Addictions are patterns of compulsive behavior that can get out of hand. A compulsion is an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against your own conscious wishes. Sure, you might have a compulsion to go the movies one night but it’s not an ongoing pattern that leads to not having money for food because you’re buying too many movie tickets or the inability to pay your bills. Your compulsion for going to the movies is held in check.
However, when a compulsion grows and expands it can turn into an addiction, one that’s harmful to you and those around you. An alcohol addiction, for example, could be defined by a loss of control where you find yourself spending large amounts of time engaging in alcohol-related activity to the point where you are neglecting social, academic, or familial responsibilities. You’re not only drinking but you’re thinking about drinking. You’re planning your day so that you can drink. You’re planning your financial life so that you can be sure to have enough money to buy alcohol throughout the month.
The pattern of compulsive behavior can manifest in other areas of life, not just an addiction to drugs or drinking. The following is a list of behavioral patterns that can point to an addiction.
Fantasy: When there is an overwhelming amount of thinking, worrying, and dreaming about drinking or getting high, there’s an indication that there might be a compulsion. As mentioned above, you’re not only getting high, but you’re thinking about getting high and you’re planning your day around getting high. Fantasizing and daydreaming about your drug of choice frequently accompanies addiction.
Self-Nurturing: The self-nurturing aspect of addiction is its illusion. Although a person is choosing to engage in drinking or drugging on seemingly his or her own terms, he or she is doing it at times when there’s a need for self-nurturing. When the stress is high, that’s the time to go to the bar. When the argument begins, that’s when to pull out the marijuana.
Self-Medicating: Those who are using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for strong emotions or to function better are known to be self-medicating. However, most individuals who self-medicate do so unintentionally. It’s not that they are necessarily trying to treat their mental illness as a psychiatrist would – more accurately, there is not an awareness that a mental illness even exists. Instead, they are looking for relief from challenging emotions or for a way to better function at home or at work.
False Sense of Control: Most addicts believe that drinking or using drugs is a way of controlling their life. Drinking can help them cope with life’s stresses, for example. However, this is far from being true. What an addiction does is withhold one’s power. Instead of facing challenges head on, the powerless choice is to avoid it with drugs or alcohol. Instead of facing marital issues, for instance, it’s easier to drink. But this robs one of his or her autonomy and can only exacerbate life’s challenges.
Furthermore, if an individual is setting up his or her day to drink or use drugs, such as the fantasizing described above, then it perhaps the drug itself has the control and not the other way around. Although it’s easy to believe that an addict has control because he or she is choosing when to drink or use, but if all choices are made in order to create opportunities to drink or use drugs, then in fact it’s the drug that has the control.
Self Destruction: No matter the addiction, whether it is an eating disorder or alcoholism or over working, addiction is always a pattern of destruction. In fact, addiction not only destroys the life around you – relationships, career, physical health, and so on – it’s also destroying yourself. And perhaps that’s where the destruction begins. Like a wheel with self-destruction at its center, the surrounding people, places, and things also feel the waves destruction too. All addictions lead to the spiritual, emotional, physical, and social destruction of the addict.
If you notice the above patterns in yourself or someone else, contact a mental health professional. Addiction is a harmful disease that’s treatable!
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