Am I Addicted?
Screening for addiction has value when that screening serves a specific purpose. In treatment, it is to help clinicians evaluate the severity of the issues at hand. Here, there is no need for such a tool. Everything you need to know regarding whether or not you have a problem can be evaluated based on a single question, "Is the behavior causing problems?"
Do note, it does not say 'is the behavior causing you problems', but rather, it asks you to consider whether or not the behaviors in question are causing problems for anyone. Your partner. Your employer. Your friends. Yourself. If your behavior is causing problems, then action is needed. Some type of action — and that is all you need to know to move forward.
In the grand scheme of human behavior, addiction is obviously more complex than just "is it causing a problem", but in determining whether or not to pursue change in your life — that is all you need to know. Are your thoughts/behaviors causing a problem in your life or in the lives of those around you? Everything beyond an answer to that question should be geared towards the change process...not the evaluation process.
"I don't believe that I have an addiction. Since addiction recovery doesn't apply to me, what should I do?"
Acting with passion, obsession or compulsion towards a particular event or object does not constitute an addiction. Masturbating daily to pictures downloaded from the internet, having your fourth affair in the past year, stalking an ex-wife or neighbor — none of these behaviors can determine whether or not you are addicted. To do that, questions need to be asked:
"How long has this behavior been going on? Do you feel guilty about performing these behaviors? Have you ever tried to stop? What are the consequences (or potential consequences if caught) of this behavior? Are the actions getting more and more frequent, or more involved? Do you think about the behavior when not engaging in it?"
These are just some of the questions that need to be asked, and it is why we strongly recommend seeking an experienced professional to help in assessing where you are and where you need to go.
With that said...
Whether or not you have an addiction is completely irrelevant in the process of recovery.
For some, labeling themselves an "addict" will bring a temporary clarification to what is most likely a confusing and unstable time in their life. This clarity will open the door for a re-evaluation of their life, and allow them to make decisions that will enable them to begin the recovery process. For others, labeling themselves an "addict" will only serve to further degrade their self-esteem, and will actually hinder their pursuit of a healthy, satisfying lifestyle. By no longer seeing themselves as individual people making individual choices, they begin to see themselves as "addicts" who are not completely in control of the decisions they make. Couple that with society's perception that sexual addicts rarely, if ever recover and these generalized feelings tend to expand the guilt and shame (feelings which can be catalysts for further addictive behavior) from past behaviors, to now include the present and future, as well. The results of such an expansion can be overwhelming for the person experiencing the behaviors and can actually serve to undermine their commitment to recovery.
What is important is to acknowledge whether or not you are engaging in sexual and/or romantic behavior that is having, or could be having a negative impact on your life. If you are, then don't waste time wondering whether you should label yourself "an addict", or whether or not if you meet the criteria for "an addiction". If you are currently struggling with sexual and/or romantic behaviors, no matter how small these behaviors may seem, you have the opportunity and responsibility to do something about it.
"How do I know if I have an addiction?"This can be tricky as there is no absolute set of rules to go by for every individual. Some people can have affairs, masturbate, view pornography, fall "instantly" in love, etc. and certainly not be addicted to those behaviors. There are, however, a clear set of questions you should ask yourself that will help you to determine whether or not a problem exists.If you are unsure of whether or not you should seek treatment for sexual and/or romantic behavior, ask yourself these questions:
- Do the potential long-term effects of this behavior significantly outweigh the immediate satisfaction gained from performing it? If, in your opinion, the behavior appears to be a means of receiving immediate gratification, without regard to the lasting effects to themselves or those around them, the you should seek assistance in exploring this.
- Have you ever promised to stop? If you have voiced a promise to stop performing a particular behavior, even if you have not yet had the opportunity to follow through with that promise, you should seek treatment. That may seem harsh, but the rationale is valid: your promise to stop is a verification of conflict between your values and your behavior, and such a conflict needs resolution. Simply expecting yourself to stop on your own is unrealistic, and may actually hasten the addictive process. Can a person permanently stop on their own? Absolutely. But it rarely happens. Seek assistance through a self-management program or counselor to assure that your behavior changes.
- Is this a behavior that is being done in secret? Like the promise to stop, anyone that feels the need to perform sexual behavior and keep them secret knows that there is a conflict between what is socially acceptable and what isn't. Still, they continue to perform the behaviors that they know to be wrong in exchange for the immediate gratification they receive. This indicates a problem that needs to be addressed.
- Does this behavior appear to be a part of a pattern? Examine other behaviors that you engage in. Look for similar compulsive behaviors, and not just sexual and/or romantic, that appear to be a part of an addictive pattern. Usually, these behaviors will tend to be obvious in particular areas, and will emphasize the theme of immediate gratification over long-term satisfaction. Compulsive shopping, eating, exercising: these are just a few that can indicate a pattern of emotional self-regulation that indicates the need for some type of intervention — especially when found in conjunction with compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior.
- Does the behavior appear to be completely out of character for who you believe yourself to be? Or the person that you want others to think that you are? For you to have recognized a behavior pattern that is totally out of context for who you believe yourself to be is a strong sign that you have developed a dual (secret) lifestyle — which can be indicative of a rather advanced pattern of addiction.
- Are you trying to cover for your behavior through lies and secrecy? Just because someone lies about having an affair, or how a particular pornographic item was downloaded from the internet does not necessarily indicate addiction. By nature, people try to avoid uncomfortable feelings and frequently do so by lies and avoidance. But, the more pronounced and elaborate the lies become, the more indicative of a pattern of preoccupation and value conflict — and thus the more pronounced the addiction. In its extreme, murder and suicide may even be considered to maintain the aura of secrecy.
Answer these questions with absolute honesty and you will know whether or not you need help.