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Addictions: When It's Hard to Stop

Exponent article by Dr. Brian Kassar
Counseling & Psychological Services

Shopping. Internet. Eating. Drinking. Pornography. Smoking. We all have our vices, but when too much is still not enough, you may be facing an addiction. We traditionally envision drugs and alcohol when thinking of "addiction." If we broaden our definition to include substances or behaviors that help soothe us or pass the time, things like computer use, sex, overeating, and gambling, can all be incorporated into the theory of "addiction."

So when do normal behaviors and activities cross the line and signal a problem with abuse? When substance use or other behaviors cause: failures to meet responsibilities (work, school, social); danger to self/others (drunk driving, risky sex); or legal problems. Also, if your use or behavior continues despite persistent problems, this is a good sign that your behavior has crossed the line and is unhealthy. For example, if someone can't stop shopping despite having problems with debt and finances, their shopping behavior has become unhealthy.

Loss of control over the behavior, a need to increase the behavior to achieve the same effect (tolerance), and a need to engage in the behavior to avoid unpleasant feelings (withdrawal) are also characteristics of addiction. Traditionally, tolerance and withdrawal apply to substance use, but these can also be noticed in other behaviors, such as gambling. A person with a gambling addiction may start by only gambling on the weekends, but as their need to gamble progresses, they begin to gamble daily and increase the stakes. If they don't gamble, they may feel intensely irritable or anxious, much like an alcoholic who craves a drink.

There are many hypotheses for what causes addiction. There is much research that points to biological and genetic factors that contribute to substance abuse and dependence. Other theories explore underlying issues such as depression, anxiety, or trauma that contribute to an individual's engaging in behaviors that self-soothe or self-medicate uncomfortable feelings. Social learning theory stipulates that we do what we see others do, which may account for behaviors like binge drinking. Whatever the reasons, addictions can have devastating effects on physical health, emotional well-being, interpersonal relationships and role responsibilities.

MSU has resources to help those who may be struggling with addictive behaviors. Student Health, Counseling and Psychological Services, and the Insight Office are available to provide assessments and counseling around these issues. Alcohol and Drug Services of Gallatin County is also a resource in the community, as are several 12-Step meetings, such as Gamblers, Narcotics, Overeaters or Alcoholics Anonymous.


View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 12/17/08
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