Addiction Impacts Everyone

I define addiction as the firefighter that puts out the flame of anxiety. In other words, we “use” to get instant relief.

What is it that we are using? Overuse of illegal and legal substances might be the first thing that comes to mind. Mainly because alcohol, opioids, nicotine, and prescribed medications (pain killers, anxiety meds), are the substances that the media is currently spotlighting.

Sometimes, we take a biased position about how and why individuals are addicted to substances. “Why can’t they just get their act together?” However, those who live in glass houses should not judge!

Addictions come in many different forms than what is typically considered culturally taboo. Although we live in a fat-shaming culture, food addiction and overeating have become a national past-time. What about behavioral addictions? Behavioral addictions can come in as many forms as can be imagined. Here are a few instances I could think of off the top of my head: gambling, porn, shopping, hoarding, inability to relax and sit still, and excessive exercising.

Then, why is it that some additions are more stigmatized than others? One reason may be because some additions are difficult to hide. For example, food addictions and binge eating disorders are very apparent as are changes in behaviors and health due to prescribed or illegal substance consumption. On the other hand, porn/sex additions are very well hidden in our culture, even after one is caught. We also make judgment calls based on the severity of the consequences resulting from addiction. “S/he may drink a little but always makes it to work on time.” “Only junkies get hooked on…”

Another reason we stigmatize some addictions and not others is that we have the ability to rationalize our judgments about others. We do not admit or realize we have our very own struggles with addiction. 

So, I challenge you, to compassionately and nonjudgmentally discover and investigate your addition(s). What is your addiction? What is driving it? What prevents us from eliminating it? Can you remember how old you were when it first started, and what was going on in your life at that time? What happens to you physically and emotionally when you refrain from your addiction for several days?

My addiction is food. If I could, I would eat nonstop, especially chocolate and artesian breads. Food is my firefighter that reduces my stress (muscle tension) and anxiety (stomach pain). However, for me to eliminate the many consequences of overeating – shame, pain, poor health, lethargy – I continuously find ways to consult with my anxiety as if it is a messenger, rather than let rule my life and take over my core self.

So, the next time we catch ourselves judging other’s addictions, realize that their fire is likely much hotter than ours. If we really knew how they had/have to experience trauma/abuse/neglect, we would see them in a new light, with compassion, empathy and as humans trying to manage their demons.

Catherine Cleveland is a mental health counselor located in Geneseo NY. Online and in office counseling is available (585) 432-0313

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