Many people use the word “addicted” hyperbolically, usually to indicate how much they love something. As in, “I’m addicted to this new lotion,” as they slather it on their skin. That is probably not actually addiction, just something pleasurable. But what, then, is addiction?

The short answer is something that can be pleasurable initially, but when you continue the activity, it interferes with your life in some way—your relationships are jeopardized, your health is threatened, your responsibilities are shirked. That can happen when you ingest a drug or alcohol (which is a drug, too) or when you behave compulsively. For example, your gambling or shopping or sexual behavior is out of control.

Most people engage in addictive behavior as a response to stress.

But in the end, addictive behavior can cause even more stress in your life. Here are signs to look for:

  1. You can’t stop. Maybe you talk yourself into thinking you can stop. Maybe you even do stop for a day or two. Or twenty. But you go back to nicotine, alcohol or drugs because you want to. Because one little puff couldn’t hurt anything. One drink will calm your nerves. And then, before you know it, the drug is ruling you.
  2. You curtail your activities. If you’re invited to an event, say, a conference, where you know there will be no alcohol, do you pass it up? Do you avoid meeting friends in a smoke-free restaurant because you don’t want to slink outside to have a cigarette? Do you change your life to accommodate your addiction?
  3. You make sure you have plenty. Even when the budget is tight, you make sure you have ample half-gallon bottles of gin in the cupboard. Or cartons of cigarettes. Or whatever your drug of choice. And if you don’t have the funds, you may do desperate things to get them.
  4. You take dangerous risks. You might even steal to get drugs. Or trade sex for drugs. Or get in a car when you can’t drive safely. Your normal good judgment is impaired and you say or do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do when sober.
  5. You continue even though you’re aware of health problems. You suffer from bronchitis and still you light up that cigarette. Or you have blackouts when you can’t remember chunks of time and still you drink to excess. Many addicts are masters of denial and refuse to acknowledge their problem even though their health suffers.
  6. Your relationships suffer. Alcohol and drugs can alter your moods—make you happy or turn you into a snarling beast. And since you’re high you might not even notice. But your significant other does. Or your children do. And they don’t like the altered you. Addiction can affect your relationships to the point of serious damage.

Next week we’ll talk more about addiction and how to cope.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: