Addiction 101: Analogy of the Driver’s Seat

Addiction Therapy | Cluff Counseling, Dallas Fort WorthWhat do you think of when you hear the word “addict”? Often when I ask this question, I hear responses like weak, lazy, broken, drunk, homeless, selfish, loser.   In my years of treating clients with varying addictions, I have realized that those struggling with addiction are largely misunderstood. I have learned words like resourceful, shame-based, creative, hard-working, tender-hearted, fearful, and powerless are more appropriate adjectives. Through my blog posts, I hope to remedy some of the misunderstandings around addicts and addiction. If you have questions about addiction or about a loved one dealing with addiction, contact me–I would love to help you find some answers.

Addicts are good, ordinary people, like you and me, who have relied on certain behaviors to escape dealing with painful situations or relationships. Truth: we all have appetites that need to be fed–ranging from the food we eat, the entertainment we view, to the sexual needs we have. There is nothing inherently wrong with engaging in a pleasurable activity! Watching Netflix, drinking alcohol, perusing social media accounts, working out, planning your food intake, having sex, shopping, or playing video games in moderation can be used as healthy outlets. But when any of these activities go from something enjoyable we choose, to something we need to escape reality…addiction can occur. In this post, I will focus on the basics of addiction–beginning with defining addiction.

Addiction defined
Simply stated, addiction is defined as having a dependence on, obsession with or being enslaved to something. According to The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is commonly characterized by impairment in behavioral control, the presence of cravings, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Although substance addiction is the most widely known form of addiction, behavioral addiction is another type of addiction that is formed through repetitive processes and habits. The International Journal of Preventive Medicine explains the difference between these two types of addiction:

“Contrary to the commonly held belief that holds addiction to be a particular kind of dependence on drugs and chemical substances such alcohol, nicotine and heroin, behavior science experts believe that any source which is capable of stimulating an individual, could become addictive. The change of behaviors such as gambling, drug abuse, computer gaming or chatting and internet browsing from habits into obligatory behavior, can be considered as the development of addiction.”

Imagine you are driving your parents car with your high school friends. One of your inexperienced, underaged, uninsured friends, begs you to let him take the wheel. You know there could be some serious negative consequences, but you don’t want to be a “party pooper”, so you give him the keys. After a little while of touch and go/figuring out the pedals, he goes nuts! He starts cutting off other cars, speeding excessively, weaving dangerously through traffic… Addictive behaviors are like the friend who took over the driver’s seat; not only can they start innocently, but they can quickly escalate and take full control of your life. Although the behavior was invited (by your initial consumption of the behavior), it is quickly unwelcome because you lose complete control of where, how fast, and how far you will go. Unless you take back control of the driver’s seat (through therapy, support groups, healthy coping skills), your addiction can negatively impact every aspect of your life.  Imagine if your friend crashed the car–your financial life would take a downward dip. If one of your other friends in the car got hurt, your social and relational life would suffer.  If you were penalized by the law, your future occupational goals could be severely hindered by having a record. If you got seriously injured in the accident, your physical, mental, and emotional life would forever be changed!

Where to go for help to overcome addiction
Addiction does not have to be a dead end–as portrayed in this analogy. It is possible to take back the drivers seat and avoid a host of negative consequences that can accompany addiction. Please refer to the resources at the end of this post, as well as the “Resources” section of my website.  While those resources can be incredibly informative and helpful, meeting with a highly trained and skilled addiction therapist can be invaluable to your recovery or to your healing process. If you are exhausted from struggling with an addiction, or with a loved one’s addiction, schedule your first session with me today. It’s time to take back the driver’s seat.

And be sure to stay tuned for future blog posts on relationships, mental health, and self care. I’ll be posting each Saturday!

YouTube, “The Opposite of Addiction”
Addictions and Recovery, “What is Addiction?”
American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Definition of Addiction”
International Journal of Preventive Medicine, “Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views”
Addiction Recovery Guide (12 Step Program)
Psychology Today, “Living a Healthy Life”

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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.