“Being an alcoholic is tedious and fearful. I lived in fear of being found out and I had to plan every activity to make sure that there was access to alcohol. I’d show up at parties and drop a bottle of wine on the table. Then I’d head to the bathroom and stash a bottle of scotch inside the toilet tank so that I didn’t have to worry about running out of booze. And people wouldn’t know just how much I was drinking.”
“My husband comes home from his shift at 3pm and starts playing video games. If it’s a Friday, sometimes he plays until 7 or 8 Saturday morning. He cancels plans with me all the time, and he’s even had me call his friends to cancel plans with them—all to play this game. When we fight about it, he cries and says he doesn’t know why he does it, but he won’t—or can’t—stop. I don’t know what to do. I feel like he loves the game more than he loves me.”
It’s likely Karen’s experience with alcoholism did not surprise you, but Cheri’s struggle with video games in her marriage may have. We frequently associate addiction exclusively with substances, but behavioral addictions are also common. Since such emphasis is given by the media to substance addiction, specifically alcohol and drugs, someone experiencing a behavioral addiction may wonder if it is accurately defined by the word “addiction.” The answer is yes.
Addiction is a condition in which the person consistently returns to an activity they find rewarding—either physically or psychologically, though both can be present—despite any negative consequences. For example, a person may overspend and receive a credit card bill for more than they budgeted. If they put the card away for a time and pay off the bill before resuming responsible use, they are probably not addicted to shopping. If, however, they are unable to stop the action despite bills they are unable to pay—repeated overspending—they may need to seek help.
Some other examples of behavior addictions include addiction to:
- Pornography or Sex
- Video Games
Substance addiction can include:
- Illegal Drugs
- Prescription Drugs
- Other unspecified substances
It’s important to know that even if what you or a loved one is struggling with is not something you’ve heard about elsewhere, it may still be an addiction—and any addiction can be very difficult to overcome without appropriate help. Feelings of shame, guilt, and the idea that addiction can be “fixed” alone are common.
Symptoms of Addiction
Some key symptoms of addiction are:
- Having intense cravings for the substance or a strong desire to engage in the problematic behavior
- Doing things (like stealing) you would not normally do, in order to gain access to the substance
- Not meeting work or social obligations
- Spending money to engage in the addictive behavior, though you do not have the money to spend
- Focusing more and more time and energy on participating in substance use or the behavior
Friends and Family
As an observer, you may notice similar signs to those above, including a lack of energy or motivation, problems at school or work, or sudden changes in relationships with family or friends.
If you are the friend or family member of the person engaging in this behavior, you may have the urge to help. You may even feel so strongly that you perceive the situation as without choice—you feel you must help. That’s natural. But, if the person with the addiction is not ready to seek help, it’s crucial to avoid enabling them. If they are unable to pay rent, paying it for them is an example of enabling. Calling in to work “sick” for the person if they are intoxicated is also a form of enabling. Any action that allows someone with an addiction to avoid the consequences of their actions may delay realization of the need for recovery.
How Counseling Can Help
There are many ways counseling can help. Assistance forming healthy habits is one of those ways. What may have been a healthy habit at one point can become a cue to engage in unhealthy routines. For example, at the end of a stressful day, some go home to an alcoholic beverage. For someone suffering from alcohol addiction, the cue—end of a stressful day—may instead motivate them to respond with overindulgence. A counselor can help identify triggers and teach healthier ways to respond to them.
Though the initial choice to participate in the problematic behavior was voluntary, the repeated exposure to the behavior or substance causes a change in the brain’s ability to regulate the action, thus making stopping without help very difficult. A counselor trained in addiction can help address any personal, social, psychological, or physical factors that are affecting the sufferer’s ability to recover. Though one-to-one counseling will likely be a huge part of this, a counselor can also help figure out if group therapy is necessary.
Family and friends of the affected might also need a counselor to help deal with the situation in an appropriate way. Additionally, if the affected loved one caused a friend or family member trauma, the person could need counseling to process and recover.
You Can Heal, We Can Help
Some still attach a stigma to having an addiction, but it’s important not to let any perceived stigma stop you from getting help. Every community, even picturesque areas like Maumelle and North Little Rock, has residents suffering from addiction. If you are one of those people, we are here to help.
To reach us, call (501) 628-9066.
Karen Opas. “Here’s What It’s Like to Be an Alcoholic.” businessinsider.com. 2014.