True or not true?

There’s been a lot of heated discussion not only among the general public but among therapy professionals about the use of the term “addict” when applied to sex, food, shopping or the internet.

I was thinking about this the other day and considered that what we are really talking about is a set of behaviors, as in my definition of addiction being “obsessive, compulsive, out of control behavior done in spite of negative consequences to self or others.”  When we focus on sex, or internet use, or shopping, or eating, we get derailed from what addiction really is.  We fall into the trap of debating how much (sex, food, internet, shopping) and in what manner someone is doing these activities, which leads to value judgments.  We think that by stopping an addictive behavior, a person can be in recovery, and then the argument arises about sex, food, shopping and the internet being integral parts of our lives that we can’t stop.

I use the terms “addict” and “addiction” as simple descriptors with which people can relate, but if it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine.  Call it “obsessive-compulsive behavior,” call it “impulse control disorder,” or call it whatever you want, just don’t minimize the power of it by thinking that it is a lack of will power or laziness or a sign of moral deficiency. 

In my conceptualization of addiction as being a state of needing increased levels of stimulation no matter where it comes from, I try to move away from a specific label of “sex addiction,” shopping addiction,” etc.  So then rather than thinking of it as “addiction,” how about thinking in terms of “addictive thinking or addictive behavior?”  Since I wrote my book, people will ask me if I am an addict, and certainly I behave addictively in some ways at some times.  Does that mean I’m an addict because of my addictive behavior or that I’m not an addict because I’m usually living in recovery?  I know I can never touch a cigarette again or I will be right back to a pack a day in no time.  I also know that when I am procrastinating, rushing, compulsively checking my iPhone, or am in any way not present, I am in an addictive state.  When I am calm, focused, and in the moment, I am able to Connect and I am in recovery.

One issue that arises is that of the stigma in being labeled an addict.  In the way that we will say to a child “You are a good person but you did a bad behavior,” we can certainly take that idea and apply to people who are doing behaviors that are counter-productive, but what if being an addict is not a bad thing?  What if it is part of a spiritual evolutionary process that will ultimately bring them to a wonderful place?  Recovering addicts will say that they are blessed because where they are now is so wonderful that they would not give it up for anything and that they would not be there without their addiction.

Addicts suffer from the loss of control that comes with continuing to do something in spite of negative consequences.  No one would choose to behave in a way that can cost them their families, money, jobs and ultimately their spiritual Connections.  That is really at the heart of every addiction – shame and disconnection.  These are emotions we all experience at one time or another and we also can move beyond this to a place of growth and Connection.  Call it what you will, recovery is a wonderful place to live.