It’s the question that sneaks up on you in quiet moments, the one that tugs at your metaphorical sleeve whispering: “What if?” The fear and worry follow you around like a cloud shadowing your days, and you wonder …What if my spouse is addicted? Am I just being paranoid, or is there real cause for concern here? What is addiction anyway? How do I tell if my family member has crossed the line?
In this post, we’ll demystify the definition of addiction so that you can gain clarity. We’ll also share common signs of addiction to help you assess your situation and discern next steps.
What Is Addiction Anyway?
Addiction manifests itself in an unhealthy dependence on specific substances or activities. One colloquial addiction definition is not being able to find the “off switch” when it comes to your own behavior, be it drinking or drugs, gambling or eating.
That said, don’t believe everything you read on the subject; there are plenty of addiction myths and misconceptions out there. For example, experts argue about whether to categorize addiction as a disease or mental illness.
And despite lingering stereotypes, addiction is not driven primarily by poor moral standards or low willpower. In fact it has nothing to do with willpower at all.
People from all walks of life struggle with substance abuse. You can find addicts in homeless shelters and halfway houses, and you can find them in the highest echelons of athletic teams and corporations too.
As this Psychology Today article on addiction notes: “ … [I]t is important to recognize that [addiction’s] cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character.”
Addiction is an experience of dependence, and the individual’s behavior is driven by their need for alcohol or drugs.
That said, recovery begins with the addict’s realization that they are not powerless (yes, this is in contrast to conventional 12-step dogma). Choices can be made to break the addictive cycle.
The Reality of Addiction
“Can’t addicts just quit?”
In a word: no.
It’s not that easy. Even when an individual wants to break free from addiction, it’s not as simple as making a resolution to stop.
Relying on willpower alone to pull oneself out of addiction is a setup to fall once more.
If an addict doesn’t address the underlying core issues of addiction, then real, lasting change isn’t possible.
Perhaps people can grit their teeth and force themselves to abstain when they’re feeling strong, but what happens when a crisis hits?
If they refuse to address foundational issues, their proverbial “houses” of sobriety aren’t going to make it through life’s storms.
That’s not to say that facing core issues is easy or painless … far from it! Very often individuals turn to addiction in the aftermath of trauma, trying to numb out in order to cope with serious mental or emotional stressors.
Addiction is the result of repeated numbing of some underlying mental or emotional issue.
People turn to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms. And despite adverse consequences, addicts use drugs compulsively because the substances allow them to keep their pain at bay.
As bestselling author and recovering alcoholic, drug user, and bulimic Glennon Doyle Melton writes in her essay Recovery:
“Becoming sober is like recovering from frostbite. The process of defrosting is excruciatingly painful. You have been so numb for so long ….
But then the tingles start feeling like daggers.
Sadness, loss, fear, anger, all of these things that you have been numbing with the booze . . . you start to FEEL them for the first time …. But feeling the pain, refusing to escape from it, is the only way to recovery.”
What Are The Signs of Addiction?
What are the key addiction signs you should look for in your loved one’s life?
Warning signs include, but are not limited to:
- Changing routines, as well as increasing secrecy about personal whereabouts and plans
- Lying and duplicitous behavior; denial of problem and hiding extent of substance use or activity engagement
- Exhibiting increasingly erratic behavior; sudden shifts in mood and manner
- Forgetting commitments; failing to show up for usual responsibilities such as work or school
- Demonstrating marked physical changes and symptoms of use and withdrawal (such as hand tremors, weight gain or loss, bloodshot eyes, constipation, and changes in skin tone)
- Your own intuitive sense that something is amiss