Understanding the Roots of Addiction

A glass of wine at night becomes two, then three. Playing games on Facebook begins to take precedence over playing with your children. You find yourself taking the leftover pills from an old injury not because you’re in pain, but because you like the feeling they give you.

And yet you maintain a normal life. You haven’t lost your job, been in jail or gone to rehab. There’s no way you could be an addict, right?

Wrong, say addiction specialists. And until you can admit that you’ve crossed the line from enjoyment to abuse, you can’t help yourself.

Combating denial

An estimated 23 million people need treatment every year for addiction disorders, but only 2.4 million actually get it, according to Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap, a national initiative of the Open Society Institute. The reasons for that disparity are complex, but denial is a common roadblock.

People think of addiction as a loss of control or function. One of the reasons it’s challenging to get a person into recovery from an addictive disorder is they often believe they are in control, even as their ‘normal’ life begins to suffer.

Getting help

When a person has become addicted to a substance or a behavior, they won’t just spontaneously get better. They may be able to stop, but their thought processes will stay the same. That’s why attempts to quit an addiction without assistance are often unsuccessful.

The addict will have a cognitive distortion and may not realize the extent of their problem or addiction. Abstinence alone is not going to cause the cognitive reorganization necessary to recover and learn how to get past that preoccupation.

It’s important to seek a professional assessment to determine the best treatment approach, perhaps beginning with a family care provider who can recommend local resources. Inpatient treatment isn’t always necessary, but the first priority is safe detoxification, followed by recovery and learning how to live without the addiction over the long term. 

Successful healing

Most people can learn to overcome their addictions and go on to live productive lives. The extreme cases that seem to get the most attention–celebrities who continually struggle and fail spectacularly—aren’t the norm, so don’t let their examples deter you or a loved one from seeking treatment because you’re afraid of failing.

Fear and denial can be roadblocks to admitting you have a problem, but no one ever regrets seeking help to overcome their addiction and get their lives back.

4 common signs of addiction

  1. Continued use/behavior despite negative consequences, such as continuing to drink in spite of a DUI, gambling or shopping in the face of financial crises, arguing repeatedly with a loved one over an addictive substance or behavior.
  2. Preoccupation, or constantly thinking about the behavior or substance, planning the day around consuming or indulging in the substance or behavior.
  3. Tolerance for the substance or behavior, with more and more required to produce the desired effect.
  4. Repeated, unsuccessful attempts to quit, which means it’s time to seek professional help.