Do you know someone that you think may have an addiction problem? Have you told your spouse you think they are addicted? Has someone told you that you are addicted? I regularly have clients come to me for help with addiction problems. However, the individual with the addiction problems typically denies that there is an addiction. So how do you know? What does it really mean to be addicted?
What is an addiction?
Let’s explore the official word on addictions. There is a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is the official word in the world today on diagnostic criteria for every diagnosable mental disorder. This manual is used by nearly every mental health and addiction treatment professional in the world. Insurance companies require diagnoses as outlined in the DSM to be provided in order to provide reimbursement for services rendered. Addiction diagnoses are defined in the DSM. Common addictions I help people with in counseling include addictions such as drugs, alcohol, pornography, social media, food, spending money, hoarding, etc.
I typically consider something an addiction if the issue meets the following criteria as outlined in the DSM: (the wording came from substance dependence diagnostic criteria. If you are thinking of some other type of addiction, substitute the words)
(1) the substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
(2) there is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.
(3) the substance use causes clinically significant impairment or distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association)
If you, your family member, or friend meet these criteria, you, your family member, or friend probably have an addiction problem. If you did not answer yes to all three but may have to one or two, or if you still feel there is a problem but it does not quite fit these criteria, help should still be sought to deal with the problem.
What should I do if I have an addiction?
The best thing anyone can do with an addiction is to seek the help of a licensed professional with experience and training working with addictions. If there are also relationship problem side effects, I would suggest looking for a licensed marriage and family therapist with addiction experience. The key is finding someone that has the education and experience relevant to your particular issue.
I know that some feel there is a stigma associated with getting professional help. I can certainly relate. I am not very good at going to the doctor when I need to. I am lucky to have a caring wife who reminds me that I am always suggesting people get help when relationship or mental health issues are present, so I should get help when I am sick. Licensed professionals can provide objective, educated feedback and ideas that will help you in many ways you may not have considered.
Once you find the right counselor for your situation, attend a sufficient number of times for lasting change to happen. I regularly have clients that tell me they went to counseling before and it didn’t work, only to find out they went two or three times. Many problems like addictions take years to develop. Even the most educated, competent professionals can’t work magic. It may take a while. I typically encourage most to expect to attend for at least 3-6 months on a regular basis. If you are married, take your spouse with you. You can both get ideas on how to improve, heal, and make sure the addiction remains a thing of the past.
In addition to counseling, there are many things you can do on your own or with friends or family to work on overcoming the addiction. Focus on the positive and negative consequences of the addiction and the positive and negative consequences of quitting. Try making a detailed list together with your friends or family of the positive and negative consequences. This can help bring some objectivity and reality to the situation. What do you have to gain and lose if you stop or continue with the addiction? Is losing your family really worth continuing with the addiction?
Addictions are very serious, and they should be taken seriously. However, don’t despair if an addiction is present or it is brewing. I have seen individuals and couples rally and overcome a host of addiction issues. Addictions become prisons. Overcoming can be empowering, healing, and motivating for all involved. Rally together and work through it. It is possible, and certainly worth the effort.