Recognizing the Signs of Addiction?
How do You Know You Have One?

What are the signs of addiction? Are you addicted to something? Are you addicted to alcohol, cocaine, pornography, shopping, inter-net games, television, sugar?  Maybe you just really like one of those things and do not see yourself as having an addiction challenge.

For example, maybe you totally love having sweet treats.  Does this make you addicted?  Maybe.  Maybe Not.

The thing is that many people think of those truly addicted to substances as those who are totally down and out.  For example, we may envision someone addicted to alcohol as someone who lives on the street, has dirty clothes, or does not hold down a job.  Although this may be the case for many people who are addicted to alcohol, there are way more people addicted to alcohol, than what this stereotype describes.  There are many professionals, who hold down jobs, appear responsible and respectable, and go to work every day who are seriously addicted to alcohol.

There are many many professionals who have addiction issues. Yet, these professionals do not at all fit the stereotype. Their addictions, at least for a while, may go unnoticed.

For many professionals, what happens is that they start enjoying a particular substance or behavior and then really start enjoying a particular substance or behavior.  Then they cross the line into addiction without even knowing it.  The addictive behavior or substance creeps into their lives and takes over before they are even aware there is a problem.

Chances are that their families or co-workers may have already said something.  Yet, the person still believes that they really do just enjoy that drink after the end of a hard day.  They may ask, seriously, what is wrong with unwinding? They don't recognize that others recognize that they are starting to show the signs of addiction.

For lawyers (the professional group I know most about), the problem of alcohol addiction is more common than many of us would like to admit. We have “bar” functions (emphasis on the word bar) where people literally get totally wasted, all of it accepted as part of what goes on.  Alcohol use is not only a part of the overall culture, it is something that is implicitly encouraged.

I do not judge this culture at all. I just state it because it is a cultural experience that I participated in when I was a young lawyer.  I was doing all the “right” things.  I was socializing with my colleagues, making connections, and attending functions. The signs of addiction started to show without me even realizing it.

The first law firm I worked at had drinks everyday at 5pm.  I mean everyday at 5 pm.  Being a non-drinker before law school, and then only an occasional drinker once law school started, I developed a full-on addiction to alcohol within my first 4 years of becoming a lawyer. 

The thing about addiction, is that it creeps up on a person.

Whether it is alcohol addiction (an addiction I happen to know a lot about) or another addiction, the challenges, concerns, and problems, regardless of the substance or behavior are often similar. What signs of addiction are you experiencing?

What is the difference between happening to like something and having an addiction?  You may want to ask yourself, what are the signs of addiction?

The Top 10 Signs of Addiction:

1.     Asking Yourself Whether or Not You Have an Addiction:

Here it is.  When you start asking yourself if you are addicted to something, you are certainly likely either totally addicted or have already passed through the doorway to addiction.  People who do not have an addiction never ask themselves if they have an addiction to a certain substance. When thinking of the signs of addiction, if you are asking yourself the question, you are likely addicted.

2.     Starting Your Day with the Thought “Never Again” – Only to End Up Folding Like a Deck Chair:

This is all about the persistent desire to stop, and yet continuing to be unsuccessful with stopping. This is the whole problem with addiction – the not being able to stop.  Just because you know it is not serving you and you want to stop, does not mean that you can.   So, a person wakes up in the morning and makes the commitment to themselves that they will never drink, binge eat, spend the night surfing porn, smoke cigarettes, spend 4+ hours of playing online games, or smoke marijuana again ….. and then at some point during the day or evening they cave.  By the time 4 o’clock rolls around (or 10 am, or 12 pm, or 2pm, or what have you) the person changes their mind and is right back at it.  I know I probably woke up everyday for at least 2 years in a row with such thoughts, only to drink again later in the day.

3     When You Spend Way Too Much time obtaining the object of addiction, being embroiled in the behaviors of the addiction, or recovering from your addictive behavior.

Being an addict can be a lot of work.  Period.

4     That your addiction causes you to miss work, school, a social occasion that you had committed to or your obligations to your family?

Are you too hung-over to go to work on time?  Did your cocaine use over the weekend go on too long, so much so that it is now Sunday night and you have not slept much at all so that you know that even though you will likely make it to work tomorrow, that you will have a very very painful Monday.

5.      When the intensity or frequency of the behavior has increased in order for you to get the desired effect.

Does it take more than 2 glasses of wine for that comforting warm glow and buzz when it used to happen with only one glass? If you need more and more to feel less and less that is one of sure signs of addiction.

6.      If you are not using you feel anxious, restless, or sorry for yourself.

 For some, when they stop using the substance they are addicted to, or doing the addictive behavior, they feel totally resentful that others may get to continue to engage in that substance or behavior when they cannot. Why do they get to drink wine with their meal and I can’t?  Why can’t I shop and get all those delightful bags from various stores when other people get to?

7.  When you are not using it is all you can think about.

When someone completely obsesses about the substance and behavior.  “If only I could have a smoke things would be so much better and I would feel so relieved.“

8.  When you are defensive about it when someone asks you about your behavior or substance of choice.

Apparently Carl Jung once said that “if you are feeling defensive you are at the door of your shadow.”  So, for example if someone is questioned about having a gambling addiction and they did not have any concerns about gambling, they would not at all be defensive about a question relating to them gambling.  In fact, they might even find it humorous or silly that they were even asked such a question.  Yet if they did have a gambling problem and someone asked them, they may feel defensive and think or say such things as “they are exaggerating” “they don’t know anything about what they are talking about” “they are projecting their own stuff on to me” “it is none of their business” or “I am not hurting anyone.”

That can be a sure sign of addiction. If your hackles rise, your addiction has likely risen.

9.  If you are blaming your use or behavior on other people or circumstances.

This is a classic addict trait.  They blame others or the situation to keep from taking any responsibility themselves for their problems or addiction.

They say that they continually use pornography because they are having marital difficulties, because it is a release from the financial stress they are experiencing, or that it is because they work so hard and they deserve the break.

10.  If the behavior or substance is causing problems in your life.

Did the fact that you got drunk and not return home when you said you would make your spouse really upset?  Did you let someone down because of your drug use?

Professionals face all sorts of addictions – to alcohol, clutter, shopping, drugs, eating, not eating, gambling, infidelity, masturbation, pornography etc.  The truth is that if the behavior is causing problems for you in your life and you cannot stop even though you want to, it is an addiction.

Some of us are lucky enough to get over our addictions (and yes, I believe you can actually get over your addiction -- not to say that this professional can ever drink again because I cannot).  When you first start seeing the signs of addiction, think about them seriously and know it will only get harder and harder.  The signs of addiction in your life will become more and more significant.

Yet, there is always hope. 

There are many routes to recovery.  These include rehabilitation centers, support groups like alcoholics anonymous or narcotics anonymous, therapy, etc.

Addiction is a burden.  Full stop.  Don’t use you’re addiction to stop you from living your life.  Keep trying with every method of recovery possible until you are able to stop.  For a lot of people, their first attempt at stopping may not work even if they get support or go through a program, counselor, or step program.  At the same time, remember that it is possible to live life free of your addiction.

Written by Val Hemminger, the nonconforming professional

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