What Constitutes A Real Addiction?
The truth is, it is a very hard question to answer because people use the term in many different ways. People say they are addicted to all kinds of things, basically because they love doing it. Like for example, playing golf or being a work-aholic, drinking lots of coke everyday, they even made a show called ‘My Strange Addiction’ featuring the Pica eating disorder; people who eat material that is not actually food like toilet paper of dirt. There are a lot of people who use drugs and alcohol that don’t actually become addicted, they just use them on a regular basis. The difference with a substance use disorder is that the behaviour is actually considered abnormal and unhealthy.
There are three characteristic features; abuse, dependance, and craving. For a behaviour to be considered an addiction there has to be significant negative consequences. The consequences might be physical like for example ‘My 600lb Life’ or the consequences might be social and interpersonal, meaning that the person starts to be alienated from friends and family. As well, addicts often end up neglecting major responsibilities like being able to work or even take care of themselves.
Another feature of addiction is dependence. The dependance may be both psychological and physical. Physical dependance is the development of tolerance and this tolerance leads to the need to increase their use of the substance. A sign of physical dependance is withdrawal, like for example, if the substance is abruptly stopped then the addict will experience unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms. We can think about this in terms of drinking coffee. I love my coffee in the morning and I limit it to just drinking coffee in the morning. If something happens that gets in the way of my ability to have my coffee like the power is out or I am out of cream then I don’t feel “right”. I can actually develop a headache later on in the day, as well I can become irritable. When we think of the rise of Tim Horton’s, people don’t limit themselves to just coffee in the morning any more, they drink it all day long. Many addicts will tell you that they need their substance just to feel normal and they don’t function properly without it.
Next is craving. A craving is an extremely strong desire or urge to use or ‘do’ their behaviour or substance of choice. The craving can be so strong that it is the only thing that can be thought about, so that the person becomes obsessed with getting more. Environmental cues that are associated, become strong triggers for craving. I think drive throughs have provided these environmental cues. Someone told me just the other day when they didn’t get what they wanted when ordering at the McDonalds drive through (because breakfast is served to a certain time of day), they lost it! Becoming angry and demanding and rejecting of any other food choice, driving through the drive through angrily and staring down the server as they drove by, without getting anything.
So it is not actually really only the substance that is an issue. It is the behaviour or process that can be the addiction, what it is a person does in association.
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