perspective when it comes to the subject.
I seek with the best of intentions to do what I can to respect these diverse understandings. A claim to hold an ultimate truth I certainly do not make. I write here from my own personal and professional experience – experience that has included working with, treating and sharing with incredible individuals who have turned their lives around, sometimes before addiction really got a hold, sometimes not.
My experience also, sadly, includes working with, treating and sharing with people who never moved to a solid recovery. Some are sadly no longer with us as a result of addiction.
My motivation for writing this article is to seek to answer a question that people frequently ask. It can be something like a client asking (or someone seeking support for someone else), maybe not using these exact words, but something like…
“I think I may have an addiction to….. (Drugs/Drink/Internet/Porn/Shopping/Food/Gambling … chose one ..,. or several) but I’m not sure. How would I know?”
Unfortunately there is often no short answer.
Depending upon where you look for your answer you may arrive at different conclusions. If you Google ‘What is addiction?‘ you will end up with many diverse definitions and understandings. Depending upon how authentic and connected your level of awareness of your problem or addiction is (if it is addiction, it’s both!) or level of denial, you might find one that fits with your current perception.
The danger of course if you are truly struggling with addiction is that the often accompanying deep level of denial that you will likely be experiencing means you will settle for a website that denies addiction even exists.
As you can imagine, the addiction-denying website mentioned above might speak to the part of you that wants to keep going with the addiction. A claim that disputes the widely-held understanding of addiction may well concur with your own denial and keep you going along the long road (or sometimes short road) to loss. Because that’s what addiction, in my experience, leads to – loss of connection, loss of hope, money, dignity, self, love, and for some, loss of life.
So how do you know if your problem is “just a problem” or an addiction? I guess a simple, and extremely reductionist, answer is – try stopping (and here’s the crucial bit) and STAY STOPPED.
Most addicts do stop for a length of time, but the truth of addiction is they don’t stay stopped.
Here we are presented with another issue, that of choice. Many a real addict will say “yes I stopped and I started again, because I chose to.”
REALLY?? Did YOU choose or did your addicted self choose?
I refer to my previous mention of denial. Here we see it in the form of “I can control this; it doesn’t control me, I choose to live this life” – another path to the road of loss and away from recovery.
Denial has been mentioned in this piece on more than one occasion already. It is frequently a symptom of addiction; it is a denial that the problem has crossed a line. If in some sort of recovery and relapse occurs, it is often denial related: denial of how bad it was before, denial of loss of personal control, denial of the loss of personal choice, denial of what can and needs to be done to stay in recovery, and often a denial of the person’s true values and personality.
So, in short, what is the answer to “am I addicted or do I just have a problem?”
My unsophisticated, yet caring answer is … you probably won’t know. Get help to investigate and find out. Get this help in the form of another human being because, left alone with an online test or website, if you are addicted your denial will often run riot. So if you really want to know, seek help from people with good recovery (for example Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-Step fellowship or peer support group) or a professional. Your GP is also a good place to start. Addiction really takes hold in isolation, so that act of reaching out to another is, in itself, a step towards recovery.
At the end of the day, if you are asking yourself the question, maybe you and the people that love you deserve an informed answer. I truly hope you find your answer and act on it. Recovery happens, and when it does it is truly a reconnection with self and others.
Andrew Harvey, addictions therapist, Addictions therapy Nottingham
Andrew is an addictions therapist working both in face-to-face private practice and providing online therapy.