What Does It Mean to Be Addicted?

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on June 27th, 2018 - Last updated: June 21st, 2023
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Could I be addicted? I can’t be an alcoholic? I wouldn’t say I’m addicted?  I’m not THAT bad. My doctor prescribed these. I only bet on sports. Everyone watches porn.

Do any of those statements feel familiar? It seems like our worst nightmare come true would be to have to realize, acknowledge and face the idea that we could be addicted to something. We’ve made progress in society, but there’s still huge fear and stigma attached to addiction, as we can see by our own reaction to even the thought.

When talking about addiction, it is easy to get caught up in semantics. We tend to get very invested in whether or not we should “technically” be classified as addicted, but it’s not a simple and clean, either/or proposition, usually. Our images of addiction tend towards the skid-row bum or junkie with a needle in his arm in an alley. They’re caricatures, at the furthest removes of a spectrum.

It’s even trickier when we’re talking about behavioral issues like watching pornography, issues with eating, gaming, sex, shopping, and the list could be endless. There can be even more a sense of shame and secrecy because these issues are not even recognized, let alone understood in the context of normal living or addictive issues.

We want to be careful not to normalize and excuse addiction, as we often do; trivialize it, “everyone’s addicted to something”; or use it to rationalize unacceptable behavior.


Little Background

Definitions and views have changed significantly in the last 10 years, though there are still many points of disagreement on the most basic aspects. There is still not full agreement on its definition, what would fall into the categories of addiction, whether or not it is a disease, whether real permanent recovery is possible, and how best to characterize addiction — by substance or behavior, stage, philosophy, religious or spiritual fitness, specific therapies.

The DSM-5, the authoritative source of mental illness categorization for psychiatrists and psychologists currently only includes gambling as a behavioral addiction; while it’s a good definition to which Dr. Peele contributed, it’s quite specific considering the vast range of human behavior. For alcohol, there is a similar approach, with a number of criteria plus severity for alcohol use disorder. WHO, the World Health Organization has its own versions.


Getting Help

In terms of treatment, 12-step has dominated for decades, by default. They were the only game in town, and they offered hope to untold numbers. There has been recent, broad recognition that a variety of options are needed, beyond that, and the application of psychology and science has made huge strides in the last decade as evidenced in the language of treatment, if not yet its practice. Group peer support options such as SMART Recovery have emerged as strong options that have been shown to be as effective as AA meetings.

Treatment is often a goal, but treatment centers vary wildly in their promises and their claimed results, beds are in short supply, and they are extremely expensive.

The approach at the Life Process Program is rooted in the tools of psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is to help people look at whether their behavior supports what they really care about in life. If addictive behavior is causing distress and damage in your life, then it’s a good idea to learn how to better limit or eliminate it. LPP helps people build practical behavioral and cognitive skills and encourages success in the real world. The goal is to help you shape your life according to what better serves those things you value, both short and long-term. That’s a highly individual thing. We have room for that. We’ll meet you, literally, where you are, in your own living room. See if one of our programs might be a good fit for you.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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