I have my own definition for addiction, the reason I use my own variation is I feel the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Psychology) misses the mark since it is built solely on criteria and except for gambling only classifies substances as addiction. Most other publications also miss the definition mark; to show this I have included Merriam-Webster’s definition below.
Steve’s Addiction Definition
Addiction can be defined as compulsively engaging in any act (substance or behaviour) that lessens or ruins the life of the individual involved in the act. The act also lessens or has the ability to ruin the lives of those that are in close relationship proximity of the person who engages in the act.
Merriam-Webster Addiction Definition
1: the quality or state of being addicted: addiction to reading
2: compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful
I feel being limited to simple criteria or a weak definition leaves many people who struggle with addiction problems feeling marginalized. I can guarantee that they already hate themselves for what they are doing, telling them it’s an impulse control disorder or adding further stigma of weakness is no help.
Even those that have experienced their own substance addiction or those that journey with people through recovery underestimate or judge behavioural addictions poorly. People who struggle (mostly silently out of fear) with behavioural addictions can be met with scorn, judgement or down right denial of the addictions existence.
What are some behavioural addictions that impact people? Gambling, sex, porn, shopping, hoarding, emotional, working, online gaming, work and love to name a few. Let me know in the comments if you would like to add any J. In the DSM V only one of the above can be qualified under addiction and that is gambling. Accepting gambling (Behaviour) addiction as real did not happen till 2013. At first it was considered and diagnosed by the DSM IV as an “Impulse Control Disorder” which includes kleptomania and pyromania.
Also how do we decide what is an addiction or not? Is it the DSM? Is it Science? How about we just look at the number of 12 step programs like or modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA was started in 1935 long before science agreed it was a disease that had direct links to the wiring of the brain. The number of AA groups has flourished world wide, and we have other 12 step programs, that are being created by people who struggle.
So what makes a behaviour addiction? With my above definition it could be anything.
Why do some people select behaviour addictions over substance addictions? To be honest it is different for every addict. I am a recovering compulsive gambler I have not place a bet since January 16, 2001. Through my own personal work I came to realize why I chose gambling. I placed my very first bet when I was 5-years-old at the horse track in Barrie Ontario. I was there with my grandparents and the night was amazing! I had so much fun.
On that night gambling was wired in my brain as something that was positive. What rewards did that 5-year-old child get that forever changed how he thought? Surrounded by two people who loved me, we laughed, we talked and I was included. These are emotional rewards of every child.
Plus beyond the emotional rewards there was a financial reward. I turned $2.00 into $5.45 betting show in almost all the races. In 1976 that was a whole lot of money for a 5 year old, and I was also rewarded with praise for how well I was betting on the horses.
My addiction was linked to positive feelings so when I started gambling I was escaping the perceived negatives of my life (my own unresolved trauma). Gambling brought me back to love and acceptance: For a short time at least. But then I started to go deeper and that came with debt, so I started chasing. I was chasing the emotions of years long gone, I was chasing the feeling of love, the feeling of belonging, acceptance and as an adult I was now chasing money. Hoping to get that one win that would pay off my debt and let me bring home a large sum to be seen as the hero.
For every addict the reason(s) why can be from positive memories like mine, the addiction can also be the trauma that surrounded their childhood life. Just think of the child that grows up with an alcoholic parent. The parent, who while drunk rages, and beats the child. That child then becomes the raging alcoholic they swore they would never be.
Trying to place each addict in a box and wrap it up with a tight little bow is never going to happen. When the scientists did their MRI’s their PET scans of the brain of sex addicts they saw the same thing or relatively close to the same thing as an alcoholic, drug addict or compulsive gambler. (With all the latest research, don’t be surprised if Sex and Porn are added to the next revision of the DSM)
No one ever chooses an addiction, substance or behavioural. The addiction was already inside of them, be it genetic, be it trauma, honestly it does not matter. One day I hope the science will catch up and addiction will be understood and accepted with the same definition I have at the top. Maybe then, it will no longer be debated and the resources for recovery will be applied to everyone.
Remember, not everyone who has trauma has addiction but every person who has addiction has trauma.
If you or someone you loves suffer from addiction, any addiction, reach out, seek help, there are many people who believe you, support you and will walk with you while you recover.
If you are someone who doubts the validity of an addiction PLEASE “Stop It” because one day very soon the science will get on side and you will have two choices continue to marginalize people who struggle, refusing to be “wrong”. Or you will have lots of amends to make. I honestly hope you choose amends.
If you need help because you suffer from addiction or if you have been impacted by addiction drop me a line at email@example.com you can text or call me at 587-577-9642.
Sending you all Love and Light please keep chasing those cars…
With Love, Respect and Admiration
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