Is My Definition of Addiction Useful?
That’s all that matters. Is my definition useful for you? It really might not be and I encourage you to honor your “truth”. I really don’t want you to take what I’ve just said as being “The” “Truth” about addiction. If this definition fits for you, great. If not, that’s great too. Personally, here’s why I’ve found it useful:
1) It helps us decide for ourselves. This definition applies to our experience, rather than a “medical” diagnosis. This isn’t to deny the usefulness of expert opinions. However, since doctors, scientists and authorities in the field don’t agree on an absolute truth, this definition encourages people to look at their own behaviors and experience, and decide for themselves.
2) It’s inclusive, and not dependent on our history. This definition applies equally to someone who believes they have a disease and someone who doesn’t. In fact, it applies to whatever someone might see as “the cause,” be it disease, genetics, environment, upbringing, social-economic conditions or something else. Again, each of those has validity. However, my focus is on what people can do in the present – instead of experiencing themselves as victims of the past (including their birth) or powerless to change because of what they observe going on around them.
3) It is neither pro nor con the 12 steps. Sometimes a person is feeling so much shame or has come to feel so powerless over their “habit,” that being told they have a disease and that it is not their fault, and that there’s a solution through a “higher power” is very helpful. Exactly how and why it works is open to interpretation. But the fact is, for many it does.
However, not everyone believes that addiction is a disease. Some can’t accept the 12-step’s “spiritual/religious” approach. And for others, the belief in powerlessness isn’t useful and can even be debilitating. Some people believe they DO still have control over their habit or addiction. And I think that all these perspectives need to be honored. That’s why I’ve tried to use definitions and solutions that can work for anyone, regardless of their belief system.
4) This definition doesn’t separate addictions from habits. Since we all engage in behaviors which have negative consequences, this definition simply applies to those things that you feel unable to stop. However, this doesn’t separate them from the rest of your behaviors. And that means you can work with ANY or all of your habits, (including those that we call compulsions and addictions) at the same time.
5) It helps to ‘normalize’ addictions and remove some of the stigma. As we come to see these ‘patterns of behavior’ in ourselves, it begins to make them more commonplace or acceptable. It helps take some of the shame and guilt out of them. And it also connects us with others instead of separating and dividing us. If everyone has them – i.e. if we’re all doing things that result in different degrees of harm, discomfort or destructiveness – then we don’t have to feel so bad and alone. (This is a core experience of people with socially stigmatized addictions, by the way.) Instead, we can begin to look at these behaviors as simply part of human nature.
From the book Addiction & Choice, by Scott Gallagher