When is it Addiction?

In our society we often hear, think and read that people are addicted to things, all kinds of things. It is said that people are addicted to work, sex, texting, hand held devices, social networking sites, video games, gambling, caretaking and people pleasing, shopping, food, the internet, chocolate, exercise, etc. When is someone truly addicted? Have we become too free with the use of the word “addicted”? When does something, even a good thing, become too much?

These are tough questions, especially in our society where things can easily become extreme and out of balance. There is a way to clarify when we, or someone we care about, have moved from being out of balance with something to having an addiction. The simple way to do that is by remembering the Three “C’s” of Addiction.

The Three “C’s” of Addiction are: Compulsion, Loss of Control, and Continued Use/Contact despite Negative Consequences. Compulsion, Control and Consequences are the three key words and elements of addiction, so let’s look at all three to provide some clarity.

Compulsion is the overwhelming preoccupation with something. Once the thought of the desired substance, activity or object enters the thinking process an individuals cannot easily get it out of their heads. The way to remove the compulsion from a person’s thoughts is to act on it. A person having compulsions with work may be unable to let go of work, or not check his or her blackberry. Someone who is obsessed with exercise may run on a treadmill for two hours knowing it’s best to stop after one. A person obsessed with social networking sites may check a Facebook account several times an hour or leave it up all day so frequent checking can occur.

Loss of Control is when the behavioral acting upon the compulsion becomes extreme. The individual, or loved ones, may set limits for a person to stay within yet it’s seemingly impossible. Alcoholics may say that they will stop at two, and sometimes can, but then go beyond that limit. The food addict may follow a diet for several days and then go on a junk food binge. The sex addict may promise self and others to no longer look at pornography only to do so for hours on end while the family is asleep.

Continued Use/Contact despite Negative Consequences is when the compulsion and loss of control are causing problems for the individual, family, work site, friends, etc. The addict may recognize increased problems yet continue to engage in the behaviors that connect to whatever is the obsession. Workaholics may know that their lives are out of balance and that their spouse and kids are complaining yet they continue to work long excessive hours, miss family activities and break promises. Sex addicts lose their jobs because the compulsion to look at pornography at work is so great that they succumb to the compulsion to look knowing that they should not. Alcoholics get drunk driving tickets and continue to drink. People addicted to hand held devices walk into streets and get hit by cars because they have not watched where they are going. Compulsive shoppers continue to shop even though they know credit card balances are high and they have promised to stop. Problems mount, yet use or contact continues.

Remembering the Three “C’s” of Addiction is one way to help answer the question, “Am I or someone I care about addicted?” Helping individuals to create and maintain a healthy balance in their personal and professional lives is central to recovery from addiction. At Franco Psychological Associates, P.C., therapists can assess whether an addiction exists and assist in developing effective strategies for change. If you feel you could benefit from talking with a therapist, call the office at 243-1896 and schedule an appointment.

Karen Jaskot ACSW, LCSW, CAC Diplomate, was a former therapist at Franco Psychological Associates, PC.