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While the nature of every type of addiction from substance abuse to a shopping addiction can be quite different, when someone fears they may be addicted to anything, they wonder, “How do I know if this is a problem?” It can be particularly tricky to recognize addiction when it’s a dependence on something humans cannot live fully without. Alcoholics can give up alcohol entirely. Drug addicts can give up drugs entirely. But what about food addicts? They can’t relinquish that from their lives completely. They have to interact with it to survive, which makes it difficult to sometimes identify an addiction there. The same could be said of a sex addiction. Sex is an integral part of a healthy intimate relationship, so it’s still something a sex addict will interact with. Where is the line drawn? It can be hard to know.

Much of identifying addiction and creating a healthy relationship with anything, whether that’s going to mean quitting it entirely or simply enjoying it in moderation, is first knowing the signs that the relationship has become unhealthy. To get expert input on this topic, we spoke to licensed clinical mental health counselor, Demetrius Cofield, pictured below. He went into detail about how to recognize when a relationship with something has become addictive.

Demetrius Cofield

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It begins with your thoughts

“If someone has reason to question if they are addicted to something, they more than likely are or they are on their way to being addicted,” he says. “Common signs are obsessive thoughts about the vice. If it is something that you plan your day around or you are constantly thinking about when you are doing other things, that is a major sign.”

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It controls your schedule

When a vice becomes addictive, it might rule your calendar, Cofield says. “You might find yourself doing things related to the vice more often than before and it may start taking up more time than it used to. You might start to feel like you cannot control it and you have to do it even if you do not want to. The obsessive thoughts and the extra time could be taking away from other activities and responsibilities in your life, including things you would just do for fun but now you would rather focus that time and attention on your addiction.”

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You’re allowing it to cause harm

When the addictive element begins to damage relationships or your ability to do your job, that’s a sign you’ve lost control. “You should also look at how the vice is impacting other areas of your life. Is it harming you or anyone else in any way? Is it putting you or anyone else in danger? Is it impacting your relationships? These are things people with addictions find themselves making excuses for,” he says.

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What would the old you have said about this?

When your own thinking surrounding certain behaviors changes in order to make room for the vice, Cofield says you may have moved into an addiction. “Finding reasons to rationalize behaviors that you might normally see as irrational is also a common thing,” he says. “Also, if it’s something you feel the need to hide from others because of what they might think, then that is probably another sign that it has gotten out of control.”

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When your vice puts you on an island

Cofield says when someone’s life revolves around addiction, “They may start to distance themselves from others. This could be due to them being preoccupied with their addiction behaviors and thoughts. They may start to neglect friends and family,” he says. “For parents, this could mean neglecting their children and for others, it could mean neglecting their significant other. Feeling ashamed of their behaviors could also be a reason for distancing themselves from others.”

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You’re not yourself when you’re addicted

“Their behaviors associated with their addiction could also cause people to want to distance themselves from them,” Cofield says of those struggling with addiction and how it can run others off. “Friends and family may not understand what is going on or they just might not care. A lot of times, especially with substance abuse, people dealing with addictions may take advantage of friends and family to get what they want, which could lead to someone’s family completely cutting them off or the end of friendships. It’s also common for marriages and intimate relationships to end because of behaviors associated with addictions, especially if it impacts finances or leads to abuse or infidelity.”

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Addiction draws the wrong crowd

“Someone suffering with addiction might also form new relationships due to their addiction,” Cofield says. “They might form connections with others who also deal with similar addictions such as someone they use drugs with, shop with, play video games with, or one of their many sexual partners if they are dealing with sex addictions. These new relationships are never healthy and almost always have to end once the person begins working towards recovery.”

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For parents, the consequences can be severe

Cofield expanded on how parents with addictions can cause long-term issues for children. “Relationships with children are often significantly impacted due to the neglect and behaviors associated with the addiction. It’s very common for parents who struggle with drug addictions to be abusive,” he says. “Children, depending on their age, may not understand what their parents are going through and may feel like they do not love them or care more about their addiction than they care about them. This could also lead to the children acting out for attention.”

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There’s an unwarranted shame

Admitting one has an addiction can bring feelings of shame, which stops many from facing it – but it shouldn’t bring shame, says according to Cofield. “Stigma plays a part in that. There is so much negativity associated with addiction and people are ashamed. They do not want to be looked down on or seen as someone who is weak,” he says. “They should not feel weak because it takes more strength to admit they have a problem and seek help than it does to continue the life they lead around their addiction.”

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The cleanup can be daunting

Admitting one has an addiction and doing something about it can put someone in a place to finally clean up some of the messes they made – a task that in and of itself can scare some off from recovery. As Cofield puts it, “They might also be afraid of taking responsibility for their actions while dealing with their addiction and how it might have impacted others around them. It’s easier for them not to care about the consequences of their actions and hurting others around them during their addiction, so owning up to that might feel too overwhelming.”

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The practicalities of recovery are intimidating

“They could also be afraid of getting help,” Cofield says. “Whether it’s outpatient or inpatient treatment, most addictions will require some form of therapy to work through. People struggling may be afraid of the unknown associated with seeking treatment. They could also be worried about how it might impact their lives in other ways as far as jobs, finances, living arrangements, etc.”

addiction and health issues

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The fear of what lies beneath

Addiction doesn’t spring up from nowhere. There are often emotional reasons behind it. Cofield says, “Getting help also means having to deal with what led to their addiction. In my experience, there is usually some underlying emotional issue that led to their addiction and they may not be ready to deal with it. They could fear dealing with the painful emotions and memories that might have influenced their addiction which again, does not always have to be drugs.”

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