A Problem That Isn't A Problem Isn't a Problem
Or Is It?
A reader called Gary was kind enough to write and say nice things about this blog. Newsletter. Column. Whatever we’re calling them these days. After the compliments, he mused on a couple of things I have also pondered: Precisely where a need (or want) turns into "addiction" requiring attention and work is difficult for me to define, but I would guess it is where it becomes a problem for your life... assuming you can even recognize that it's a problem. Is there addiction before you recognize the problem?
Thing 1: “Is there addiction before you recognize the problem?” Sure there is. But at the same time, a problem that isn’t a problem isn’t a problem. I was probably a drug addict as a toddler, excited at the prospect of a St. Josepeh’s Orange-Flavored Aspirin for Children. There’s a pill that makes me feel better? I’m in!
No one sent me to jail for Possession of Aspirin with Intent to Sell.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines addiction as “a chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by obsessive and compulsive use of a mind-altering substance or behavior, despite negative life consequences.” (I added the “or behavior.”) So… define “negative life consequences.” I remember rocker David Lee Roth joking back in the ‘80s, probably between the lines of coke he and I were doing at the time, “If you’ve got 30 grand to spend on rehab, you don’t have a drug problem.” But… maybe you do. Maybe you have 30 grand, a deviated septum, and a family who hates you.
James Franco says his sex addiction cost him a $2.2 million legal settlement and every serious girlfriend he ever had. Which had the more lasting negative life consequences?
People don’t usually crawl into SLAA because they’re in hock to a phone sex line or getting beaten up by the local pimps (although I have heard some horror stories), any more than people land in AA because they can’t pay their bar bill. It’s more likely because neither of them can bear to look at themselves in the mirror. I have a video where I talk a little more about that stuff here.
Thing 2: “…assuming you can even recognize that it's a problem.” You got your third DUI? You have a problem. Fired for failing a piss test? Problem. Hospitalized for anorexia? Problem. Heart broken by yet another unavailable someone? Aw, you're just a hopeless romantic.
We’re so acculturated to unrealistic definitions of relationship that we often have no idea there’s a problem to be had. How is someone who grew up with Love, Actually to know the difference between Meet Cute and Potential Stalker? How can someone weaned on Playboy magazine (not to mention PornHub) know if they’re a sex addict or just a guy’s guy with a high libido? Where do you draw your line?
Let me hand you a pencil: This is a 40-question self-test for sex and love addiction. And, you know, I did write a whole book about this. But, in the end, you’re the only one who can say when “Hurts So Good” morphs into “King of Pain.”