Addiction is different than having a chemical dependency. Addiction is a psychological pattern of compulsion, and a compulsion is an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against your own conscious wishes.
You might have a chemical dependency to caffeine, but in most cases, the need for caffeine isn’t going to lead to not having money for food. The consumption of caffeine is held in check. For most people, drinking caffeine isn’t a compulsion. At most, it’s a chemical dependency.
An addiction could be defined by a loss of control. If a teen has lost power over their drinking or drug use, then it’s beginning to fit the definition of addiction. When the use of drugs or alcohol becomes the sole focus of your teen’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities, that’s when it might be an addiction. And it should be noted here too that the pattern of compulsive behavior can manifest in other areas of life, not just an addiction to drugs or drinking. The compulsory behavior that characterizes addiction can happen with gambling, pornography, other sexual activities, and shopping. The following is a list of patterns that can point to an addiction.
Fantasy: When there is an overwhelming amount of thinking, worrying, and dreaming about drinking or getting high, there’s an indication that there might be a compulsion. A teen is not only getting high, but he or she is thinking about getting high and planning his or her day around getting high. Fantasizing and daydreaming about using the drug of choice frequently accompanies addiction.
Self-Nurturing: The self-nurturing aspect of addiction is its illusion. Although a teen is choosing to engage in drinking or drugging on seemingly his or her own terms, he or she is doing it at times when there’s a need for self-nurturing. When the stress is high, that’s the time to go to the bar. When the argument begins, that’s when to pull out the marijuana.
Self-Medicating: Those who are using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for strong emotions or to function better are known to be self-medicating. However, most teens who self-medicate do so unintentionally. It’s not that they are necessarily trying to treat a mental illness as a psychiatrist would – more accurately, there is not an awareness that a mental illness even exists. Instead, they are looking for relief from challenging emotions or for a way to better function at home or at school.
False Sense of Control: Most teens believe that drinking or using drugs is a way of controlling their life. Drinking can help them cope with life’s stresses, for example. However, this is far from being true. What an addiction does is withhold one’s power. Instead of facing challenges head on, the powerless choice is to avoid it with drugs or alcohol. Instead of facing marital issues, for instance, it’s easier to drink. But this robs one of his or her autonomy and can only exacerbate life’s challenges.
Furthermore, if an adolescent is setting up his or her day to drink or use drugs, such as the fantasizing described above, then it perhaps the drug itself has the control and not the other way around. Although it’s easy to believe that an addict has control because he or she is choosing when to drink or use, but if all choices are made in order to create opportunities to drink or use drugs, then in fact it’s the drug that has the control.
Self Destruction: No matter the addiction, whether it is an eating disorder or alcoholism or over working, addiction is always a pattern of destruction. In fact, addiction not only destroys the life around a teen – relationships, academics, physical health, and so on – it’s also destroying that teen’s mind and body. And perhaps that’s where the destruction begins. Like a wheel with self-destruction at its center, the surrounding people, places, and things also feel the waves destruction too. All addictions lead to the spiritual, emotional, physical, and social destruction of the addict.
For parents or adults in a teen’s life, the above are five patterns to look for, especially when there’s a suspicion that an adolescent might be suffering from an addiction. And if this is the case, call upon the support of a mental health professional.