The concept of addiction covers a complex variety of issues which include physical, mental and emotional dependence and/or preoccupation with any substance, activity or behavior. There are theories, or more accurately, hypotheses which claim that certain persons are more prone to become addicted. Many call this an “addictive personality.” It may be true that some people can be casual users while others have a tendency toward excessive use. Behaviors such as alcohol consumption, recreational drug use, gambling, shopping and sex (including masturbation, sex with others and viewing pornography) could be attributed to factors other than personality typologies. For the purposes of this discussion, and because we specialize in matters pertaining to sex and sexuality, I will focus on the parenthetical. As a side note, alcoholism may be a genetically predisposed condition and is commonly considered a disease by the medical and psychological communities. Drug addiction, particularly when there is no medical necessity (recreational use) has been termed a disease as well. Further research into all the above is certainly warranted.
The factors I referred to in the preceding paragraph are quite possibly related to compulsivity, depression/anxiety, PTSD, impressionability or conformity. It is imperative that we look at dependence after regular or long-term use which creates withdrawal symptoms when certain substances are suddenly removed or discontinued. Many of these substances include alcohol, benzo diazapines, sedatives and other Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants. To categorize dependence the same as addiction is, in my view, irresponsible. However, I will agree that sudden withdrawal, aside from being physically dangerous, elicits an emotional response to being deprived of something which brings relief of pain and a sense of well-being. The main difference, I propose, is that over time, the dependence abates and the compulsion to relapse is minimal or nonexistent, barring any significant changes in the individual’s health status.
Many compulsive and repetitive behaviors create habituation and is deemed a rewiring of the brain which can usually be overcome through concentrated effort and therapeutic treatment. The belief is that the unwanted behavior isn’t erased per se, but is overwritten, similar to computers, by replacing unwanted or undesirable behaviors with new and more constructive ones. I have suggested strategies to patients whom I have been treating for their distressing behaviors which are found to be immensely helpful. This habituation is not at all the same as an annoying, yet not unhealthy behavior which has been historically termed a “bad habit.” Unconsciously whistling, tapping one’s fingers on the table (when not part of a ritualistic behavior closely associated with OCD), biting fingernails or rubbing one’s hands together are some examples of annoying habits. Well, annoying to some folks frequently subjected to them. And in turn, annoying to the person frequently reminded of how annoying their habits can be. This is not my realm of intervention. Preventing or attenuating truly negative consequences to the habituated individual is where my expertise and experience is sought and implemented.
For the benefit of anyone seeking help for their habitual and undesirable behavior, I will not argue semantics. If anyone considers themselves addicted to sex, masturbation or porn, I will not respond with a diatribe on addiction versus habituation. That would be of no help to anyone. It is not in anyone’s best interest for me to be so pedantic as to start off with a lesson on terminology. I am here to help, not criticize. I can help. I have a very good success rate. Rather, my patients have a good success rate! Furthermore, through intervention and successful treatment, devastating consequences can be avoided or minimized. In the very near future, I will post a follow-up discussion of just how the progression of these behaviors can, and most likely will, become overwhelmingly destructive. Can’t wait for it? Contact me with your concerns and I will gladly provide you with a verbal preview of my upcoming sequel.