Symptom: The Behavior Increases Over Time
A person begins addiction by using a substance or activity to escape dealing with the difficulties of life. The escape fails because escape never works - and it always worsens life's problems. Then - and this is the big mistake - the person decides to flee further into addiction rather than face the problem.
This cycle of escape-failure-more escape is what causes addictive behavior to increase over time.
It has nothing to do with a chemical imbalance or the environment. The person chooses to escalate escape even though escape attempts always fail.
However, after a while, most addicted people reach an abusive level of addictive behavior and don't increase it; they maintain it.
How To Get Through To An Addicted Person
Some addicted people try to deny their addiction the way Bill, a middle-aged client of mine, did. He argued: "I haven't increased my behavior in 10 years, so I'm not addicted."
If you are trying to get through to someone like Bill, ask this question: "Did your behavior escalate in the first few years?"
Virtually any addicted person will answer "Yes."
Once the person admits that their behavior escalated, don't take it any further. Instead, move on to the other symptoms, because many healthy behaviors escalate over time also.
Some addictive behaviors decrease naturally over time. An addicted masturbator, like Bill was, will not masturbate as frequently at the age of 35 as he did when he was 19. Most overeaters decrease their eating as they get older, but they still use food addictively. In the final stages, many alcoholics drink less but still drink abusively.
Increasing behavior over time is a symptom. It's not final proof. It's a strong indicator if combined with other factors.
Symptom: The Behavior Is Self-Destructive
Addiction relies on the misuse of a substance or an activity. Consistent misuse of a substance or an activity leads to harmful consequences.
How To Get Through To An Addicted Person
Soft-spoken, easy-going Tommy claimed, "I'm not hurting anyone; I'm just having harmless fun."
I used the data on the list below to get through to him. If you're trying to get through to an addicted person in denial, go over these points with him or her carefully. Don't use them to attack. Approach the list as an opportunity to explore and discover the facts.
The activity takes up too much time and/or costs too much money.
Most addicted people don't realize how much time and money they put into their addiction. Others know and wish they could stop wasting their time and money on it.
For the addicted person:
If you don't know how much time and money you put into your addiction, now's a good time to start thinking about it.
For the partner:
If you're trying to get through to an addicted person, ask him to write down everything he spends on the behavior and to keep track of the time he puts into it. These factors alone can become the wake-up call that gets your partner to admit his addiction.
It affects a person's physical health.
Addictions are usually done until the point of exhaustion. Most addictive people don't realize the terrible stress addictive behavior puts on the body until they stop.
For the addicted person:
The next time you feel exhausted, think about the last time you acted addictively. Did it contribute to the exhaustion? Was it the main cause?
For the partner:
Many addicted people in denial will argue that their addiction decreases stress and gives them energy. This can be a very difficult defense to break through. However, addicted people are exhausted at the end of an addictive binge. Ask your partner, "How do you feel at the end of a binge?" That might be all you need.
If he denies that he binges, that presents a more difficult problem. Instead of trying to get him to admit a binge, ask him, "Do you mean to say that you cannot increase your energy level and deal with stress in a more natural way? Wouldn't you rather be able to feel better relying on yourself without any artificial stimulants, or overeating, or compulsive sex?" That can help him or her realize their dependency.
If you can get him to at least admit he has a dependency, the door is open to discuss more symptoms, which might break through his defenses completely.
Addictions have a terrible effect on relationships.
Some defensive addicted people will say, "If you weren't so intolerant, we wouldn't have any problems." In other words, he blames the problem on you.
Your options are:
Learn to live with your partner's addictive behavior, or
Suffer through life with an addicted partner who does not want to work on his problem, or
Give him the ultimate choice: "It's either me or the addiction."
Symptom: The Behavior Causes Harm To Others
Some of these case histories may sound familiar:
Bob broke promises to friends, family, and co-workers because of his sexually addictive binges.
Marty's children were accidentally exposed to his hardcore pornography.
Luke's family was living from hand to mouth while he spent money on prostitutes.
Instead of the loving, intimate marriage Doreen expected, she struggled with the burden of Henry's deceptions and betrayals.
Sylvia endured years of emotional neglect because Phil spent more time with porn than he did with her.
Sally went without sex for five years and didn't realize that the cause was her husband's sex addiction. She thought there was something wrong with her. Her story is not that unusual.
Another far too common tragedy: Linda caught a sexually transmitted disease from her unfaithful husband.
Going out in public with her husband was hell for Phyllis because he stared at other women as if he were undressing them with his eyes.
Floyd harassed people he was interested in sexually.
In rare cases, the person might choose to become a sexual predator by molesting children as William did, or become a stalker like Dennis, or a voyeur like Sam. But these cases are rare.
