So THEY say you are an addict... now what?
by Chris Love, Psy.D.
Bob had been a professional stock broker since his early 20's and he always enjoyed seeing the money
rolling in. He was good at his craft and he had dozens of clients, each worth more than he would likely
make in his lifetime. He was also a devoted family man and a church-goer, with a wonderful wife and
two children balancing their way through the struggles and drama of high school. Yet, Bob had a secret,
a life-long, carefully managed secret, that he had long since learned to control, or so he thought.
Bob, of course, is a fictitious person but he could also be any man, woman, or child in our
neighborhood. Addiction takes many forms, whether alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sexual, power, or
money; the psychological themes behind the functioning of an addiction are similar. With some
addictions, such as drugs or alcohol, brain functioning is greatly altered due to the direct chemical
processes of the substance used by the person. Other addictions, such as food or pornography, involve
psychological and/or physical gratifications that reinforce the psychological need with a powerful
physiological sensation that strengthens the belief that a person can have control or feel good if a
certain behavior is followed.
Although the starting point of addictions is often debated in the scientific literature one of the root
causes of addictive behaviors is psychological neediness. It has been said that addicts often cannot
stand being “in their own skin.” What could possibly bring a person to feel so bad about themselves
that they may hate themselves or want to be anyone else but them? In many cases, during a person's
early to middle childhood is when the seeds of later addictions are sown. It may be that a parent, aunt,
uncle, or older sibling is stuck in a pattern of addiction behaviors. A person may also have been the
victim of one or many instances of psychological or physical trauma that has left the person
emotionally and psychologically damaged, unable to regain the innocence that was theirs before the
trauma. Also, severe and tragic loss, such as a family death, may lead a person to “pick up” a substance
or poor behavior as a means to escape their psychological pain. These are all scenarios of the tragedy of
addictions. Yet, when people who are close to you, believe in you, and hold you in high honor find out
you have a dark secret of an addictive lifestyle what should you do?
Returning to our example, Bob has much to lose. He has built his public life as a model of success and
he is receiving the just rewards of his hard work. However, his private life of addiction has been
gaining ground on him in recent years. He has come to realize that he needs more of his “substance”
than he did before to get the same good feelings and the good feelings do not seem to last as long. A
common phrase in the recovery community is that an addiction will “take you where you do not want
to go.” 12-Step programs describe this risk for using as “one is too many” and “a thousand is never
enough.” Bob is experiencing the physiological and psychological symptoms of tolerance. This means
that the body or the mind has come a place where more stuff is needed to satisfy the physiological or
psychological need. It is as if the cup a person is holding for their coffee keeps getting bigger and they
need more coffee to feel good.
When a person craves their “substance” they have a need that they often do not understand. People may
eat to feel better or gamble to “have success” believing that through the external process of ritualized
behaviors they will feel better and/or have success. The taking of substances or the pursuit of ritualized
maladaptive behaviors usually works to make the person feel better, in the short run. Over time,
however, tolerance is developed and more is needed. The Internet and newspapers are filled with the
carnage of lives ruined by the pursuit of fulfilling painful psychological needs through substances or
Chris Love, Psy.D. So THEY say you are an addict... now what? © 2010 1 of 2
For our addict Bob, he has three paths to follow, a fourth choice, going “cold turkey” on his own is
unlikely to be successful. Based on his new insight that he needs more substance to meet his needs, he
could voluntarily check himself into a recovery program and get help. Yet, due to his thinking that he
can “manage” his addiction, he is likely to believe that he can manage “just a little more” substance
and “no one will know.” 12-Step programs call this “stinkin-thinkin.” Another choice for Bob is to give
up and dive head-long into his addiction throwing caution to the wind and seeing how far he can go, it
“sure would feel good.” This too is stinkin-thinkin. A quality choice Bob could make is to push back
his pride and admit that he has a problem. This will be very hard for Bob to do because over the years
he has built strong psychological walls of self-sufficiency. The idea that he has really been a liar all his
life and kept it hidden from others will be hard to think about, much less do something about.
Fortunately in Bob's case he married a very intelligent and perceptive woman. Bob's recent changes in
behaviors, coming home later, sleeping later, being more secretive than usual, had been noticed by her.
She has taken steps to learn about the processes of addictive behaviors and recovery. As the daughter of
an addict, she has seen these signs before and knows that they are ignored at great peril. Much to Bob's
surprise, when he gets home late around 9:00PM on a Friday night he finds that there are many more
cars parked on his street than usual. When he comes in the door he is met by his wife who leads him
into the living room full of people. He is asked to sit down as he is met by his boss, his priest, his
doctor, his parents, and his siblings, all there to try and interrupt the pattern of his addiction.
The “intervention” attempted by Bob's wife and friends is just one of many methods that are used to
help people begin the process of recovery. Bob could bolt from the room but for the love of his family,
friends, and supporters that will likely keep him there. A great deception addicts believe is that they
could never seek help because they will be forever rejected by those they love. They may believe their
life will be ruined without the support of their “drug.” The fact is, an addict's life is ruined, until they
begin the process of recovery. Outside of a process of supportive recovery the addict remains adrift and
lost on how to find health. I would like to offer 10 recommendations to those who want to recover:
1. If your secret is still secret, come clean now. You will likely have a better outcome in recovery
because you initiated the process, confessed it, and recovery was not forced upon you.
2. Take charge of your recovery. Ultimately you will be the one who makes it succeed, not others.
3. Find a psychotherapist who will accept you in your current state and support your process of
change. There are no miracle cures for addictions and it will be very painful at first.
4. Work with a psychotherapist on those early unmet psychological needs or losses that led you to
“pick up” in the first place.
5. Be open, humble, and honest about EVERYTHING. You were a liar in your addiction and truth
is better than lies. Truth may hurt a lot in the short run but over time it feels better and better.
6. Change your current behaviors, change jobs, routes to work, friends, anything that connects you
to your lifestyle of addiction.
7. Find safe and supportive people to hang with, this may not always be your family.
8. Let other's guilt and shaming of your former lifestyle go right past you, don't take it in.
9. Find something outside of your self that can be a strong psychological pillar for you to lean on
when you are in that lonely isolated place and are most likely to use. Some people find this
support in a “higher power” but others find this through activities or by giving of themselves to
others in a humble healthy way.
10. Stop thinking about the negatives in your life, focus on the positive. There is good in you and
you know you have shown it to others before. Pursue the good and be good.
Chris Love, Psy.D. So THEY say you are an addict... now what? © 2010 2 of 2