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How Do I Know if I’m Addicted?

The term “addiction” is used frequently in reference to many behaviours from substance abuse to food, to sex, or chocolate. It is often referred to in jest, and yet it is a very serious topic for those caught in the trenches and anyone that cares about them.  Defining addiction is an important part of deciding whether or not to seek help.

In the strictest sense of the term, addiction is used to refer to alcohol, drugs and gambling. However, other behaviours, such as food, exercise, sex, work, internet/video gaming, and relationships can be out of control and cause great concern in a person’s life with negative consequences similar to alcohol and drugs. For example, a food addict might eat uncontrollably and not stop even though their health is compromised. Or, it is possible for a “workaholic” to work in ways that ignore problems in life, or neglect relationships and other duties.

One way many people decide whether or not they have an addiction is to compare themselves to others that are obviously addicts. For example, if you believe an alcoholic is the guy down on skid row with the brown paper bag, and you live in the suburbs with a good paying job, it will be obvious that you are not an alcoholic. If a drug addict is a junkie with a needle in her arm, and you only use marijuana, or would never use a needle, obviously you are not an addict.

Webster’s dictionary defines addiction as the “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.” This speaks about dependence on a substance, needing more as time progresses to get the same effect, and not being able to stop without suffering withdrawal such as the hangover or drug crash. If you have concern about dependence, tolerance or withdrawal, it would be beneficial to seek professional help.

More broadly, addiction is defined as a “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.” To pursue this train of thought, addiction is doing something over and over that you know is hurting you or those around you. It is defined according to what is happening in your life as a consequence of the behaviour you are concerned about. There are a few questions to consider:

  • When you engage in the behaviour (drink, use drugs or gamble), what is the end result?
  • What price are you paying socially, emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually?
  • How is your behaviour affecting your work, relationships, family and finances?
  • Is this behaviour creating a negative impact on you or those around you, and yet you can’t seem to stop?
  • Have you promised yourself and anyone else that you won’t do that again, and find yourself back in the same place – over and over again?

So, in answer to the question “how do I know if I’m addicted,” look at what happens after you engage in the behaviour. The start to change is to be honest about the impact you are experiencing as a result of your behaviour. If behaviours are infringing on your life and happiness, consider a professional assessment and pursue the necessary support.


Carol Wilson is a Certified Counsellor and specializes in the areas of addiction, depression, self esteem and couples work as well as many others. For more information on Carol, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.