Passion verses Addiction



I thought I was through writing blogs about addictions, which was totally unrealistic since the components of this topic appear to be endless.

According to Gabor Mate, MD, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts “Any passion can become an addiction; but then how to distinguish between the two? The central question is: who’s in charge, the individual or their behavior? It’s possible to rule a passion, but an obsessive passion that a person is unable to rule is an addiction. And the addiction is the repeated behavior in which a person keeps engaging, even though he knows it harms himself or others. How it looks externally is irrelevant. The key issue is a person’s internal relationship to the passion and its related behaviors.”

This entire paragraph knocks my socks off because it captures the nature, obsession and the denial of addiction in one fell swoop. I’m not even talking about the late stage effects of addictions like sleeping under bridges, or even losing one’s teeth. I’m addressing the silent addictions that happen behind closed doors in millions of homes every day that appear to the outside world as just another ‘normal’. Let’s look first at, “…repeated behaviors in which a person keeps engaging even though he knows it harms himself or others.”

 The following example is a composite of several clients that I see in my practice, although it could just have easily been my husband or me when we were drinking alcoholically:

John: “My wife says she is filing for a divorce if I don’t quit drinking and my kids are mad at me. So what if I get a little drunk sometimes (a few times per week). I don’t cheat, I bring home good money, I go to the kids’ games at school, I go to church on Sundays and I love my family. If she would just get off my back, we wouldn’t have any problems. It is her nagging that brings the unhappiness to our family.”

Mary: “He is not in love with me he is in love with the bottle. When he’s drunk, he wants to make sloppy love to me. Yuck! He has a few drinks before the kids’ games, then gets too loud and embarrasses them. They don’t even want their friends to sleep over because he gets so silly when he is drinking which is every Friday and Saturday night. I can’t take his erratic behaviors anymore.”

The above example is why I ask people to honestly check in with their partners about their behaviors and how those behaviors are affecting those around them instead of just asking themselves since we addicts minimize (a nicer word for lying) our aberrant behaviors to ourselves.

Now let’s look at this next part of the above quote, “How it looks externally is irrelevant. The key issue is a person’s internal relationship to the passion and its related behaviors.”

As can be seen in the above example, how his drinking looks externally is irrelevant. I happen to know that he adores his wife and children, but he is caught in his addictive behaviors and will go to any length to protect his right to drink alcoholically—even if these behaviors will cost him his family.

What is of primary importance to the person who has crossed the line into addiction is their internal relationship with the addictive behavior. In this example, it is to alcohol (but could just as easily be food, pornography, pills, gambling, etc.). It is how their internal reality looks to them that is their predominate reality. Never underestimate the power of denial for it is truly astonishing, in the face of all external evidence, when an addiction is dominating one’s life.

Passion or addiction? Ask yourself if you are passionately attached to your particular form of relaxation or any other type of person, place or thing. Then honestly and sincerely ask your partner if they think that you may have a problem? Remember, if one person in the relationship has a problem, then therelationship has a problem. That is the nature of relationships.


Photographs by: Bigstock


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  1. Dr. J Rodriguez says:

    I am so grateful for your blogs!
    have passes them on to my clients.
    Please keep writing!

    • Hi Jeanette,

      I am so excited to see you here. Thank you for your words of encourgement and passing on this information to your clients.

      So looking forward to seeing you. Dawn

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