Ice cream. Toxic relationships. Alcohol. Reality TV. Buttered Pop Tarts. Exercise. Adderall. Shopping. Fill in the blank: I’m addicted to ________ . For some it’s easy to narrow down our favorite crutches, for others of us it’s easier to rule out what we’re not addicted to. Hi, my name is Charlotte and I’m an addict… to lots of things. Sure, I’m most famous (poor word choice, I should say infamous) for being an exercise addict and boy was that one fun! But that’s not the only thing I’ve been consumed by. In the past I’ve also been subsumed by relationships, my job (no matter what my profession – from waitress to system admin to teacher to writer – I’ve always been a workaholic), a certain TV show, food, the Internet* (yeah, I said it), and reading. Heck, like some of you have pointed out over the years, I’m probably even addicted to being addicted because I spend so much time worrying about how to “fix” myself.
While I’ve long known about my predilection to get (really really) into things, I’ve never really had a word to describe it until I was chatting with a friend awhile ago. “I have an addictive personality,” he said by way of explaining his past littered with substance abuse, gambling, porn, obsessive relationships and other issues. “I just trade one addiction in for another but it’s always something.” As soon as he said it I gasped, “ME TOO!” Maybe I’m just addicted to diagnosing myself with whatever anyone else has – mental health issues are way more fun with friends! Or perhaps everyone has an addictive nature and I’m just now becoming acquainted with the universality of the human condition. Or maybe some people really are more prone to addictions and I’m one of them. Just like my amazing ability to NEVER pick the right size container for whatever food I’m putting away (seriously, I’m missing the piece of my brain that handles spatial issues), perhaps I was born with a propensity for, well, propensities.
According to Wikipedia, the DSM** of the Internet,
An addictive personality disorder may be defined as a psychological setback that makes a person more susceptible to addictions. This can include anything from drug and alcohol abuse to pornography, gambling, Internet, videogames, food, exercise, work and even relationships with others. Experts describe the spectrum of behaviors designated as addictive in terms of five interrelated concepts which include: patterns, habits, compulsions, impulse control disorders, and physical addiction.
Reading the last six items on that list basically reads like the one-line version of my autobiography. And while I can safely say that I’ve never been addicted to drugs, alcohol, porn or gambling I think it’s more from the (intentional) lack of opportunity than any personal strength. (See? Being LDS has its advantages beyond white teeth and the ability to read Elizabethan English!***) I still remember the day I got my endoscopy/colonoscopy as the best day of my life thanks to the awesome drugs they gave me. I’m not being hyperbolic: I’ve honestly never felt better in my entire life than I did after that shot of Demerol. That, combined with a family history of substance abuse, has made me refuse all drugs when possible. (The strongest thing I had during or after childbirth was an Ibuprofen.) Just like giving up TV a few years ago, this isn’t done out of some claim to the moral high ground but rather a recognition that there are some things I just can’t do moderation in.
Continuing on in my Wiki journey of self discovery (that should really be the title of my next book),
“People with addictive personalities are very much sensitive to stress. They have trouble handling situations that they deem frustrating, even if the event is for a very short duration. They often lack self-esteem and will show impulsive behavior such as excessive caffeine consumption, Internet usage, eating of chocolates or other sugar-laden foods, television watching, or even running.
Extraversion, self-monitoring, and loneliness are also common characteristics found in those who suffer from addiction. Individuals who score high on self-monitoring are more prone to developing an addiction. High self-monitors are sensitive to social situations; they act how they think others expect them to act. All they want to do is fit in, hence they are very easily influenced by others. Likewise, those who have low self-esteem also seek peer-approval, therefore they participate in “attractive” activities such as smoking or drinking to try to fit in.
People suffering from APD find it difficult to manage their stress levels. In fact, lack of stress tolerance is a telltale sign of the disorder. They find it difficult to face stressful situations and fight hard to get out of such conditions. Long-term goals prove difficult to achieve because people with APD usually focus on the stress that comes with getting through the short-term goals. Such personalities will often switch to other enjoyable activities the moment that they are deprived of enjoyment in their previous addiction.
