What is an addiction?

An addiction is a compulsive, repeated behavior characterized by a complete loss of control and an overwhelming desire to act regardless of harmful consequences that may take place. When the term "addiction" is used in psychology, it implies that harmful effects are being wrought as a result of the repetitive behavior. What this means is that simply because someone has a strong compulsion to do something (i.e. a painter who paints, or a teacher who teaches), that does not mean there is an addiction unless the behavior is producing harm (i.e. a painter who neglects her children and sacrifices everything in life to paint every waking minute). When we speak of addiction, we mean that the behavior is causing harm, either to self and/or to others, and that the person doing it has no meaningful control over it. It is a powerful, undeniable compulsion, and happens over and over again.

Lonely Railroad Track

I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self. - Aristotle

Addictions are Devastating

Addictions hurt everyone involved and are devastating to the lives they effect. The person addicted may be in total denial, feeling that he or she doesn't have a problem. Or that person may feel completely helpless, and with each repeated act, his or her self-worth falls lower and lower. Addicts lose touch with reality and their relationships in life crumble. They often suffer from multiple other life traumas and unresolved problems that bury themselves behind an outward expression of compulsion. Additionally, loved ones of the addict suffer immensely as they watch helplessly, not knowing what to do. While they love the individual addicted, they are torn between two worlds: one is the person they used to know and love, the other is the self-absorbed addict who seems to care for little else other than the next fix. They often see two different people and have to remind themselves that the addicted person, who seems like a stranger to them, is still the same person they used to know before the addiction. Many families have been destroyed from addictive behavior.

Common Types of Addictions

Addictions take on many forms. Virtually any kind of behavior has the potential to be an unhealthy addiction. However, there are some well-recognized types of addictions that make up the bulk of addictions counselling- drug and alcohol (substance addiction), gambling, sexual addictions, and gaming / internet addictions.

Drug and Alcohol Addictions Counseling

Drug and alcohol addictions are also physical dependencies, as the individual has a psychological as well as physical addiction to a chemical substance. The substance is often a form of escape for the user. Individuals who have become addicted to substances often have numerous underlying issues they are unable to deal with, hence the need to escape. Counseling is only one part, albeit a critical part, of the treatment for drug addiction since those issues beneath the surface must be addressed. Simply treating the physical addiction will usually not help the substance addict because those underlying hurts would be unresolved and compel the individual to seek escape again. Substance abuse is best treated as a joint process of counselling and medical treatment.

Gambling Addiction Counseling

Whether it is full casino or internet gambling or the compulsive buying of lottery tickets, individuals are unable to control their finances and helplessly funnel it into gambling. For gambling addicts, gambling is either an escape (escape gambling), an adrenaline rush (action gambling) or both.

Three phases of gambling addiction are the 'winning phase", the "losing phase" and the "desperation phase". It is this final phase where the addict hits rock bottom, and suicide becomes a genuine risk. When desperation hits, the gambler is most likely to experience extreme hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, crumbled relationships, marital failure, moral decay (i.e. commit criminal acts or indulge in sexual impropriety when they otherwise would not), or emotional breakdown. Symptoms of this addiction include lying, committing crimes to finance gambling, "chasing" (the need to get even with the casino), relationship difficulties, lower job performance or loss of job, and a preoccupation with gambling.

Internet Addiction Counseling

Currently, there is debate in the field of psychology as to whether internet addiction disorder (IAD) is an actual psychological disorder. Regardless of whether or not internet addiction is a disorder, the fact that people can be addicted to computer use (internet, gaming, etc.) and that it can have harmful effects is most certainly real. The internet or gaming addict will often immerse themselves into an online world at the neglect and expense of "real life" relationships. Even though they may be communicating with other people online, they still lose touch with the world around them showing little regard for anything other than eating, sleeping, and using the computer. This form of addiction can lead to ruined relationships and an inability to relate to others in the "real world". The internet and computer game addict retreats further into an online world as the ultimate form of escape, refusing to engage or even acknowledge the crumbling world around them.

Sexual Addictions Counseling

Individuals with sexual addictions are unable to control their lustful impulses and compulsively pursue prostitution, affairs, liaisons, pornography, or fantasies among other means. Someone with a sexual addiction most often times operates in secret, keeping the problem tucked deep away into a dark closet. The individual may be completely obsessed by dark impulses and drives feeling unable to control them. Someone with a sexual addiction may also live in denial of their problem, and once discovered can wreck utter destruction in the individual's relationships. A person with a sexual addiction, because he or she is living a double "secret" life will often be an unstable person. Symptoms include sexual harassment, habitual use of pornography, and blaming the innocent spouse for any problem relating to the addiction. While many may think of sex addicts as men, this is not true. As many as 30% of people who seek treatment for sex addiction are women.

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