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Addiction/Co-Addiction Characteristics

Addiction is a system of interdependent beliefs and behavior, established in childhood, which perpetuates and reinforces itself in a vicious circle.


I am basically a bad, unworthy, inadequate person: This feeling and belief, which I learned as a child, is kept secret and therefore I feel isolated and lonely. The addiction, which I am powerless to change or control, hides the pain which results from this. The addiction is hidden by a front of "normalcy" or an exaggerated self-importance. The consequences of addictive behaviors however, are degrading and self-defeating actions which confirm fears of failure. The addict doesn't feel that there are any options.

No one would love me as I am. Therefore the addict projects an idealized image of himself and pretends that he is special, which helps him feel safe, but lives in fear of the truth. He has felt abandoned, unwanted, unprotected and not accepted unconditionally in childhood and has therefore avoided intimacy because it threatens his integrity. He tries to appear self-sufficient and unaffected by problems--although he feels it's all his fault--so he won't have to talk about himself. Others feel pushed away, useless and neglected by this behavior.

My needs are not going to be met if I have to depend on others: Not trusting leads to being secretive, manipulative and rageful. This is internalized in depression, resentment and self-pity. In searching for something to depend on, the addiction comes to replace real relationship with self or others. Addicts' rage about unmet needs in the past prevents the possibility of expressing needs now because they anticipate being rejected. They are therefore, purposefully unclear about their intentions in relationship. Others begin to see inconsistencies and feel distrust and disbelief toward the addict.

My addiction is my most important need: Feeling powerless and inadequate to control the addiction makes him feel unworthy and perpetuates the addictive cycle. The stimulus provided from the addiction replaces a real feeling of being in oneself. After getting used to the physical and emotional intensity provided by the stimulation, peace is experienced as emptiness, solitude as isolation. Co-addicts feel exploited and addicts feel resentment from co-addict's attempts to judge and control their behavior.



The addict's belief system leads to impaired thinking--denials, rationalizations, delusions, paranoia and blame--in which the addict is closed off from the real world and self-knowledge. The addictive cycle is a hopeless attempt at a solution because it is without real corrective feedback.

1. Preoccupation: The addiction creates a preoccupying trance or mood. There is a constant yearning for another "high".

2. Ritualization: There are certain stimuli and routines which arouse excitement and encourage the trance.

3. Compulsive behavior: At this point, addicts are unable to stop or control their behavior. Increasing doses are required as the body becomes desensitized.

4. Despair: After a bout, addicts feel shame and despair as a result of their powerlessness over their addiction and the increasing unmanageability of their lives.

The negative consequences of addictive abuse confirm the faulty belief system of the addict which, in turn, perpetuates the addictive cycle. The addict therefore becomes progressively isolated and all aspects of his life become increasingly chaotic and unmanageable.



1. Breaking through denial: As long as the addict lives in denial, no change is possible. The addiction must be admitted and the feelings and beliefs which underlies it. The power of the addict's secret world, his false persona and isolation must be broken through. This also implies recognizing the ways in which they are unhappy and destroying their lives.

2. Changing one's self image: An honest appraisal of one's real qualities and strengths must replace both the inner worthless self-image and the outer idealized one. This requires appreciating one's real interests, feelings, longings and those things which actually give meaning and satisfaction. This requires internalizing a new self-image--that of being a worthwhile person deserving of love and pride. You don't have to try to be special or different--just being who you really are is enough.

3. Admitting real needs and experiencing acceptance: By taking the risk of being vulnerable, honestly admitting their felt needs and real feelings, and being accepted, addicts can learn that the future doesn't have to be like the past. As others love them as they are, they learn to also love, accept and forgive themselves. And that their needs can be met if they let others know.

4. Finding satisfaction in honest, real relationship: Addict's learn that they can be human and imperfect, make mistakes, be honest and open and have satisfying relationships. They can make real connections with others which are based on mutuality, equality, care and shared concerns. They become caring members of family and community and work for the good of the group.

5. Accepting conscious responsibility and choice: Addict's learn that the beliefs they have internalized as children can be changed so they will no longer feel as helpless victims. By being willing to release their fear, anger and need to control, and by forgiving and loving themselves as they are, they can find their real power and the capacity to realize themselves. By changing their beliefs, they learn they can change their experience.

6. Learning to trust: Addict's finally learn to trust themselves, others and life. They realize from experience that there is a wisdom and a purpose in life which supports them and holds out the promise of a deeper fulfillment.