Defining Addiction

by Kelly Bawden, MS,LADC

Defining Addiction

Defining Addiction: This is a typical problem of addiction; this problem is how it is hidden from the people that love and care about you. However, there are signs that scream addiction and once these signs are understood it is fairly easy to recognize when a loved one is deep into their addiction.

First, understanding what an addiction is is important because addictions can be so many behaviors besides drugs and/or alcohol. An addiction could be anything that takes control over someone’s life. For instance, eating could become an addiction if the act of eating becomes more of an urge and a way to avoid thoughts and emotions that are considered hurtful. This person may constantly think of food. They eat without being hungry or eat even after they are full. They may try to hide how much they are eating, and they may lie about what they ate during the day. Usually this will cause a weight problem which can cause negative thought patterns. To get rid of these negative thoughts more food is eaten. Food becomes more of an obsession than eating for energy or for as a natural part of the day. This type of thought is called obsession.

These obsessions are part of the addictive pattern. If someone is using prescription pills that are either not prescribed to them, or they are taking these pills in a way that is not how they were prescribed to take them, then this may be considered an addictive pattern. Most addicts have obsessive thoughts and until the thought is acted upon these negative thought patterns will continue to drive the addiction. These obsessions may sound like this to the addictive person. They wake up in the morning and the first thought is about the pill they are taking. The thought becomes more constant and may even be a bit of a conflict within themselves. “I don’t need a pill this morning I feel pretty good right now, but if I don’t take the pill I might start to hurt so maybe I should just take it any way to make sure I don’t feel pain”. The argument in this person’s head will continue until they finally give in and take the pill. Later as the effect of the pill wears off they will begin to think about taking another one even if they don’t really need it or it isn’t time to take it yet. This pill will become a way to get through the day without having to deal with all of the little problems that may happen in their life that day. These thoughts and actions will make their tolerance for the pill become greater and the effect of the pill won’t last as long or taking just one won’t give them the same effect it had previously so they may begin to take two instead of one. This is called tolerance.

With any addiction the tolerance for the substance becomes greater so whether it is food, pills, or alcohol they will need to consume more to get the same effect they were getting in the beginning when first started using the substance. When someone has a high tolerance their behavior begins to become erratic. They may become more secretive or isolative. They may withdraw from family, friends or anyone they are close to. They may tell wild stories about where they have been or where they are going. They may seem paranoid and try to deflect these behaviors by focusing on someone or something else. If they are asked about what they did during the day, they may become upset and ask why it matters or just give a generalized answer. This type of behavior is considered a red flag or a warning sign of addiction. When these are the behaviors displayed, the addicted person moves into compulsive behavior.

Compulsive behavior is erratic and is driven totally by the substance, food, drink, or work; they are using to try to stay in some sort of control over their thoughts. They may spend more time in the bathroom than usual, they may run to the store at odd times to get “something”, they may become irritable and easily frustrated, or they may have uncontrollable mood swings. They think that they have control over their life but at this point the addiction is controlling much it. There are many people that can remain functional but there are many that cannot and their life begins to unravel. Either way the warning signs are still there.

When someone’s life begins to unravel everything changes and everyone who knows them can see the changes except the person who is caught up in the addiction. They are actually blinded by their addiction. They may say things like, “Why do you question everything I do”, “why are you changing” or “everyone around me is changing”? They may also say things like “if you would leave me alone I wouldn’t need to go out all the time.” These are warning signs. Other warning signs may be things like money disappearing, jewelry disappearing, and food disappearing, but no one admits to taking it. The addict will generally try to blame someone else and they may be able to make the case sound convincing but if asked later about the incident, the story they came up with before will probably change. These lies are also warning signs. Most addicts that are caught up in addiction are reactionary and focus only on the problem but not trying to solve the problem. As the addiction grows, they will have many odd stories and reactions but they will blame everything that happens in their life on someone else.

As these obsessions, compulsions, and tolerances increase, the persons’ life is now revolving around their addiction. Their relationships change because the only relationship they have is with the substance, alcohol, or food. The lies will become bigger but many times it isn’t worth confronting because of the conflict it causes.

Life for someone who has an addiction problem is like being on a roller coaster that goes through fire. The ride is exciting but the heat is burning and hurting their skin. Family and friends are also on this ride. Most families try to make things better but what it generally does is allow the addict the ability to stay on the ride longer. One of the best things a family member or friend can do is to be completely honest with them, and let them know how their addiction affects you. Don’t tippy toe or sugar coat how you feel or how life is living with them. Ask them to be honest and if they think they need help. This may not stop the addictive behavior but at least they know how you feel and that you aren’t going to side step their behavior. Once the person who is in this addictive pattern knows that you know what they are doing; this will help them know there isn’t a need for them to lie to you anymore and then maybe a plan can be put in place to help them.

Remember with any addiction there is a lot of guilt and shame and there is no need to increase the guilt for them or for you. Addiction can be overcome with some work on the obsessive thoughts, the compulsive behavior, support from their friends and family, and a willingness by the addict to get off of the roller coaster that is on fire. Family and friends should never get on the ride with them. Expressing how you feel, and not walking on egg shells around them will help keep you off of their ride.

Kelly Bawden has counseled in the addiction field for over 15 years. She has helped both the addicted and the family find recovery. For more information please contact Kelly at