Addiction: How Tight of a Grip Do Your Vices Have on You?

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Some people do drugs, some drink, some use sex, some gamble.  There are an infinite number of substances and behaviors you can find yourself addicted to.  Of course these are also activities that many healthy, consenting adults engage in without developing a dependency. So how do you know when something has gone from being a fun, occasional outlet to being a problem?

There are formal criteria which a person must meet in order to be diagnosed as dependent upon a substance or behavior.  These have to do with frequency of use, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, reduction in quality of life as a result of use, and various other indicators.  It can be counterproductive, however, to focus too much on whether or not you meet the definition of “an addict”.  It is very possible for habitual use of a substance or behavior to negatively impact your life far before reaching the level of a clinical diagnosis.  For this reason, it is often more useful to think in terms of your relationship to the substance or behavior.  Let’s take alcohol as an example.

1. What is my relationship with drinking?

2. How large of a role does it play in my day to day life?


3. How does it affect my relationship with other people?

4. What do I like about drinking?

5. What don’t I like about it?

6. How do I use alcohol?  To relieve anxiety, to have fun socially, to numb feelings, to get to sleep, etc.

7. Are there times when I feel like I have to drink or that it would be difficult for me to get by without drinking?

8. How might drinking less change my life, my relationships, my job performance, the way I feel about myself, etc.?

Even someone who only drinks a few times a year, and would certainly not meet the definition of dependency, may have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol if, for instance, they overindulge on those occasions and end up regretting their actions.  Taking an honest, rational appraisal of the influence a substance/behavior is having on your life will help you clarify what course of action, if any, you want to take.

If you have identified a few aspects of your use which are yielding unwanted consequences, you may want to begin looking at how you can modify your use to reduce those unwanted outcomes.  In developing a plan for addressing your use, it can be helpful to look at where you are versus where you would like to be.  You have just gone through the process of assessing where you are, now it is time to envision what you would like your relationship to the substance/behavior to look like.

1. Create a set of goals and boundaries for your use.

2. Decide on a period of time (I recommend three months) during which you will commit to implementing the changes you have outlined.

3. At the end of that period, reevaluate. How have these changes been difficult?  Have they been rewarding? Have you seen a reduction in the incidence of unwanted outcomes associated with your use? Is this a sustainable course for you?  Is this plan too rigid for you to maintain or perhaps not rigid enough?

4. Do you feel differently about your use as a result of the changes you have made?  For example, more in control, a greater sense of self-respect, self-efficacy, etc.?

If you find that you are unable to maintain the goals you set out for the period of time you decided on, this is good information for you.  It let’s you know that you may be more attached to your use than you originally suspected.  Finding yourself unable to reduce your use, despite sincere attempts to, is a sign that it may be time to seek help.  If you are at this point, there are several channels through which you can access support.  Licensed therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists offer one-on-one support.  There are also many therapy groups directed specifically toward addiction.  Below is a list of national organizations through which you can locate local groups.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Cocaine Anonymous (CA)

Clutterers Anonymous (CLA)

Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)

Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA)

Debtors Anonymous (DA)

Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA)

Gamblers Anonymous (GA)

Marijuana Anonymous (MA)

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Pills Anonymous (PA)

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)

Workaholics Anonymous (WA)

LifeRing Secular Recovery (LSR)

Moderation Management (MM)

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

SMART Recovery

Women For Sobriety (WFS)




ALEXIS WALTERS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She has over a decade of experience working with adults and adolescents, covering a broad range of psychotherapeutic issues.

Embrace change. Find empowerment. Call to schedule a session today.

Alexis Walters, MA, LMFT

334 Village Lane    Los Gatos    CA    95030

**Phone sessions available**

Copyright 2010 ALEXIS WALTERS, LMFT – All Rights Reserved

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