As a therapist who works with addictions, I am often asked, "Aren't there good addictions?" Great question! On the surface it seems to have a ring of truth to it. The thought behind a good addiction is that behaviors such as exercise, eating healthy, working, recreating, playing sports etc. are good, add value to life and are therefore beneficial.
In the addictions field, experts identify a true addiction by the following basic components:
1. A pattern of repetition.
An addiction, is a pattern of behavior that is repeated at various intervals. Example, an alcoholic may drink daily, just on weekends, only on days off or every few months but the behavior is still repetitive. This pattern by itself of course does not constitute and addiction.
2. Progressive degeneration.
An addiction will intensify over time. There is a tolerance effect associated with an addiction. A person will require more of the activity or substance to achieve the same effect. The food addict will need to increase intake of carbs, sugar, etc. A pot smoker will need to smoke more to relax or relieve their anxiety. Some folks believe behaviors that don't involve a substance (i.e. sex or exercise) can't form a tolerance because you are not taking a substance into your body. On the contrary, both sex and exercise create a flood of neurochemicals to the brain that are highly potent and do in fact over time create a tolerance. The implications again are the same, more is needed to achieve the same result.
3. Progressive unmanageability.
Have you ever promised yourself that you are, never going to do "it" again and found yourself unable to keep that promise? "I'm never going to drink that much again", "I am done eating ice cream!" "I am not going to work that many hours anymore." In spite of your best effort, you find yourself down the same road time and time again. The eventual outcome? Feelings of despair, shame and powerlessness.
To some degree, most of us use substances or behavior to alter our mood from time to time. When my children were younger (and sometimes now) I would find them standing in front of the pantry staring. I'd ask," Is it possible you are confusing your feelings of boredom for hunger?" Mood elevating behaviors may include shopping, eating, working, gambling, exercise and sex. When medicating emotions becomes the main go to for someone, it robs them of the growth and development that happens when a person works through difficult emotions in a healthy way.
Is my dedication to work, the hours spent and the energy invested causing me to neglect my spouse and or kids?
Does my life revolve around my hobby to the degree that I am often putting my needs/wants above those most important to me?
Do I spend large amounts of time fantasizing about .................to the degree that I am less productive at home or work?
Are my food choices causing my health to suffer?
Is my level of present exercise damaging my body but I am unable to cut back or stop?
Is my emotional well being tied to my team winning?
In the end, addictions can create devastation; emotionally, relationally, spiritually, mentally and physically. If you or anyone you know has ever struggled with an addiction you know this to be true. Conflict, divorce, legal consequences, physical ailments, ruined vocations, the list goes on.
Often, when people speak of "Good Addictions" they are referring to positive outlets in their life. These outlets may serve to enrich relationships, improve physical well being as well as provide positive focus and drive toward a productive goal if enjoyed in proper balance. Keep a healthy awareness that it is possible to have too much of a good thing!
If you or someone you love is dealing with an addiction, there is hope. There are many resources in the community that offer assistance. The first step to getting help is to acknowledge there is a problem.