We’re All Addicted to Something

Addiction is seemingly ubiquitous, especially when we recognize that addiction goes well beyond drugs and alcohol. We often think of addictions the require substance abuse treatment, but other addictions are common as well. While obviously drugs and alcohol are things that have high addiction potential because of the physiological impact they have on the body and mind, there is so much more that we can be addicted to: sex, gambling, internet, shopping, love, work, relationships, food, reassurance seeking, companionship, exercise, social media, gaming, plastic surgery, etc. These behavioral addictions are also addictions.

In fact, here are some estimates of the past-year prevalence of various addictions based on a study I had the privilege of working on a few years back (Luczak, Khoddam, et al., 2017). Unfortunately, the data on behavioral addictions is limited, so it should be interpreted with caution.

This study broke down the overall and ethnic-specific prevalence of a variety of addictions. I’ll report some of the overall estimates below, but click here to read more about ethnic specific differences.

  • Alcohol: 13.9%
  • Nicotine: 12.8%
  • Cannabis: 2.9%
  • Illicit Substances: 3.9%
  • Gambling: 0.4%
  • Food (Binge Eating Disorder): 1-3%
  • Internet: 8.6% among Asians compared to 3.8% in non-Asians
  • Shopping: 5.8%

Why Highlight These Other Addictions?

It’s important because it helps us reduce our internalized stigma towards individuals with “addictions” who need substance abuse treatment. Mental health stigma is a significant barrier towards treatment seeking. This is particularly important to highlight, as individuals with substance use problems are viewed as more unfavorable than other mental health disorders (Crisp et al., 2005).

Research has shown that those with drug addiction are viewed as more dangerous and more blameworthy for their mental illness compared to those with schizophrenia, eating disorders, dementia, depression, or panic attacks (Crisp et al., 2005). One reason for this is likely due to the fat that individuals view substance abuse as a personal choice rather than as a disease (Link et al., 1997).

The truth is that addiction is a disease. It is a disease because it disrupts the usual functioning of the body and changes brain circuits responsible for rewards, stress, and self-control.

The Common Denominator

Once we start to see that there is no “them” and there is no “us”, we start to see that we’re all in the same boat. The process of someone going through recovery is no different than something that we all try to do every day. It’s simply behavior change.

We all have, at times, used something outside of ourselves to make something inside of ourselves feel different. This isn’t something to be ashamed of, but something to normalize. Yes, some addictions do cause greater harm and have greater impact on our lives; however, the process is the same no matter what you call your “drug.”

The more we can get in contact with our own addictions, areas of our lives we may indulge in too much, we can have greater empathy for those who choose to use drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse treatment can help in these cases, but it begins with empathy.

What Now?

Well if you are someone who has an addiction, whatever that addiction may be, know that you are not alone. More importantly, know that there is a safe space for you to reach out for help.

If you are someone who knows someone who has an addiction, connect with your set of “addictions” as loosely defined as you can imagine. What are the things you have done to change your internal feelings? Have you ever gone overboard, even just once? Use that experience to connect with your own empathy for the person who you are hoping to change and/or help. Empathy goes a lot further than condemnation.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Contact COPE Psychological Center to see how one of our clinicians can help you or a loved one connect with the right provider. Call us at 310-453-8788 to learn more about substance abuse treatment, or schedule a free consultation.

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