Donald Trump and Addictive Behaviors

When the addiction cycle characterizes dysfunctional human behavior.

The Wall Street Journal has likened the President of the United States to an alcoholic, claiming that Trump clings to his lies “like a drunk to an empty gin bottle.” We tend today to avoid disparaging references to addiction, but in what sense is the addiction reference true?

I have laid out the criteria for addictive experiences—that they provide immediate gratification with little effort, but can have the unfortunate negative consequences, which drive the individual to repeat the addictive behavior.

Think of Trump tweeting, responding to some itch in his bonnet that he can only alleviate by striking out with a tweet: “…Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory…” When reactions are nearly uniformly negative, the President is doubly motivated to answer his accusers—an inability to “let go” that Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman strive to explain in The New York Times.

In addiction terms, Trump may resort to addictive behavior to alleviate his anxieties and insecurities, negative feelings that his behavior has re-upped, an emotional situation to which he is primed to respond with more of the same behavior.

Here are the criteria, a narrative for, addictive experiences:

1.  The activity/experience alleviates negative emotions for the individual, particularly those supporting his identity and self-image.

2.  The addictive activity operates in a rapid, predictable way so that the gratification is instant.

3.  The consequences of the action are negative, thus exacerbating the person’s negative feelings.

4.  The person responds again in the only “safe” (meaning reliable) way he knows how to perform.

5.  The addicted individual thus fails to develop alternative, more effective coping mechanisms to produce the emotional reassurance he seeks and requires.

At this final point, when the individual is wholly dependent on a behavior or involvement for his emotional stability, he can be called addicted.

This addiction cycle characterizes much dysfunctional human behavior, with regards to substances or otherwise, in what is now called “process addiction,” which Archie Brodsky and I laid out in Love and Addiction in 1975, and earlier (1974) in Psychology Today.

Meanwhile, I have been describing Trump’s behavior, expressed as bullying and bull using colloquial terms, for Psychology Today blogs for going on a decade now.

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