Another Way of Viewing Addiction

THINK DIFFERENTThose who treat clients who face addiction; whether it is substance or behaviorally oriented come up against entrenched beliefs about what creates, feeds and sustains the insidious patterns and habits that devastate relationships, damage reputations, clean out bank accounts and obliterate lives. As clinicians, we too may have our biases, based on who walks through our doors.

Stereotypes include:

They have gotten entangled with the law

They end up robbing loved ones

They ignore personal hygiene

They are chronically unemployed or underemployed

They are poorly educated

They are financially bereft

They are homeless

They have an inability to maintain relationships

They are revolving door clients/patient

They are younger people

Once a drug addict, always a drug addict

Someone always has to hit rock bottom before rising to recovery

Counter to That Image

Many addicts:

Are high functioning

Are gainfully employed

Have family and friends who love them

Have active social lives

Have not stolen to maintain their habit

Are well groomed, with good hygiene

Help out in their communities

Have not gotten in trouble with the law

They may be any age

Present as successful

According to Gabor Maté, MD, author of the bestselling book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.”

“In the final analysis, it’s not the activity or object that defines the addiction, but our relationship to whatever is the external focus of our attention or behavior.”

Dr. Maté explained that one person can drink alcohol and not become a habitual drinker. He defines an addiction as “any repeated behavior, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on his life or the lives of others.”

Unpredictable Nature

The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates the complicated and unpredictable nature of drug addiction. According to a fact sheet from the agency. “Risk for addiction is influenced by a combination of factors that include individual biology, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction.”

Cross addictions, or trading one addiction for another, are common because the brain and body might have become accustomed to the flow of neurotransmitters that activate the reward circuit in the limbic system and lead it to crave higher levels of pleasure.

When one engages in specific behaviors, such as gambling, shopping or ingesting substances, these substances are released. When a tolerance has developed, the brain seeks higher levels of stimulation.

Releasing one behavior leaves a vacancy for another. For example, a client in an outpatient drug rehab might put down the bottle, only to hit the casino and lose a few thousand dollars, while another person might give up a heroin habit but spend hours a day hunched over a computer indulging in Internet pornography and still another might go on a spending spree without concern about racking up credit card bills that they may not be able to pay.

Meeting A Need

Dr. Maté has compared his shopping compulsion to the extreme and life threatening addictions of the clients he treated for 12 years in a Vancouver clinic. Although, his habit of spending a few hundred dollars a visit at his local record store might seem clean and safe compared to actions among his patients such as shooting heroin with re-used needles or swallowing someone else’s cheeked and expectorated methadone, he reminds readers that the process within the brain is the same.

Pure and simple, the addiction meets a need. People who experience addiction often desire to mask some kind of physical or emotional pain. When they engage in addictive behaviors, the body or mind feels temporary relief or some other perceived beneficial response. With each episode of partaking, the pattern begins to set, much like thread woven through a loom.

Addiction to Achieving

A professional woman with workaholism experiences an adrenaline rush when she accomplishes everything and then some on her to-do list. She stays up to work despite fatigue. She’s spurred on by feedback from people who notice her achievements. She eagerly anticipates starting work each day, awakening early to begin.  When she can’t sleep, she writes. She multitasks with ease. She identifies as her livelihood, even as she’s aware of her patterns.

She too is held captive, as surely as Dr. Mate’s patients, even though she doesn’t drink, smoke or use drugs. This behavior led to a series of health crises that had her recognizing the severity of her addiction. She is aware that workaholism is the only addiction that is encouraged by many cultures.

The pattern was formed in her childhood with parents who were accomplished and hard working. Although it wasn’t verbalized, she internalized the expectation to be the same. She measured her worth in kudos and nods of approval, as well as good grades.

When her performance was less than stellar, she was her harshest critic. She had learned how to bask in the spotlight at an early age. A cycle was created as she adapted to the needs of others to continue the flow of positive feedback.

Thus was born a second addiction: co-dependence.

She developed the skills of “reading” others to determine what they wanted and meeting their needs before they voiced them. Even though she is painfully aware of her patterns, they still sometimes take her by surprise.

Her recovery involves daily introspection and self-evaluation. She incorporates the principles of 12-step programs into her daily life and has accountability partners who encourage her to address her problematic habits when they arise. Admitting to feeling anxiety and frustration when she’s prevented in some way from doing her work, she seeks healthy means of addressing these setbacks. Moderation is an important goal for her.

Another Way of Viewing Addiction

Edie Weinstein Moser, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author. A free-lance journalist, her writing has been printed in publications and on sites such as The Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Beliefnet, Identity, Inner Child Magazine, New Visions, Holistic Living, Conversations, Bellesprit, The Whirling Blog, The Doylestown Intelligencer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, YogaLiving, Wisdom, Mystic Pop, In Your Prime, the “What The Bleep Do We Know?” website and The Bucks County Writer. She has been interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fox 29 news, CBS 3 news, WWDB 96.5 and National Public Radio as well as numerous blog talk stations. Check out her website at:


APA Reference
Weinstein Moser, E. (2016). Another Way of Viewing Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 Jun 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Jun 2016
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