Gambling and Other Addictions
While the word addiction traditionally refers to overuse of alcohol and drugs, it also applies to compulsive behaviors, such as gambling, sex, work, eating, shopping/spending, internet usage, or other technologically driven activities such as video gaming. Rather than being addicted to a drug, the person is addicted to a behavior, or more precisely: the feeling brought about by a certain behavior or action. The suffering, losses, and devastating consequences stemming from process addictions are similar to those of alcohol/drug addiction.
Like addiction to alcohol/drugs, process addictions follow a characteristic course with similar phases and stages. A process addiction follows a destructive process characterized by a recognizable set of signs and symptoms. It is progressive in nature. Left untreated, it will only continue to get worse over time. As the disorder worsens, it not only impacts our personal lives, it inevitably affects our ability to practice law and is frequently accompanied by disciplinary issues.
Identifying these addictions can be problematic for many reasons. The basic denial prevalent in all addictions is exacerbated in process addictions due to a lack of understanding and education about them. Process addictions are often easier to mask than substance abuse because they involve universal daily activities such as eating, shopping or internet usage. Because these are necessary and accepted behaviors, they can spiral out of control without anyone (even ourselves and those we are closest to) realizing it. Some behaviors, such as work addiction, are socially sanctioned and all-but-required in some areas of law practice.
Process addictions can also be difficult to identify and treat because they are often coupled with other addictions or mental health issues such as anxiety or bipolar disorder. Some people will experience more than one addiction concurrently, while others will experience “substitute” addictions. The later occurs when one addictive behavior has been stopped, only to be replaced with a different one. For example, a person may become sober from alcohol but then begin gambling or eating compulsively. Often, the pain of the process addiction will lead someone back to a primary addiction. In this way, process addictions can be a major cause of relapse for a person in recovery from alcohol/drugs.
Each addiction involves its own set of symptoms, but to varying degrees they all share basic characteristics that truly define them as addictions. They include the following:
- Inability to consistently abstain from an unnecessary behavior (like gambling or viewing internet porn) or to engage moderately in a necessary behavior (like eating or shopping)
- Continuation of the behavior despite persistent or recurrent social, financial, psychological, or physical problems or consequences
- Inability to stop or control the behavior despite a desire to stop
- Preoccupation with the behavior, including planning activities to participate in the behavior
- Increased time spent engaging in the behavior or recovering from its effects
- Need to increase the frequency, intensity, or length of time engaged in the behavior to achieve the desired effect
- Denial of the effects of the behavior, including hiding it or lying about it
- Inability to conduct important social, occupational, or recreational activities due to the behavior
- Restlessness, irritability, anxiety and/or depression if unable to engage in the behavior
While many people may have difficulty labeling these behaviors “addictions,” these compulsive behaviors are real and they are destructive. They create the same changes in the brain, both in function and in structure as alcohol/drugs. Overcoming a process addiction is not a matter of willpower, self-restraint, fixing a moral weakness, or learning to break a habit. These are recognized medical and psychological conditions that require professional treatment. There are a wide range of treatment options available, and the Lawyer Assistance Program is knowledgeable about these resources. The LAP cannot only assist with treatment options but can validate the suffering caused by these real addictions.
If you have any questions about process addictions or any behavior that you are having trouble controlling, please call or email us today 1-888-408-6222 or LAP@nassaubar.org