“Addictions rarely happen suddenly, unless it’s something like heroin,” says Nowinski. “Generally, they creep up on you.”
For example, you may start drinking a glass or two of wine to de-stress after work. Over time, you start having three, four or five glasses to achieve the same calming effect and start drinking earlier in the day.
You know you’re on the road to addiction when a substance or behavior starts taking over your life and squeezes out time with family and friends, says Nowinski. He asks parents to look at a child’s life as a pie chart: “How is your child’s life divided among different things, and does one thing seem to take it over? That can apply to parents, too. Is work taking over your life? Do you come home and open the laptop and just continue working, and you don’t have any family life?”
One of the big differences between addictions and habits is the difficulty in overcoming them.
“You can break a habit with willpower because there’s nothing deeper to it. It’s like pulling out a little shell from the sand. It’s not deeply rooted,” says Dr. Lance Dodes, former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of “Breaking Addiction: A 7-Step Handbook for Ending Any Addiction.”
In contrast, addictions are very difficult to eradicate. “It’s like pulling out a tree stump, which has roots that are going 15 feet under the ground…Addictions are deeply driven and they always are serving a psychological function for you.”
A person may develop an addiction to cope with intense stress or feelings of overwhelming helplessness. Dodes describes addictions as compulsions that provide a sense of relief to the addict and an indirect solution to a problem.
For more information on the topic of addiction, add MASK The Magazine Addiction Issue to your MASK Library