When we hear the term “addiction,” we usually think of alcoholism or drugs. Yet these are only two of many addictions that we may use to hide our feelings.
Alcoholism is one of the most common addictions, in part because it is legal, widely used, and readily available. We can also become addicted to a variety of other substances. These include illegal drugs, prescription medications, nicotine, caffeine, sugar, and pain relievers.
We can also become addicted to behaviors that serve to medicate and mask our feelings. Television is a common one. Gambling is another. Some other addictive behaviors include shopping, sex, reading, video games, Internet browsing, hobbies, saving, day trading, work, exercise, and physically risky activities like surfing or rock climbing.
Whether a given behavior or substance is an addiction isn’t so much about what the behavior or substance is as it is about how much we engage in it and why. Anything that is taken to extremes in order to distract us from feelings and relationships can be an addiction.
When we’re addicted, we have a sense of anxiety or panic if we don’t have a supply of the substance or can’t engage in the behavior. Feeling anxious if there’s no alcohol in the house is no different than feeling anxious because there’s no casino within reach or because you’ve sprained your ankle and are unable to exercise.
Another clue to whether anything is an addiction is whether we feel compelled to hide it. If we need to be secretive or lie about how much we drink, how much time we spend on the Internet, or how often we shop, these are patterns that can be associated with an addiction.
Some addictions, like work and exercise, are socially acceptable and even encouraged. Others, like alcohol and drugs, are not. Yet the important issue isn’t whether the activity or substance itself is good or bad. What matters is the answers to these questions:
“Does this have a negative impact on me, the people around me and on my environment?”
“Does this keep me stuck and separate me from other people and from my own feelings?”
If the answers are “Yes,” the behavior or substance may be an addiction.