Posted: March 18, 2010 in FREE PSYCHOTHERAPY THURSDAY, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Okay, right off the bat, let me tell you, this isn’t a gag article.

The other night in the chemical dependency course I teach I asked the class if addcition to substances was a disease. Many fervently said yes. Others fervently said no.

Some said it was the same as diabetes or even cancer.

A woman in the class who has cancer disagreed strongly and said she did nothing to get her disease.

When we say something is an addiction what does that mean?

Does it some absolve the individual from responsibility for behaving poorly?

Just Don't Do It!

When someone gets drunk and acts like an asshole does it somehow serve their interest to say that that person is addicted? Being addicted may free someone from being stigmatized but might they discontinue self-defeating behavior if it was condemned rather than labeled and legitimized?

I asked the class as the discussion went on if all things human beings do compulsively should be considered diseases. Many said they should.

So if an individual has a compulsion to please themselves sexually all the time should we consider that an addiction or even a disease?

Might there be a body chemistry variable that makes resisting urges more difficult?

Some people are allergic to shellfish and others to strawberries. Maybe some people have a body chemistry that acts differently when it interacts with their sex drive. If that were true, it could make getting compulsive about something much harder to resist.

What if it did? That might mean it would be more difficult to make good choices and avoid self defeating choices.

Many people stop taking drugs or stop drinking too much with the help of rehab stays and lots of therapy. Many get help from the 12 Step programs.

When people quit smoking they often just quit, tough it out and deal with discomfort. Why is that addiction seen differently?

Ultimately, stopping compulsive behavior entails, in plain words, knocking it off. Just don’t do it to paraphrase Tiger Woods’s top sponsor. Therapy and medication can help but ultimately, people need to not screw off the cap of the liquor bottle, light the crack pipe or get the heroin spike ready to inject.

If sex is the issue, they need to keep their pants on, not do unhealthy things and stay true to whatever promises they made to their life partners. Therapy can help.

Labeling it an addiction may help some people with shame and if they gets them help, I guess it’s a good thing.

In the end, stopping a self-defeating behavior takes discipline, commitment and the ability to postpone immediate gratification.

It probably doesn’t need carefully scripted apologies and press conferences.

  1. michael rivest says:

    Good discussion point, Tom. I think we’re still struggling to come to terms with the meaning of addiction. Hence, the “disease vs. will power” conundrum.

    Here’s a take: To the non-addicted observer, it all looks like a series of bad decisions. So we may stroke our chins over it and, in a desire to be politically correct, furrow our brows with empathy and say, “disease,” but deep down inside we’re thinking “You could stop if you wanted to,” because that’s our reality; and besides, there’s such seeming VOLITION involved.

    But anyone who’s lived with an addict, or has been addicted, knows what it feels like when addiction ceases to be an intellectual abstraction. The addict is in such pain, and feels such indescribable shame and self-loathing, that the term “choice” simply doesn’t apply; it only allows the outside observer to keep his/her underlying assumptions intact. Nobody chooses to be in pain; it just looks that way to the outsider.

    Oh, shit, it’s 8:20 a.m. and I’m out of crack. Gotta run.

  2. Mark Terry says:

    No expert here, but I do think there’s a biological component to many types of addictions, particularly alcoholism and certain types of drug addiction.

    But jumping into sex addiction, food addiction, gambling addiction and what we might call “compulsive behaviors,” although I don’t doubt some people are hardwired toward it, I’m not sure it’s an addiction in the same way alcoholism and addictions to controlled substances are. That doesn’t make them less destructive, but I would think it makes dealing with them a slightly different problem than dealing with substance abuse.

  3. Jen Forbus says:

    An element I find to be distressing in all of this are the people who simply use it as an excuse. There are people with legitimate addictions and compulsive behaviors. And then there are people who use the labels so they don’t have to be responsible or accountable. It’s this second group of people who cause the general population to have even greater doubt about the legitimacy of any addictions.

  4. L.J. Sellers says:

    You can label anything an addiction, and who’s going to correct you? But are the compulsions to eat or have sex or gamble actual diseases? I’m not sure. I’m waiting for the research that supports the idea that there’s a chemical dependency factor. Not that I don’t have compassion for addicts, having recovered from a few addictions myself.

  5. vicky says:

    Sex addiction … sure! A person can get addicted to the chemical euphoria that is experienced during a sexual act especially the endorphins and oxytocin can keep a person hunting for more and more until it becomes impossible to be without – there is also the adrenaline associated with the act of cheating.
    The whole ‘disease’ idea is a grey area…the very word dis-ease is more like an umbrella term for anything that is not at ‘ease’ globally with a person.
    Maybe there will be a patch soon ‘Sexorette’ …now, where to stick it…

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