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  • Writer's pictureDavid S. Johnson Psy. D.

What does an addiction look like? What can you do to help someone with an addiction?

Updated: Feb 9, 2019


When we look at defining addiction there are some basic signs and symptoms that are often present. When someone is addicted to a substance or even a behavior a common sign is what is referred to as "loss of control". The addiction becomes what is defined as a primary drive which develops into a type of survival mechanism. The survival brain seeks the addictive behavior over the person's health, family, loved ones, work, children and other essential parts of living. The addiction can become like a full time job where using and getting more of the substance if the ongoing central focus of each and every day.

The addiction is also a progressive disease where the individual will often develop tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. The tolerance means that the person will need more and more of the substance or behavior to have the same effect and the withdrawal state is where the person needs the substance to be able to function without all of the negative effects. Withdrawal states are most often the opposite of what the addictive substance did for the user. The addiction also produces a number of ongoing negative life events which continue due to the inability to stop the addictive behaviors.

If you are seeing these types of signs, what does that mean for you, a friend, or a loved one that is struggling with an addiction. The addiction is often referred to as a family disease where the whole family is effected and becomes dysfunctional and sick through the addicted family system member. To make matters worse the addicted loved one will often steal, abuse and manipulate other family members to get what they need to continue using. Family members often develop depression, anxiety disorders and other unhealthy emotional states and behaviors such as co-dependency. Often times the loved one with an addiction would be unable to continue their addiction without the manipulation of the family members. What to do??

Ask for help. Often times family members are trying to control someone who has what is defined as "loss of control". The love and support of a healthy family is key to recovery and healing. This is often what you will see in a family intervention. You can also educate yourself through the national substance abuse associations. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Association for Addiction Professionals). Family members are often advised to go to family recovery meetings themselves to learn about family recovery and healing. (Al-Anon, Ala-teen, Family In Recovery etc.) An excellent family recovery model is called Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT MODEL). The best practices will teach to still love and care for the lost family member while the family becomes healthier and able to apply boundaries and recovery support. The main point here is to get started in the family healing and recovery process and get the help you need for your loved one.

David S. Johnson Psy. D. LMHC MCAP SAP

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