It's like a train wreck. We want to look away, but we can't. We sit by stunned as they flash mug shots of favorite movie stars drunk and disheveled across the television screen. Beloved talk show hosts are fighting obesity in public. Super models, every bone visible, are speaking up about eating disorders. The story of the day is a politician or prominent sports figure caught in an infidelity scandal. It's extreme. It's dramatic. It's addiction.
Addiction is out of the closet and into the spotlight. Treatment centers for every imaginable addiction are popping up like mushrooms. What does this do for the average person? It lessons the stigma that was for so long associated with addiction, and it helps you understand that you are not alone -- that addiction can happen to anyone, anyplace, anytime regardless of race, gender or financial status. The seven signs of addiction are:
- Questioning. People who don't have an addiction problem don't wonder if they have a problem. It's simply not something they think about because they don't need to. The mind is funny in that way. If we're paying attention, the mind tells us what we need to know whether we want to hear it or not. If it is haunting you with questions such as "What am I doing," "Why do I keep doing it," and "Why can't I stop," take note. Your problem may have crossed that line into addiction.
- Defensiveness. When others touch on the topic, do you feel your hackles rise, and do you instantly defend yourself with statements like: "It's not a problem for me, "If other people don't understand, it's their problem," "I can stop doing it anytime I want to," or "I'm not hurting anyone but myself?" But, in your inner core, do you know these things aren't true?
- Blaming. Placing blame for your behavior on others or a situation is an old ploy of addicts that keeps them from taking responsibility for their choices. When others are out of the picture, and the situation is resolved and the behavior continues, it's a clear sign that there's a problem -- yours.
- Secrets and lies. Often, addicts are the only ones who think their addiction is a secret. They believe the lies are hiding the secret, but those close to them have noticed they are drinking too much, abusing prescription drugs, gambling away necessary funds, overeating, purging, shopping. living in clutter, etc. If addicts know that others know, but they continue to tell lies, then the only ones they're fooling is themselves.
- Time and effort. The time addicts put into the behavior, and into finding ways to stop doing it, takes away from other parts of their lives. The effort it takes to manipulate situations and other people so that they might indulge in the behavior take away from the effort they could be putting into building better relationships, getting an education or building a career, or simply living life free to choose what they will do.
- Guilt and shame. How you feel about your behavior should be a clear indication about whether or not it's a problem. If you feel guilt and shame, but you can't seem to stop what you're doing, then the problem has become an addiction. No one wants to feel guilt and shame, so if you inflict it on yourself repeatedly, then that's something you should take a hard look at.
- Isolation. Convincing yourself that no one loves you, others don't understand, or you don't fit into the world around you to justify your behavior may convince you that you are protecting yourself from more pain and disappointment, but it will leave you feeling alone and empty. Telling yourself you are different and can handle things that others are not able to handle will only prolong the problem and escalate the possibility of serious addiction.
It doesn't matter whether it's alcohol or shopping, drugs or clutter, eating or not eating, gambling or infidelity -- if it's causing problems, and you can't quit even though you want to, then it is an addiction. The good news is that there is help ranging from treatment centers and anonymous meetings to individual therapy. Very few addicts find successful, long-term recovery without a support system.
The ultimate goal in recovery is to be happy and free -- free to live life boldly and unafraid, to embrace others and the world around you without the burden of addiction. There is a whole world out there waiting for you to shine your light on it and, through brutal honesty and seeking help, it's possible.