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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Monday, July 28, 2014

Six traits you may have in common with the addict

By David Sack, M.D.

In this age of political correctness, even the most tolerant among us looks at criminals, homeless people, addicts and other “outsiders” with an air of consternation. It’s “them” versus “us,” and somehow it feels safer that way. But if you take a closer look behind the stigma, you may be surprised to find that you have more in common with a drug addict than you think. 
Do any of these traits sound familiar to you?
#1 Impulsivity “I want it and I want it now.”
Addicts aren’t alone in their insatiable desire for immediate gratification or their appetite for risk-taking. Most people have felt that twinge of “gotta have it” thinking that is reminiscent of adolescence. Have you ever racked up a credit card balance you knew you couldn’t pay? Taken a pill to feel better when your problem could’ve been addressed in other ways? Or turned to get-rich-quick schemes or plastic surgery to reach your goals faster? Even something as innocuous as a daily coffee habit, a penchant for cupcakes or an obsession with work can help you instantly relate to the plight of the addict. Just about everyone has a hole to fill or a pain to soothe, but not everyone has the internal resources to manage those impulses without settling for the quick fix.

#2 Perfectionism 

“Failure is not an option – and anything less than perfection is failure.”

Perfectionism isn’t limited to the people who seem to have it all. Addicts who have experienced one failure after another can be as idealistic in their mindset as the successful businessperson. Neither gets where they are through moderation, but rather through harsh self-criticism, impossibly high expectations, and an underlying belief that perfection is both possible and necessary.

#3 Grandiosity 

“The world revolves around me.”

Think you’re hot stuff? Maybe you are, or maybe you’re thinking like an addict. Addicts engage in magical thinking, creating a fantasy world where they get everything they want and are more important than everyone else. Although it often masks low self-esteem, another characteristic common among addicts, this inflated sense of self comes off as arrogance and allows addicts to push people away.

#4 Difficulty Connecting with People 

“I don’t need anyone.”

Most people feel a strong need for attachment and connection with other people, but some deny this need by isolating themselves. They make excuses for skipping social gatherings, blame others for their struggles and would rather stay home than face the world. As a result, they (often unknowingly) search for connection through drugs, sex or other destructive behaviors.

#5 Power and Control 

“I call the shots.”

If you’ve been told you’re a control freak, you’re in good company. Addicts often try to control people and things to compensate for a profound feeling of powerlessness. Rather than taking responsibility for their own actions and choices, they shift the blame to others.

#6 Difficulty Managing Emotions 
“Feelings are so painful, I’d rather feel nothing.”
When faced with stress, anger or emotional pain, do you   (a) do nothing;  (b) try to feel better through exercise, talking with a friend or some other activity that makes life more tolerable without any negative consequences; or  (c) do whatever it takes to make it go away?
If you answered (a), 
you may have learned from a young age that avoiding feelings was safer than working through them. 

If you answered (c), 
you may be tempted to escape through drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors rather than managing emotions in healthy ways. Either way, your coping skills could use some fine tuning.

Perhaps you’ve never struggled with traits or behaviors that in any way resemble addiction. If so, you are a rare breed. For the rest of us, focusing on our similarities rather than our differences can inject a dose of empathy into the national dialogue on addiction. 
And for that, your inner addict will thank you, and so will the 23 million addicts who are in the fight of their life.

David Sack, M.D., is board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. Dr. Sack currently serves as CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, a network of addiction treatment centers that includes Promises Treatment Centers, The Ranch, Sexual Recovery Institute, The Recovery Place, Right Step, Promises Austin, Lucida, Journey, Sundance, and Clarity Way. www.elementsbehavioralhealth.com