Category Archives: Addiction Evaluation

Evaluating Addictions

Brain Activity

Addictions and addictive behaviors are often defended by the addict. When you defend, it usually means you fear there is a problem. A healthy person doesn’t need to defend an annual indulgent evening on New Year’s Eve, an occasional cosmetic procedure, or hanging on to a tacky, old chair.

All regularly repeated, nonessential behaviors need to be explored for the degree of their addictive nature. For example, feeling compelled to jog daily for an hour may be a bit excessive, but feeling bad about yourself if you don’t train every day for weekly triathlon events is clearly an addictive pattern.

Brain Chemistry’s Role

The main role of the neurotransmitter dopamine is to signal the frontal lobe that a behavior is desirable, important, or better than most, which causes heightened awareness and a craving for more.

All natural pleasures produce dopamine, including drugs and addictive behaviors. Drugs induce a very large release of dopamine, which serves to intoxicate the brain into thinking that the experience was overpoweringly wonderful. And, indeed, perhaps it was.  However, with enough use, the brain’s pleasure center becomes rewired to believe that use of mind altering chemicals is the highest form of pleasure, and when triggered, your chemical response eventually becomes, “I must use to survive.” This results in persistent using and a loss of control, even when there are significant negative or even disastrous results.

Potential positive addictions

Positive Addiction

The term positive addiction sounds good, but if something is a true addiction, it’s not positive. Some maintenance addictions, like exercising or dieting, have positive aspects, but can be unhealthy when done in excess. It creates an unclear gray area where addiction problems are compared to the added value of the addictive behavior, resulting in an almost equal balance of cons and pros. This is especially tricky when dealing with addictions related to everyday tasks like eating and working. If your behavior falls into this category, consider cutting back when possible and getting involved in another positive activity.

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Addiction Wall

Causes of Addiction

Understanding the causes of addiction can stimulate you to want to recover from it. There are many models of how addiction originates.

Bad Habit Model:

In this model of addiction, bad habits develop as a benefit of pleasure, comfort, and security. These habits have been influenced by negative environments. Habits can be stopped by changing behaviors, repairing relationships, and utilizing strength of will. Although this model offers useful ideas, it’s not the best answer for recovery.

Cause of Cravings

Brain Addiction Model:

According to experts, about ¾ of drug and food addicts, and likely many other types of addicts, have brain chemistry issues, specifically:

  • Mood chemistry deficiencies: Inherited or triggered in response to stress.
  • Poor regulation of blood sugar: Inherited or made worse by bad diet.

Both negative moods and irregular blood sugar result in cravings. This is what 12-Step programs and the disease model call an allergy. It’s the essence of the cause behind addiction. Increasing the health of neurotransmitter activity in your brain with good diet and nutritional supplements will decrease negative symptoms and increase emotional and physical well-being.

The process of addiction of all substances and behaviors, from liking to wanting to needing, occurs in the pleasure circuit of the brain. You experience pleasure from an experience, so you repeat it increasingly until your tolerance develops. As time passes you need more intensity or frequency for the same amount of pleasure to occur. Eventually, your liking becomes needing – not for pleasure, but to not feel bad and to be able to function. This process changes the addicted brain permanently. The neurobiology behind the addicted brain model is gaining visibility and acceptance in recovery communities and the scientific world.

Disease or Medical Model:

This model believes some people have a genetic predisposition for drug or alcohol addiction which causes them to establish a lifelong, incurable physical allergy. Evidence appears to validate this.


Loss of Choice Model:

A new theory states that in some addicted brains, the region of the brain needed to make good decisions is more vulnerable to addiction and addictive behaviors. As abuse grows, this region becomes more emotionally detached, and its decision making ability is reduced. Eventually, the natural yet inaccurate brain hardwiring that results from your addiction overrules all else, and you use, no matter the consequence. You believe that you need to use in order to survive.

Drugs, including sugar and addictive behaviors to a lesser degree, cause large amounts of brain chemicals, especially dopamine, to flood through your brain and control your thoughts and behaviors. Chemical floods produce new addicted pathways that start small then become large canyons, while normal pathways become weaker. These changes may become permanent.

Moral Model:

This model describes addiction as an immoral behavior by people who make sinful choices due to having bad character or those who violate social and moral codes. The addict is unworthy of sympathy and should be punished.

Personal Issues Model:

Core childhood issues or traumas may lead to negative patterns and emotions. If you don’t explore your personal issues, they will undermine the quality of your life, and you won’t maintain high-quality recovery. This is at least part of the cause of addiction for many, and a big part for some. As such, if you have unresolved issues or traumas, accept that resolving them may need to be a part of recovery. Denying issues will continue to cause pain. Please note, doing deeper work in early recovery deserves caution, leaning to contain core issue may be a better approach.

Psychological Model:

All addictions – except alcohol, drugs, and maybe sugar – are obsessive compulsive issues rooted in personality and character flaws. Some can be helped with medication. From this comes the Personal Issues Model.

Spiritual Model:

Separation from your spiritual connection causes a void. This leads to the desire to replace that void with something that makes you feel good or feel numb – this often leads to an addiction or addictive behavior.

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Before Recovery Can Start



You have an addiction when using causes significant life problems, and yet you continue to use. Using has become the problem, but it still feels like a solution. Addiction is a biological, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual based disease. It creates excessive negative behaviors that you can’t control. Addictions especially flood the brain with neurotransmitters.  These cause the brain to be rewired so it eventually believes, “I must use to survive.” Even when you aren’t using, you’re thinking about it. If you think you may have an addiction issue, you do.

Underneath the misuse of substances, destructive behaviors, and codependency, are emotional feelings that are pushing your addiction along. Coping with your addiction is difficult, but you must move past your issues and build a positive emotional life. A major factor in addiction is avoiding negative emotions. In recovery, connect with all of your feelings and with your heart.

In the beginning, your addiction likely did help you avoid negative emotions, or at least it seemed to help, but now it has turned on you. You may have sworn off using for a period of time, believing time off would solve your addiction problems, only to find the same issues reappearing when you started using again. It’s time to look at and accept the reality of your using before the dues become even heavier, or it’s too late. If there is no problem, prove it to yourself and abstain from using for six months or longer.

Addictions are common. Stop asking, “Am I an addict or not?” And ask, “How is addiction affecting my life?” or “To what degree is my behavior negatively affecting me and my family?” You may also be addicted to the process, to the experience, and to the behaviors of addiction. These include stimulation, scoring, obtaining, preparing, using rituals, social interactions, and a sense of belonging.

The key to the self-evaluation below is to be honest. Avoid rationalizing your responses. The following quiz should only be a starting place.


Addiction Self-Evaluation

Answer Yes or No:

_____ Has anyone asked me or commented about my using?

_____ Do I use more, or more often, than I plan on?

_____ Do I feel negative emotions about my using?

_____ Do I hide or sneak my using from others?

_____ Do I cover up my using or the consequences?

_____ Do I have fewer close friends than I used to?

_____ Do I continue to use despite negative results?

_____ Do I think about using for hours before I do it?

_____ Has my using caused me to act undesirably?

_____ Has my using decreased my desired activities?

_____ Has anyone confronted me about my using?

One yes answer should be a concern; three or more and you should seriously consider that you have an addiction issue and explore recovery; six or more and you have a problem. Start recovery immediately.


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