Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy
People usually think of addictions as being drinking, smoking, drugs, etc. It might surprise you to learn that most of us have unrecognized addictive behaviors.

How many CD’s, workshop tools, or pairs of shoes do you own? Can you hear about a new video game or movie coming out without having to be the first in line for them? Is it impossible not to add just one more item to your special collection of…teddy bears, baseball caps, classic comic books or [*fill in the blank with your own special passion*]?

You may say these things could be excesses, but surely not addictions. True, they are not addictions in the socially common sense of the word, but may function in a similar way. You might know you are engaging in something with an addictive quality to it when–upon spotting something that you are attracted to– you have some (logical-sounding) thought, such as, “if I just got one more of [whatever] it wouldn’t hurt…I can afford it,” or “Wow! I didn’t even know about this one…”

There are as many explanations we give ourselves to rationalize having “one more” of whatever we crave (which we may refer to as what we “love, enjoy, deserve, should have, need…”) as there are possible items to collect. Some of us hunger for new ideas, reading, going to museums, travel, and other sorts of less tangible things.

There is nothing inherent in any of this that is negative or wrong, but I suggest asking yourself if you can say no to such things. It is not the act of having or doing things that is the problem, but not being able to stop when you have enough. Can you notice how you hear the "siren call" of your personal passion and almost go into a trace state (that shuts out many other inner voices of reasons) in order to pursue getting what you want?  Can you truthfully identify what "enough" would even mean?

Could you pass on the chance to learn some new theory, see the latest art exhibit or read the newest book on the best seller list if you grasped that you are seeking these things largely out of habit? Even the idea of “self-improvement” can have an addictive quality to it.

Could you consciously decide to pass up a great chance to travel somewhere for half-price if you saw that your urge to do it was acting upon old programming, rather than a clear, conscious decision? I am only, and specifically, speaking of the process by which we decide to engage in these activities, not the "rightness or wrongness" of the things in themselves.

This is about the habitual nature of the decisions we make. Often, in following our own genuine interests in things, we so narrow our vision that we overlook new and different possibilities. We start to add to our “collections” or habitual activities at some point mostly because they are part of our patterning. Thus, we minimally cut ourselves off from making fresh choices and having new experiences, and at worst, spend time and money on habits that do not (or no longer) truly nurture our lives. We must often examine what “calls” to us, to understand whether we act out of inability to do otherwise in many instances.

Finally, it helps us to examine where we have our own "hidden addictions" if we want to become more compassionate and understanding of people who are trapped in addictive behaviors that have far more serious consequences.

If we hope to help someone struggling with the severe consequences of an addiction, grasping how easily one can become "hooked" on just about anything, how quickly we can justify what we are doing--even if the behaviors seem positive--allows us to realize that dealing with the destructive addictions requires more than simply "just saying no." They are complicated conditions with multiple layers of habit, meanings and history. Most serious addictions do need the help of a professional or self-help group to come to terms with them.

Kathi Whitten, LCSW copyright 2009