There are many types of addiction. They fall into three basic categories: addiction to substances, addiction to a process, such as work, gambling, or sex, and addiction to another person, including love, relationships, and romance. At their core, all addictions share codependency that originates in childhood. Shame, emotional abandonment, and emotional trauma are at the root.
There is no “addictive personality.” All sorts of personalities are addicts. Some are passive. Others are aggressive. Some are extroverted or successful, while others are introverts or lack direction. Addiction and codependency run in families and are trans-generational. In some instances, such as alcohol, there may be a genetic component. Research continues to explore how genes affect addiction; however, environmental factors, such as parenting also affect gene expression and brain chemistry and development.
Early shame and codependency leads to alienation from our true self, leaving an emptiness filled with anxiety, restlessness, and depression. To relieve this pain, our focus becomes external – the main symptom of codependency. Yet this solution only increases our self-alienation and feeds the addictive process, which becomes self-perpetuating, taking on a life of its own. We try to control our internal discomfort, but eventually lose self-control and exhibit recognizable signs of a psychological and behavioral syndrome. Addiction experts have applied the medical model of disease to addiction, including codependency. In fact, brain scans of addicts, including people with behavioral process addictions reveal defects in the brain’s pleasure center that processes dopamine. It’s not clear whether the dysfunction preceded the addiction or was the result of it.
Addiction can be cyclic, periodic, or sporadic. It has an etiology similar to that of a disease with an early, middle, and late stage, Recovery, which can begin anytime, also has early, middle, and late stages.
Impaired control is a primary symptom of codependency and addiction–attempts to control of self and/or others. It becomes confused with power. When we lack a real sense of personal empowerment, we try to control our addiction and/or manipulate and control others and their addiction. Our thinking becomes obsessive, and our actions become so compelling that they have a compulsive quality we can’t control, despite adverse consequences. The addiction usually starts as a means of self-soothing in the absence of healthy, loving relationships. Twelve Step Programs refer to it as “self-will run riot” and recommend in the “First Step” that members admit that they are powerless over the object of their addiction.
Until negative consequences pile up, we’re in denial of our addiction and loss of control. Denial is a major defense and obstacle to healing. It’s been called the “Hallmark of Addiction.” It is said that every alcoholic or drug addict affects the lives of at least five other people, many of whom share symptoms of denial. Well-meaning loved ones and co-workers who witness an addict’s suffering or who have succumbed to his or her manipulation, might try to help the addict by alleviating those negative consequences. By so doing, addict’s denial system is further perpetuated. This is called enabling, which delays recovery.
Addicts are dependent upon the object of their addiction. As the disease progresses, they spend more time and energy in connection with the addiction in order to function. This includes people addicted to another person or relationship as well. When addicts abstain, many develop cross-addictions. To witness cross-addiction first hand, you only have to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting to see how many people are smoking. Sober alcoholics start chain smoking, overeating, developing sex addictions, and so on. Some food addicts who’ve had bariatric surgery to lose weight eat less, but become alcoholics or shopaholics. Switching addictions and obsessing can also happen to members of Al-Anon Family Groups or Co-Dependents Anonymous. Their mental obsessions are a means of coping with anxiety and repressed feelings. They might develop an eating disorder or workaholism to cope with detachment from another person or withdrawal from a relationship
Neuroscience has demonstrated that when addicts stop practicing their primary addiction and adopt another addiction, it is at the same level of addiction. For example, when a compulsive gambler abstains from gambling, he or she’s at risk to start drinking as if the gambler were an alcoholic all those years. Aside from physical reasons, on the emotional level, he or she hasn’t done the emotional recovery work to heal his or her lost Self. This is where codependency comes in.
Codependent and addictive behavior and symptoms improve with recovery, but if you don’t take steps to change, they become worse in the late stage. Addiction doesn’t usually go away on it’s own. A person may stop certain behaviors, but the underlying codependency and personality and relational problems continue without outside help. Reaching out for help, learning about addiction, and increasing self-awareness are the first steps in recovery, followed by healing your past wounds and your relationship with yourself and others. These steps include building self-esteem, learning new skills, such as self-care, becoming assertive and setting boundaries.
To learn more, check out Codependency for Dummies (2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons Publishing) and Addiction & Recovery For Dummies by Brian F. Shaw, Paul Ritvo, and Jane Irvine (John Wiley & Sons Publishing).