Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski

We know that people may become addicted to alcohol or drugs. There are a number of other common addictions: cigarettes, food, gambling, sex, shopping, the internet. Although addiction cannot be precisely defined, we may say that anytime a person loses control over a behavior that he wishes to control (or should wish to control), that is addiction.

We do not know what causes addiction.In addition to psychological/emotional causes, there may be genetic and physiologic factors. One person may have a l’ chaim with no consequences, another ends up with an alcoholic binge. One person swallows an occasional painkiller, another person uses them repeatedly in increasing amounts. We don’t know why the difference.

Addiction to prescribed medication can occur, and is no different than addiction to “street drugs” such as marijuana, heroin or cocaine.

Addictive behavior is invariably progressive. The regular use of alcohol or pills begins to negatively affect one’s behavior. An occasional visit to the casino becomes more frequent and the person goes into debt, often committing crime to cover his losses.

Essentially, addiction is loss of control over an aspect of one’s behavior. Pleading with the person to stop or threatening him may result in a brief period of abstinence, but the addiction invariably recurs. The person may be in deep remorse and may make promises to abstain, promises which one cannot keep.

Addiction results in both denial and lying. Lying is a conscious distortion or concealment of the truth. Denial is the addict’s lack of awareness of what he is doing and what it is doing to him. He may have a near-lethal blood level and insist that he only had two beers.

The addict generally seeks to cover up his use. He may hide bottles and drink in secret. He may insist that he is taking the medication according to the doctor’s orders, but is actually exceeding them. A gambler may give a myriad of explanations for where the money went.

Alcohol has a give-away odor. If a person has alcohol on his breath and denies having drunk, he is almost certainly alcoholic. If he uses breath sweeteners often, it may be to cover up an alcohol odor.

Excessive use of sedatives, tranquilizers and pain pills may cause drowsiness, slurred speech and unsteady gait. A person whose memory has not been affected by advanced age and cannot remember where he was yesterday may be having drug-induced memory impairment.

A heavy drinker may have a “blackout,” i.e., having functioned normally but has no memory for a block of time.

Unexplained losses of money or missing object in the home may be due to gambling or to purchase of drugs. Asking a person about one’s use of alcohol or drugs or gambling is of little value, because if one is addicted, one does not tell the truth.

If you suspect that someone close to you may have an alcohol or drug problem, it is highly advisable to attend meetings of Al-Anon Family groups. These groups are comprised of addicts’ “significant others” and they have a wealth of experience in recognizing addictive behavior. They can also provide valuable help. If one suspects a gambling problem, one should attend the Gam-Anon Family group meetings. It is advisable to consult an expert on addiction if one is suspicious of addiction. Many mental health professionals are not adequately trained on addiction, so one must seek out an expert on addiction to consult.

Food addiction is extremely common, and because it does not carry a stigma like alcoholism or drug addiction, there is less denial. Furthermore, the obesity cannot be concealed. Typically, compulsive overeaters look for a quick-fix to lose weight. They may resort to “magic pills” or miracle diets. Most pills that are effective may have dangerous side-effects. Miracle diets usually have a dramatic weight loss, almost invariably followed by a weight gain, resulting in the “yo-yo” syndrome.

One type of food disorder which may not be apparent is bulimia, characterized by food binges followed by vomiting, fasting, excessive exercising and use of laxatives. There is a much higher incidence among females, and they may cleverly cover-up their behavior so that even their parents are not aware of it.

Sexual addiction may be difficult to recognize because it is done in stealth. Internet pornography is prevalent, and a person may “catch” the addict watching obscene material.

Diagnosing and treating addiction is not a do-it-yourself task. Addicts can easily deceive people. An expert on addiction should be consulted, and if addiction is diagnosed, one should follow the recommendation for treatment.

The consensus is that addicts can be “arrested” but not “cured.” An alcoholic cannot be a social drinker and a compulsive gambler cannot buy a lottery ticket. The 12-step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sexaholic Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous are major resources of help, and are vital in preventing relapse.The website guardyoureyes.comcan provide help in both prevention and management of pornography addiction.