“How do I know that I am an addict?”

Over the course of a week, I hear this question at least 15 times. It is a very valid question. In the recovery community, there is a saying, “if you have to ask, that may be an indication that there is a problem.” Or, “most people don’t ask if they are an addict.” Another way to look at this question is to compare your experiences with those of others who self-identify as addicts. In the program of Narcotics Anonymous there is an informational pamphlet which is written by addicts in the program that can help a potential addict answer this question.

In my experience, there are some introspective questions to create a dialogue within yourself to address the uncertainty.

1. Lack of control. Loss or lack of control is very difficult to detect when a person is actively in the concerning or compulsive behavior. Similar to the analogy of the frog who is placed in a pot of cool water and then the water is slowly heated. The frog does not jump out of the water because of the incremental acclamation to the heat. For the person who is possibly acting on compulsive behaviors, justification, rationalization, and denial assist with the acclamation to “heat” of the individual’s environment that may support “jumping” out of the hot water. Some of the HEAT is listed below.

2. Justification and rationalization. This behavior can be very difficult to spot. Typically, a close friend, a therapist, or other support is needed to expose the self-manipulation and self-denial. Rationalization is simply making seemingly plausible explanations for behavior. For example, one may justify inappropriate behavior or treatment of others by stating “if you were more __________, I would not yell, scream, hit, or cheat on you.”

3. Concerns from family and friends. Family and friends intervening is another indicator that the behavior has become evident by subtle or not so subtle changes in your personality, appearance, and engagement with those persons around you. Those that are closest to you are impacted the most by the behavior and the effects of the behavior.

4. Impacting job. Are you increasingly tardy to work? Are you missing more days of work? Has work become a burden to you acting out on compulsive behavior? Are you participating in the behavior at work? Have you been confronted about performance at work?

5. Impacting finances. Finances can be a good tangible gauge to determine the increased participation in a compulsive behavior IF it costs money. For some, the behavior does not cost anything. Monetary costs is one area. There is also emotional costs, time costs, and mental costs to be considered. Considering all of these costs is important.

6. The aftermath. The “hangover” of the next day is another consideration. If one finds themselves, regularly, saying “I am never going to do that again. I feel like crap.” This is something to consider. The guilt and remorse can be a deterrent or it can drive the compulsive behavior more.


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