Before I begin, I want to clarify that this is not an article telling you to forgive all of the addicts in your life, nor is it a step-by-step guide to curing addiction. I am writing this article to challenge some stigmas surrounding addiction. When we think of addiction, our minds automatically go to drugs and alcohol. We think of the school advertisements about addiction that beg us to not take drugs or will become “addicts” and “ruin our lives.” Although addiction can potentially affect our lives in catastrophic ways, it’s important to remember two things: The first is that addiction is a disease, and many people do not have a choice nor the resources to recover from it. The second is that substance addiction is not the only form of addiction; there are many forms of behavioral addiction that often go overlooked due to the negative stigma surrounding addiction in general.
The first type of addiction is a chemical addiction, in which a person becomes dependent and addicted to a drug and the feeling that drug gives them, such as alcohol or heroin. This is the most recognizable form of addiction, often represented in movies or on social media. Although all forms of addiction are dangerous, chemical addiction is especially dangerous because of its physical and social repercussions on a person.
The second type of addiction that is less talked about and not as easy to spot is behavioral addiction. In short, behavioral addiction involves compulsive behaviors that do not result in any benefit. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has only identified video game and gambling addictions as “behavioral addictions.” However, behavioral addiction can materialize itself in a multitude of other ways, such as risk-taking, sex, binging-eating or exercise addiction. The most difficult aspect of behavioral addiction is that it is not often easy to see until it’s too late. It can also be mistakenly chalked up to be “bad decisions” and “individual choices.” This misunderstanding could potentially lead to a person spiraling further into addictive tendencies. However, it’s important to note, again, that behavioral and chemical addictions are not choices — they are diseases that affect the brain.
The truth is, as a society, we still have a lot to work to do revolving around the science and treatment of addiction. However, the first thing we must do is understand the forms it comes in so we can better help each other and ourselves. Addiction is an unfortunate reality in many of our lives; it’s important to understand what it actually means and the multitude of ways that it can appear so that we can help ourselves and others recover.
If you or a loved one are in a dangerous situation involving addiction, I advise contacting a hotline or visiting one of the local resources linked below.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline
Narcotics Anonymous Hotline
UC Berkeley Tang Center
UHS Tang Center, Social Services
2nd floor, Room 2280
2222 Bancroft Way #2280
Berkeley, CA 94720