Most addicted people, if they're honest and care about their relationship, will admit the harm they've caused others.
If you're dealing with an addicted person who will not admit the harm he's caused others, do not settle for anything less than a full admission and genuine remorse.
In order to get an admission from a defensive addict, prepare for a difficult, nasty battle. Get all your data together before you confront him. Go over every possible evasion your partner might come up with. I'm sure you know most of them by now.
Figure out how you're going to respond. If you can't come up with a suitable response, then tell him, "OK, these are the facts. I'm not going to argue with you about them. Take it or leave it."
With some highly evasive people, your only option is to give them a take it or leave it proposition.
We're only talking about the highly evasive few. The way to get through to them is to have all your facts together and fight hard.
It might take the most draining confrontation you've ever gone through, but if he's at all honest and caring, you have a good chance of getting his admission and remorse.
After you've given it everything you have, if he still denies his addiction, then it's time to tell him: "It's either me or the addiction you say you don't have."
If your partner admits the harm he's caused, then show him support. But not until then.
Symptom: The Behavior Is Used To Alter Moods
When people take drugs to feel good or use alcohol to stop feeling bad, they're trying to alter an uncomfortable mood rather than face it. Other people use prescription medication, sex, and/or eating for the same escapist purpose.
Again, most addicted people will admit that they use the behavior to alter their mood. But some will also say, "What's wrong with that?" The question could have two interpretations because the person might mean:
Is it immoral to alter your moods? and/or
Will it hurt me to alter my moods?
An effective way to reply to "What's wrong with that?" is, "It's not immoral or evil. It just isn't good for you. Eventually, it will hurt you. You're always better off facing your feelings rather than running from them."
There are some addicted people who will not admit that they use the behavior to alter moods. Here's a question to ask them:
"If you're not addicted, then why do you (drink, overeat, use sex, etc.) when you feel stress, loneliness, guilt, fear, failure, rejection or other uncomfortable feelings?"
If they deny it, then point out the times that you have seen them use addictive behavior to escape dealing with real life.
Symptom: The Inability To Be Satisfied By The Behavior
Addiction begins with a decision to avoid facing an uncomfortable feeling. Since escape always fails, the uncomfortable feeling is not relieved.
But addiction also causes an anxiety of its own because life's problems get worse when they are not dealt with.
As the anxiety caused by addiction increases, it overwhelms any feeling of satisfaction the addicted person may have gotten from the behavior. In a nutshell, addicted people are never satisfied, because nature designed evasion of reality to always be unsatisfying.
In the final stages of addiction, most addicted people know they are not deriving genuine satisfaction from their behavior. But there are some who will say, "The behavior is my greatest thrill."
Here are a few effective replies:
"If addictive behavior is your greatest thrill, you don't have much of a life. Wouldn't you like to get more pleasure out of life than just a quick, empty high?"
"Are you saying that being with your addiction is more satisfying than being with someone you love?"
"If you think fantasy is superior to reality, then why do you feel so bad when the fantasy ends? Don't lie to me. I know you feel empty and miserable when the fantasy ends."
"If your addiction is so great, why are you ruining your entire life for it? Things that are good for you make your life better. Sure, the addiction gives you a quick, shallow thrill. And what good is that compared to the joys of finding real pleasure with real people?"
"The high you get from addiction is temporary and fleeting. The highs of real life are always with you."
Symptom: The Person Tries To Stop
Depression, guilt, anxiety, fear, shame, apathy and frustration accompany addiction because they are nature's way of telling the addicted person, "Face your problems or continue to feel miserable until you do." In the final stage of addiction, the stage when it's clear that the addiction was an awful mistake, many addicted people spend the better part of their lives:
The Twelve Step Program and conventional, licensed therapy say, "If you can't stop, it means you're addicted." I disagree.
It means you probably didn't use a correct approach.
The indication of addiction is the *attempt* to stop, not the failure to stop.
My clients like Carlos prove it. He had never attempted to stop.
I carefully prepared him to deal with the issues we're discussing, and many more. He succeeded on his first try. Carlos and many of my other clients prove that failure to stop does not indicate addiction because they never had a failed attempt to stop.
Most of my clients were more like Doug. He had made many, many attempts to stop before contacting me. Even in those cases, we usually achieved success on the first attempt.
Failure to stop does not indicate addiction. Failure indicates your approach is flawed. If you approach it correctly, your chances of success on your first try are excellent.
When you approach your partner about his past attempts to stop, don't tell him, "You can't stop, so that means you're an addict." It does your partner a disservice.
Instead tell him, "I respect your attempts to stop. It means you really care and you want to make your life better. I just think you need a better approach. And I think when you find it, there's a good chance you'll succeed."
Now we're ready to move on and talk about the unique aspects of sex addiction.