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Living Well News – Understanding Addiction

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Problem vs. Addictive Behavior

Human beings are designed to survive. We are built to avoid conflict, conserve energy, avoid pain, and seek pleasure. We seek ways of feeling “better” to cope with stress related to unpleasant experiences; tending towards behaviors that feel soothing and eliminate discomfort.

These “maladaptive coping” behaviors, however, are short-term relief oriented “fixes” and are generally not helpful in the long-run. In fact, they often end up creating more problems, suffering and stress.

But when do these attempts to feel better cross the line and become problematic? Any time we repeat a behavior we make way to do it again at another time. Repetition leads to the development of habits, and over time, habits become part of our lifestyle. Lifestyle behaviors become part of our everyday lives and identity.

Lifestyle behaviors that are positive add structure, focus and meaning. For instance, our daily rituals of waking, washing, and eating. We also have holidays and family gatherings, which could be pleasant and positive rituals. However, addictive ritual is very different.

Addiction is about dependency and causes a loss of behavioral control – the feeling of becoming powerless. Addiction can be as subtle as overeating or as intense as binging on alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex. Regardless of the kind of addiction, it is harmful to one’s health as well as the health of those around them. Addiction carries intensity – a deep craving, desire and urgency.

Two Types of Addictions

There are two main categories of addiction: 1. Substance Addiction, and 2. Process Addiction.

We are most familiar with substance addiction, specifically with alcohol and drugs. Food, tobacco and caffeine are also included as mood altering substances.

Process addictions can present more subtly, but no less harmful. It is similar to compulsive behavior which is related to activities including: internet, sex, relationships, and shopping, gambling, self-mutilation.

Medications are readily available — for pain, sleep, anxiety, or attention issues. We must be aware of the misuse and abuse of these substances:

  • Opiate pain medications such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Codeine, Morphine, and Hydrocodone.
  • Benzodiazepines , sedatives, hypnotics, including medications such as valium, Xanax, Adivan, Klonopin, Librium and Valium.
  • Psycho-stimulants such as Adderall, and Ritalin.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids & other prescription medications, such as; Sonata, Ambien (Benzodiazepine), and Lunesta.


These drugs are generally intended for shorter-term use or as needed and can easily be abused, resulting in increased tolerance leading to dependence. Without titration (weaning off) can result in withdrawal effects, including nausea, sweating, shaking and in some cases, seizures. Also, mixing these substances with other medications or with alcohol can intensify mood altering effects accelerating the addictive process and can lead to psychosocial, psychiatric and medical deterioration.

The increased use of technology lends itself to addictive behavior as immediate gratification needs are met through easy access to information. A click of a mouse can initiate a shopping spree or gambling run which can create havoc for a person’s finances.

Some of these addictive behaviors may come as a surprise to you. In thinking these addictions through, is there anything that stands out for you? Or do you notice any of these in someone else?

Risk Factors

Risk factors mark the increased probability of developing a specific disease or illness. For addiction, these risk factors include:

  • Genetics: Temperament, family history (addiction, medical, psychiatric disorders).
  • Social / Environmental: Exposure to and availability of substances, level of stress, isolation, adverse childhood experiences (including poverty), or loss.
  • Psychological / Emotional Problems: Depression, attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Medical Problems: Underlying neurological, endocrine-immune issues, fatigue, unresolved chronic pain, post-surgical complications, obesity, insomnia and other sleep problems, and depression.


A comprehensive evaluation includes each of these components as it relates to the client history and presenting addictive issue.

Treating an individual’s addiction generally involves working through multiple problems. Not identifying and not addressing the underlying issues opens the way for relapse as well as cross-addictions (the development of new addictive behaviors / replacements). It is not unusual, for instance, that the recovering person turn to food or work upon abstinence. It is also not unusual that other co-addictions, those which coexist with the presenting addiction, such a sex, food and shopping not be identified upon evaluation.

Addictive behavior is an individual’s style of approaching life, and is a pattern that must be addressed to ensure long-term recovery.

About the Author
Paula Tropiano is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Addictions Specialist providing holistic – skills based counseling and therapy to adults in West Chester, PA. (610) 692-4995.