The glib answer - "Everyone is addicted" - is not useful, either for people with ordinary habits or for people who need to come to grips with their addictions.

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, May 17, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Are You Addicted?

In my post, Kooky Nuts in the Addiction Field, I included the typical counselor (and treatment center) who reckon everyone who is shunted into their offices for an assessment is, ipso facto, an addict or an alcoholic. "Why else are they here?" their logic goes. Of course, the counselor or assessor is, typically, an alcoholic, AA member, and treatment graduate themselves, so their response is partly - "You think you're better than me?"

In fact, the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV - for which I was an advisor) requires a rigorous evaluation of the impact of a habit on a person's life. (Note: DSM-IV considers addictions - called "dependencies" -- only due to substance use. A recent effort to classify children's immersion in video games et al. as dependencies was "defeated" by the AMA.)

The bottom line is that a habit is only addictive when it seriously harms you. As I wrote in Addiction-Proof Your Child,

Watching television every night, drinking daily (for an adult), and having an active social life are not necessarily addictions. Broadening the definition of addiction does not mean that everybody is addicted to something. The word is now often used casually, even humorously: a friend says he is addicted to crossword puzzles, a baby is addicted to his pacifier, a teenager to her cell phone. Addictions are harmful, perhaps overwhelmingly so.

One reader of my previous post noted about her own diagnosis as an alcoholic following a citation for a .08 BAL reading in a DUI conviction,

It doesn't matter if a person intuitively knows they don't have a problem because they are obviously just in denial. This type of black and white thinking takes away personal control and then expects a person to exert personal control at the same time. It says "You don't know what is best, so now you must reach deep inside and do what is best."

Unlike this woman, people often accept such diagnoses - even seek them out for themselves - on quite flimsy evidence. It is as though they think, "At last, I have my own addiction/diagnosis." A DUI is not alcoholism - although it is a dangerous and unwise behavior that must be avoided.

So, are you addicted to something? Here are the criteria I utilize in Addiction-Proof:

Six criteria define an addictive experience:

  • it is powerful and absorbs your feelings and thoughts;
  • you can predictably and reliably access it;
  • it gives you essential sensations and emotions (like feeling good about yourself, or removing worry or pain);
  • you gain these feelings only temporarily, for the duration of the experience;
  • it ultimately degrades your other involvements and satisfactions;
  • finally, you are forced to return to your addictive experience as your only or principle source of satisfaction.

The essential ingredient in assessment in my approach (the Life Process Program) is having the individual buy in reasonably to the assessment - including ruling out those who don't qualify. I don't foist a diagnosis on people - I let them consider for themselves the impact and consequences of their habit. When they feel that it is sufficiently damaging to other things they care about, we can build from there.

Is this what's troubling you, bub? In that case, you can consider addiction treatment. Or, you could quit or refocus on the other areas of your life and see if that reduces your addictive behavior. Because, one way or the other, recovery is the balancing of your values and satisfactions that only you can navigate.