Hi, my name is Kathy, and I’m an addict … I think. Right off the bat I would say that I am addicted to caffeine, sugar, my 7:00 exercise class and the TV show Lost.
Does thinking I’m addicted make it so? Not necessarily. And unfortunately, thinking I am not addicted does not make that so either. One of the leaders in addiction research, Dr David Smith of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco, has been studying addiction for more than 25 years. He identifies addiction as having three components.
The first element is a preoccupation with the addiction. This means not being of your own mind because you are thinking about the addiction, and are afraid of being without the substance. This may sound weird to some of you, but I always know where I can get my next cup of coffee. If I am not in my normal surroundings for the day, because I’m traveling, attending a seminar or whatever, I take a thermos of coffee with me, just in case I need it. Another element of this first category is having the compulsion to perform a behavior, or use the desired substance, even if the desired effect is no longer achieved. If you are not addicted to alcohol, it will be easy to go for weeks, even months without drinking. Not so for the alcoholic. It is hard NOT to drink, especially after 21 days of abstinence when most of the drug has finally left the body.
The second aspect of addiction is the loss of control, or the inability to stop. This means bingeing, the inability to limit use, to refuse the substance if available, to stop (drinking, gambling, smoking) for at least three months. AA has one predictor as to whether someone will be an alcoholic, and it is, can she stop after one drink, or is she out of control?
Charlie was a successful advertising executive. Dynamic, outgoing and a risk taker, he found himself a party one evening hosted by one of his accounts where a crack pipe was being passed around. This was a novel experience for the 35-year-old high school athlete. His exposure to drugs other than alcohol had been limited, but he thought, “Hey, I’ll try anything once.” so he took a hit. His next thought was “Whatever I need to do to get more of this, I will do.” And he did. His life from that point on became devoted to getting and using crack. As you might guess, he eventually lost his job, his home and his wife. He struggles today. Sometimes it takes years for people to lose control over the demon, sometimes only one taste of crack.
The final condition that must be met is continued use of the substance, or performance of the behavior, despite known adverse consequences. In other words, I know what I’m doing is bad for me, but I do it anyway, like the smoker with asthma, the compulsive gambler with financial problems, or the marijuana user who can’t pay attention in school, or perhaps even get to school, but still can’t stop.
To be classified as an addict, all three criteria must be met. You must be compelled to do it, out of control and unable to stop. To what are you addicted? I am definitely addicted to caffeine and sugar, but if I needed to, I could give up Lost.
What is it that makes some of us more prone to addiction than others? Why is it that some of us can have a glass of wine… or not, while one glass is the beginning of the end for others of us? Does addiction run in families? Is there such a thing as the addictive gene? I will answer these questions in my next article. For now, let me leave you with a quote by Jimmy Breslin,
“When you stop drinking, you have to deal with this marvelous personality that started you drinking in the first place.”