Mikołaj Czyż
Psychotherapy and Seminars
11 4 2015

“Addictive tendencies” an article

Addictions can be classified according to various criteria. Nowadays more attention is paid to behavioral addictions, which involve rituals and behaviors, such as sex addiction, gambling, shopping addiction, eating disorders, etc. Previously, most attention was paid to addiction to substances: prescription drugs, illegal drugs and alcohol. The same phenomena can be observed at the root of these different processes – when you need something, and do not know how to achieve it consciously, you begin to do it automatically and destructively. For example, we know that smoking causes diseases. But if it is the only way that somebody knows how to feel safe, he or she will smoke and try to avoid thinking about the consequences.

UzależnieniaTwo perspectives on addiction

Addictions can be approached from two perspectives: a “causal” perspective (why did this person become an addict?) or an “intentional” perspective (what is he or she doing this for?)

When we treat addictions as illnesses, we take on a specific mindset. We often refer to biochemical imbalances in the brain, or other deficiencies that influence a particular addiction. This way of thinking focuses on the question “why did this person become an addict”, based on the conviction that finding and removing the cause means we can get rid of the difficulty. This dominant approach has its limitations, as it does not take into account the experiences that the substance or behavior provides for the person, and does not seek an answer to the question “what for” – what is the addiction for, what kind of experiences is the addict seeking, what state of mind does the addiction lead them to? And what experiences are they trying to avoid through their addiction?

Sometimes, awareness of what a person is taking a substance for (for example), changes the situation and helps them to decide to stop. Or, on an even wider level, it can help a person to go beyond the whole context of the addiction and to deal with other aspects of their life. (Addictions are attractive because, among other things, they take up our attention, fill up our lives, and other important questions fade into the background.)

What are addictive tendencies?

“Addictive tendencies” is a term (used in the process oriented psychology paradigm) which describes propensities which can be found before a full addiction develops. These tendencies are universal – they affect everybody. They vary from person to person, e.g. for one person it may be an ordered life which lacks ecstatic, bodily pleasure, which instead they dream about and so in this sense “have a propensity towards using cocaine” (which is supposed to deliver this pleasure), although they have not yet used it.
A common feature of addictions is the experience of intense emotions and limited awareness. We try not to think and don’t understand much of what is happening. Sometimes this happens to the extent that thinking and decision-making become impossible. In this context, paying attention to tendencies – before a full addiction develops – seems much more effective in dealing with the problem and fulfills a preventative purpose.

This questioning process can be difficult, surprising and interesting. Addictions and addictive tendencies hold information that can be one road towards getting to know oneself and one’s needs. It is much easier and safer to do this by examining tendencies than full-blown addictions.

The addictive tendencies category is very useful in reducing the “gulf” between healthy people and addicts. Of course, the criteria for determining addiction and diagnosis are stark: one is either an addict or one isn’t. However, experience shows that the road is more “winding”. Many people, at different points in their lives, find themselves closer or further away from an addiction.
Thinking in terms of addictive tendencies destigmatizes people who meet the criteria for classification as addicts, and those who want to focus on this field. Since these tendencies are universal and people can see them in themselves, they are less surprised to find them in others. The subject is no longer taboo, so it can be thought about, talked about, researched, paid attention to.

What kind of help, when?

  • If you recognize addiction in yourself, are worried about your health, life and situation, about those close to you, or others are telling you about these problems, and you want to stop first and foremost → addiction treatment.
  • If your tendency to do certain things concerns you, and you’re worried that you may be addicted in the future, or if you were at one time and you still see yourself as a former alcoholic, former shopaholic, former drug addict… and this is an important part of your identity, but you would like to go further → psychotherapy.

Read about a web app to facilitate reflection about using behaviors and substances.