Am I An Addict?
I have had many clients sit in my office ask ask me the question, "Am I an addict?" They come in to therapy with an action or behavior that they find hard to quit, and they just don't know why sometimes. I often will start with a simple theraputic technique that focuses on self-reflection. Self- reflection can be more objective with a counselor who walks you though the process instead of doing it solo.
As a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, quite a few of my clients struggle with either addiction or impulse control behaviors. I have clients who struggle with a chemical dependency behavior, such as drinking or drug use, while others struggle with a behavioral addiction, such as gambling, sex, or pornography. There are various support groups tailored to specific concerns. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Sex Anonymous (SA), or faith-based groups such as Celebrate Recovery (CR) include multi-step plans for healing and recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), has a 12-step process to recovery. Part of the 12-step recovery process for AA involves the client being able to identify themselves as an "alcoholic". The start of recovery is to understand and accept that one is powerless over their specific addictive behavior.
I have never been a fan of these support groups having such a strong push for their participants to identify themselves as alcoholics. Don't get me wrong, I think AA, SA, and CR provide amazing support groups, I just don't agree with this specific aspect of their program. If you ever have been to an AA meeting, a very common introduction you will hear is, "Hi, my name is Bobby, and I am an alcoholic". If you go to a SA meeting, you might hear something similar, "My name is Billy, and I am a sex addict," There is something about using your addiction as an identifying mark of who you are that just does not sit well with me. However, I agree with the sentiment behind why AA, SA, or CR might have such a strong encouragement for their participants to call themselves "alcoholics" or "addicts."
I have been meeting with a client who has been one year sober from drinking alcohol. This client has worked really hard to be sober for over a year now and part of our continued treatment includes check-ins on if he has had any relapses and focus on relapse prevention. I have heard him say several times now, "I am not worried about relapse anymore." After saying this several times over a few different sessions, I realized why this phrase kept raising a red flag for me.
Once someone has had a signficant drug or behavioral addiction, their lives must be different moving forward. They must always be on guard for triggers or situations that tempt them to fall into their old behaviors. In early stages of recovery, I focus on helping clients put up barriers that slow down how quickly they have access to their addictive behavior. For instance, if someone struggles with a sex addiction, we look at accountability. Can they find someone who can hold them accountable and can they download a software program that monitors their online content and reports it to their accountability partner? In AA, this is often referred to as a sponsor. An individual who is further ahead in their sobriety and who can help lead those who are younger in their sobriety. As individuals progress in their sobriety, they must not get too confident and remove all healthy barriers they have set up in their lives for their sobriety. Being on guard and proactive is what helps lower the risk of relapse. Getting too confident and removing healthy barriers will only make things difficult.
Here are several questions you can ask yourself to help you determine if any given reoccurring behavior falls into an addiction category. These questions are my paraphrasing of some of the criteria found in the DMS-5R Manual.
Have you tried to stop this behavior without success?
Has engaging in this behavior led to legal troubles for you?
Do you need more and more of this substance or behavior to find the same relief?
Has engaging in this behavior led to medical problems for you?
Is the behavior you are engaging in illegal?
Has your behavior prevented you from fulfilling important role obligations?
If you are finding yourself answering YES to some of these questions, it might be helpful for you to come talk to a counselor to do some objective self-reflection. My encouragement is to not wait until your life is "falling apart" before you seek help. Like in medicine, getting treatment sooner, often has faster, stronger, and healthier outcomes.