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Components of Addictive Behaviors

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Understanding Addictive Behavior

Addictive behavior usually contains the following components:

Acting Out Behavior: Addicts create a mood through a change in their behavior that sets the stage to go into the addictive high. Thus, sex addicts will purchase pornographic material. Drug addicts will make the call to the drug dealer. These “acting out” behaviors are a preliminary part of the addictive process and serve to shift the addict’s mood. During the acting out stage, the addict feels the illusion of being powerful and in control.

The Illusion of Nurturance: Most of us seek ways to achieve nurturance in times of stress, but for the addict, the nurturing is temporary and does not allow the person to find ways to solve problems in a realistic way. Addiction is a lifestyle in which life’s problems are avoided in favor of the search for the next high. Although addicts may understand rationally that addictive behavior will not solve the problem, they develop their own logic to rationalize the continuation of the addiction.

The Addictive Object Becomes the Person’s Primary Relationship: Addicts seek to meet their emotional and intimacy needs through achieving a high until, eventually, this becomes their most important relationship. They experience a mood change and come to believe that their emotional needs have been met. This is the tragedy of addiction because the addict shuts out other people, the community and the search for spiritual answers – the real way to deal with life’s issues in a healthy manner. Other people are used, not for true relationship, but merely as props in pursuit of the addiction.

The Addict Withdraws from the World: The normal way to achieve intimacy is to reach out to other people. For the addict, where the primary relationship is with the addictive substance, the illusion of intimacy means pursuing the addictive high and excluding other people. The high gives the feeling of warmth, control, and well-being – and the feeling that the need for intimacy has been met. Unfortunately, the longer the addict engages in this process, the more lonely and isolated he or she becomes. When the pain of isolation becomes intense, the stage is set for the addict to engage in more acting out behavior. The pattern becomes entrenched, and escaping it is difficult.

Addicts Trust the High More than Other People: Addicts begin to trust the mood change that comes from engaging in addictive behavior. They feel isolated from other people and find that others might not always come through for them. The high, on the other hand, is consistent and always available. They trust the high more than they trust others. Unfortunately, because the addicts have not engaged in the normal interactions that occur between people, they lack the experience in working through the nuances of relationships in order to find ways of getting their needs met through others. This entrenches them in the belief that their addiction is their only friend. It works every time, while friends are not always there.

Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT
www.sandiegofamilytherapy.net

San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.

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