in the last few weeks, a radio interview and two articles have encouraged me to again look at the nature of addiction. one of them is a discussion we are having on this blog here about alcohol use and art, with contributions by danish composer skovgaard danielsen and zen practitioner and painter eden maxwell. another was an article by trisha gura about chocolate addiction. the radio interview was with dr. gabor mate, well known for his work in our inner city, vancouver’s downtown eastside, as well as on stress and ADD.
so let’s look at some definitions of addiction.
cynthia jane collins in her book the recovery spiral has an interesting definition:
if we habitually or compulsively – with or without awareness or intention – use any activity, substance or person[s] to move us away from our true selves, we are practicing addictive behaviours.
gerald g. may proposes that
addiction is any compulsive, habitual behaviour that limits the freedom of human desire.
ben furman and tapani ahola, two scandinavian therapists known the world over for their imaginative work with therapeutic conversations once playfully gave addictions a name: “the muluttaja”. it derives from fascist times in finland and personifies the idea of “oppression and tyranny.”
virginia satir, one of north america’s foremost “elder” in family therapy, and another of my favourite models for therapy, talks of addiction as a coping mechanism for a rule that says, “i can’t feel what i feel.”
aviel goodman of the minnesota institute of psychiatry, who writes quite a bit about sexual addictions says that
addiction designates a process whereby a behavior, that can function both to produce pleasure and to provide escape from internal discomfort, is employed in a pattern characterized by (1) recurrent failure to control the behaviour (powerlessness) and (2) continuation of the behaviour despite significant negative consequences (unmanageability).
finally, gabor mate, whose absolutely fantastic book, in the realm of hungry ghosts: close encounters with addiction has this to say:
in the english language, addiction has two overlapping but distinct meanings. in our day, it most commonly refers to
a dysfunctional dependence on drugs or on behaviours such as gambling or sex or eating.
surprisingly, that meaning is only about a hundred years old. for centuries before then … addiction referred simply to an activity that one was passionate about …
in the words of a consensus statement by addiction experts in 2001, addiction is a “chronic neurobiological disease … characterized by behaviours that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving” …
the issue is not the quantity or even the frequency but the impact …
he then gives his own definition:
1. compulsive engagement with the behaviour, a preoccupation with it;
2. impaired control over the behaviour;
3. persistence or relapse despite evidence of harm; and
4. dissatisfaction, irritability or intense craving when the object – be it a drug, activity or other goal – is not immediately available.
he concludes his chapter, “what is addiction?” by saying
we need to avoid the trap of believing that addiction can be reduced to the action of brain chemicals or nerve circuits or any other kind of neurobiological, psychological or sociological data … addiction is a complex condition … we need to view it simultaneously from many different angles … to get anywhere near a complete picture we must keep shaking the kaleidoscope to see what other patterns emerge.
now my question to you – those of you who have experience with addiction, either personally, through friends or family, or professionally: what do you think of these definitions? do they define addiction? or do you have another definition that works better for you?