In this week’s two-part episode, we discuss the topic of addiction and how it relates to intimacy with Dr. Robert Weiss, a clinical sexologist, practicing psychotherapist, and published author who is an expert in the treatment of adult intimacy disorders and related addictions.
In Part II of our conversation, we define what it means to have an addiction, discuss the three signs of an addiction, and unpack why it’s important to categorize addiction under the umbrella of mental health and chronic disease.
For starters, for something to be an addiction, it has to cause pleasure. But where do we draw the line between enjoying something and becoming addicted? Is having too much sex or partying too much an addiction? It depends. Dr. Weiss states that addiction is not determined by the quantity of anything, but instead by the damaging effects a substance or behavior has on an individual’s quality of life. If a pleasurable activity is repeatedly used as a form of escapism and begins to impair other areas of life — be it relationships, work, or health — it becomes an addiction.
Three Signs of Addiction
- Loss of Control – an addict feels unable to stop an addictive behavior, as though they have lost the choice to say yes or no.
- Consequences – there are real-life consequences as a result of the addictive behavior — work, health, and/or relationships are impaired.
- Ignoring Consequences and Casting Blame – the addict refuses to change behavior even after acknowledging the consequences, many times blaming other people or outside influences for the consequences.
Embracing “Addict” as a Label
Society views addiction as a moral failing or behavioral issue, attaching shame and a sense of failure to those who struggle with addiction. By viewing addiction as a chronic disease and mental health issue we can begin to remove the immense stigma addicts feel. Addiction should be viewed no differently than depression or even diabetes — all are life-long conditions that need to be treated.
The label of addiction is an acknowledgement that I have a problem that I need to deal with for the rest of my life. But it’s also the hope that if I deal with it, I can have a great life.
Addiction is Excessive Escapism
It’s important to note that we all need to escape or get away for a bit — after a hard day at work or an argument with our partner. De-stressing with a glass or two of wine or bingeing the latest Netflix hit series shouldn’t be a cause for concern. It’s normal, necessary even. What differentiates addictive behavior from non-addictive behavior is the degree of escapism.
Substance Addiction versus Behavioral Addictions
There is an incorrect belief that you can only be addicted to something that chemically alters your mental state (i.e. drugs, alcohol). But how can you be addicted to a behavior? It’s important to remember that even in behavioral addictions the brain releases dopamine and serotonin in response to the addictive behavior. In both substance addiction and behavioral addiction, the neurochemistry of an addict’s brain shifts.
What addicts do is not inherently unhealthy, it’s the degree to which they deny, they escape, and they disappear.
The Journey of Healing
The road to recovery rarely looks the same, but it’s important to remember that healing is a life-long journey and not a destination. Dr. Weiss mentions that healing begins with becoming conscious — conscious of the addiction and its destructive effects on oneself and loved ones. “It’s a journey from selfishness and narcissism into connection,” Dr. Weiss states. Maybe most importantly, healing involves using the experience to help others struggling with the same issue.
One of the tenants of addiction work is that you pass on what you’ve gotten.
Resources For Addiction & Recovery