We hear about these things all the time anymore; food addictions, gambling addictions, marijuana addictions, sex addictions, relationship addictions, etc. etc. We have more addictions than Carter has pills and every week it seems like a new one is added to the list. The problem with that is that the above mentioned behaviors AREN"T addictions.
The Medical Dictionary defines addiction as a compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.
Notice the term physiological is mentioned twice in the definition and psychological not at all. That's because addiction is a physical process. Consequently, anything we can become addicted to must have the physical properties required for that addiction to happen. Once we become addicted, we will suffer physical withdrawal if we are deprived of that physical substance.
Physical withdrawal doesn't happen with the behaviors named at the beginning of this column. That's because none of those things contain the physical properties necessary for addiction.
But why get caught up in the details of a definition when there's money to be made? We've seen an explosion of for profit rehab clinics all over the country in the past couple of decades, all designed to treat "addictions" and all designed to make money. When I was the Executive Director of Shelter of Sunshine in Arkansas, a facility designed for abused and neglected children, these rehab centers would accept our children if they had special needs until their Medicare funding ran out, then they would literally kick them out the door.
The courts have even gotten caught up in this foolishness, often sending prisoners arrested for alcohol or drug abuse to a rehab center as part of a treatment program. The problem with rehab centers is that they attempt to induce change in a person from the outside which can't be done. The person must want to change and even then it's hard. If he/she doesn't want to change, it's impossible.
It reminds me of a joke that asks how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is it only takes one but the light bulb really has to want to change.
These behaviors some people call addictions because it's profitable to do so are really something quite different. They are psychological dependencies. All of us enjoy doing things that make us feel good. Fishing, hunting, golfing, going to concerts, attending ball games, rooting for the Huskers, etc, are some examples of that. Some people also get their enjoyment through eating, gambling, having sex, smoking pot or other things that aren't anymore physically addictive than putting on your red during Husker football Saturdays.
It IS possible to become so involved in some of these activities that we neglect other parts of our lives to the point that the behavior becomes dysfunctional. If we become hooked on Internet porn to the point that we neglect our spouse, then that's a bad thing. If the first thing we do when we get up in the morning is smoke a joint and then we continue to smoke the rest of the day without going to school or work, that's a bad thing. If we eat to the point of obesity, that's a bad thing.
But these examples AREN'T addictions because none of those substances have addictive qualities and none of these people experience physical withdrawal if they are deprived of them. An overweight person isn't going to see little green monsters and have physical convulsions if they don't eat three pieces of apple pie at two o'clock in the morning. It's simply a lack of self control. They give into their desires instead of denying them.
It's impossible for us to communicate effectively with each other if we don't have a shared understanding of our language. It's called the linguistic-relativity hypothesis. That simply means we can only understand the world based on the vocabulary and meaning our language supplies. So when we change the meaning of words to suit our own ends, it also changes the meanings of those words to millions of other people who don't know any better and it allows the name changers to create multi-million dollar industries based on that misconception.
And that's just wrong.