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Defining Characteristics of Addictive Behaviors

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Understanding Addictive Behavior

The addictive quest for pleasure has some defining characteristics.

Many addictions aim to increase arousal. This is the all-powerful feeling that might come from cocaine, amphetamines, the first few drinks of alcohol, shoplifting, sexual acting out or gambling. This omnipotent feeling, however, is eventually undermined when the addict realizes that a dependency has been formed. A feeling of fear replaces the feeling of being all powerful – fear of losing the source of addiction and fear that others will find out how powerless the person actually is. Negative experiences always accompany the positive feelings the addict is seeking.

Other addictions aim to increase satiation. This is the feeling of happiness and fulfillment that might be achieved through the use of heroin, marijuana, tranquilizers, pain medication, watching TV, or overeating. The feeling of satiation serves to camouflage a person’s underlying pain. Again, however, negative feelings always show themselves. The person who strives for satiation not only re-experiences the underlying pain when the feeling of satiation wears off, but also experiences the grief accompanied by the loss of the satiation high. Satiation addicts must increase the dosage of the drug or the frequency of the addictive acting out behavior to cover up their original pain. The quest for a satiation high takes over the person’s life until, ultimately, the pain returns in the form of despair.

Note that satiation reflects our quest for pleasure while arousal exemplifies our quest for power. Pleasure and power are two of our most primitive behaviors and are experienced by children in the earliest years of life when the range of experiences is focused largely on forming one’s sense of self. Adulthood brings us beyond these simple levels of experience into a more complex, diverse and meaningful way of relating to the world. When we move past pleasure and power, we are able to form intimate relationships with other adults, to contribute to society, to understand our responsibilities to others, and to incorporate moral convictions into our actions. Addictive behavior prevents us from achieving these more complex levels of behavior found in adulthood.

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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