Addictive individuals feel highly insecure when it comes to relationships. They may often find it difficult to make commitments in relationships or trust their beloved because of the difficulty they find in achieving long-term goals. They constantly seek approval of others and as a result, these misunderstandings may contribute to the destruction of relationships. People suffering from addictive personality disorder usually undergo depression and anxiety, managing their emotions by developing addiction to alcohol, other types of drugs, or other pleasurable activities.”
Inability to handle stress? Self-monitoring? Low self-esteem? Insecurity in relationships? Mood disorders? Procrastination? Holy crap – I’m either reading the story of my life or the plot line to the best romantic comedy ever!
Like many traits, there is a good and a bad side. Did you see the recent study that showed that most highly successful leaders – including US Presidents - rank high on the psycopathy index? It’s true, the worst and the best among us are psycopaths, particularly when it comes to a trait called “fearless dominance.” This curse-and-a-blessing factor works for addictive personalities too: My laser focus was one of my first qualities to attract my husband. It was also one of the first to royally tick him off. I am super dedicated. But I also tend to go overboard. (See: Exercise, the whole point of this blog’s beginning.) I feel everything. But I read too much into it and I have a ridiculously hard time letting things go. I can finish a 400-page book in just a few hours (it’s true but I’m not super smart, I just took a speed reading course and anyone can learn to do it). But I will also think of nothing but that book for days.
Even though “addictive personality disorder” is categorized in the DSM-V as legit, not all experts agree on the definition. Says this NY Times piece on ADP
“But not all addictions are equally harmful and not all behavior that could lead to addiction necessarily does. Although Dr. Hatterer is among those who argue that addictions of all kinds are similar, he finds it useful to classify the abuse of alcohol, barbiturates and narcotics as ”hard addictions” because of the quickness with which such substances affect many aspects of behavior, and adversely influence many people around the abuser. Dr. Hatterer terms compulsive behavior such as excessive smoking, gambling, running, spending or work as ”soft addictions” because the consequences are not immediately felt by the abuser.”
Perhaps this is just one facet of being a “highly sensitive person” (a.k.a. an “orchid child” a.k.a. a drama queen). But whatever it was, it’s felt like a relief to read about it this weekend. And I hope that understanding myself better will lead me to make more effective choices and ultimately become a better person. After all, if I know that I have this tendency toward addiction, I can take steps to prevent it from happening right? (Or does that only work in Sci-Fi flicks?)
Would you say you’re addicted to anything? Soft or hard? One (wo)man’s addiction is another’s passion so is an addictive personality really A Thing or is it just part of being human? And if so is it a flaw or a feature?j
*I got an awesome e-mail over the weekend from someone basically saying “Why do you keep capitalizing ‘Internet’ in all your posts! Stop it – it’s not a proper noun!!” While I appreciate your attention to and love for grammar (boy do I wish the high schoolers whose SAT essays I grade shared it) and while I have been guilty in the past of abusing extraneous capitalization to make point, sometimes “Internet” is a proper noun. When you are referring to a general collective of connected computers it’s internet with a lowercase i but when you are referring to the world wide web as THE Internet then it’s a name and is capitalized. I swear I didn’t make this up.
**Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – the book seen as the definitive guide to psychiatric illness. Which doesn’t mean it’s right all the time but it does make for an interesting snapshot of humanity.
*** Lots of people think that LDS (colloquially known as Mormons) have such shiny white Chiclet teeth because we don’t drink coffee or tea but really it’s a religious addiction to tooth whitening strips. I have no research to back this up but I swear Utah has a higher per capita use of peroxide – both of the tooth and hair variety – than the rest of the nation. (Can I still call myself Mormon if I’m a non-highlighted brunette and my teeth look like corn niblets?! Existential quadry, there.) And we use the King James Translation of the Bible complete with words like “thee” “thou” and “asswage” so when I tell my kids to “Get thee hence to thy resting places before I smother you with my mantle!” they know I’m REALLY serious. Middle names are for pansies.
****This post officially wins for most post scripts ever on a GFE blog! Happy Monday!