It seems like people today anyone and everyone claims to have some kind of “addiction, whether it be to substances, video games, television, Facebook, Facebook games, eating habits, exercise, work, relationships, emotions, and more. You name it, and you will find a person claiming to be addicted to that kind of behavior. You will also likely find a 12 step program somewhere in the world to address whatever problem a person believes that he or she has. It appears as though if a person overdoes it when it comes to anything or everything that this person risks either being labeled as an addict or due to society’s expectations and messages as labeling themselves addicts. Then, if the person attends a 12 step program, they will automatically be labeled as an addict even if the person is not. And, 12 step programs usually do not provide a balanced view or a way to critically think about whether or not you have a problem with a certain behavior. Instead, it uses all kinds of phrases that promote the idea that anyone who walks into those rooms has a problem with addiction and discourages critical thinking or analyses that might question this belief.
It almost seems, too, like it’s becoming a popular or even cool thing to announce publicly that you are some kind of addict. Almost every day I see people on Facebook announce that they are addicted to this or that, and many people write blog posts about their addiction and how much better their lives are now that they are in recovery/sobriety. What I’ve noticed about these posts and from talking to people for years who are in recovery is that people get lavished with attention for having a problem with a substance or a behavioral addiction. I’ve seen this happen with people who are both sober and actively engaged with whatever they claim or believe to be addicted to. While this is happening, however, people with other problems such as mental health issues and/or physical health problems are being left in the dust in terms of getting the support they need for their illnesses or their troubles, and they definitely aren’t getting nearly as much attention for these issues as those with addiction.
I remember that when I considered myself to be sober and in recovery (even though I still don’t drink I don’t really consider myself those things anymore, and not in a I’m a dry drunk way), that every year I would get a ton of attention when my sobriety date came around. The yearly posts that I put up on my sobriety date where I counted another year sober were the most commented posts that I had, even more so than events like my twin sisters wedding, the birth of my niece, and posts about other big events in my life. While these did get attention, it wasn’t anywhere near the amount of attention that I got concerning my sobriety from friends and family, at AA meetings, by fellow members of AA, and on Facebook when I announced another year of sobriety. And, when I stopped attention seeking in terms of how much time I had, how good my sobriety was, suddenly I found myself quite isolated. It turned out that I had many fair-weathered friends who all seemed pretty adamant about supporting addicts/alcoholics. But, when it came to other issues, I definitely did not get the support that I needed.
I’ve noticed similar trends with other people who are sober and/or in recovery. It seems like they get more attention and support than the average person for being in recovery and earning clean time than most people do for practically any hardships or successes that they have in life. And, because sobriety is still associated with alcohol, drugs, or other behavioral problems, in essence people are getting attention not just for recovering from some sort of addiction but also just for participating in addictive or problematic behaviors.
Most people know that not just positive but negative attention can fuel behavioral patterns, and that this doesn’t just happen for children. Adults can get into patterns where they feed off of negative attention and participate in unhealthy behaviors because of it. Sometimes they are aware of this, and sometimes they are not. In regards to addiction, it’s obvious in our society that both practicing and recovering addicts and their family get a lot of attention because of the addiction in their family. Because of this, I wonder if people are quick to call family member’s addicts or alcoholics just because implicitly or unconsciously people know that this kind of problem in a family results in attention and validation for all family members, addict included.
So it is no wonder, then, that people are quick to convince themselves that they or other family members are addicts/alcoholics, and that addiction in our society is a growing. Everyone loves to get attention and support, and labeling oneself or a family member with these diagnoses is sure to bring in tons of support and attention. It also tends to stir up the gossip mill, which some people are hooked on.
Because of these dynamics, and because of the rise in addictive behaviors in our society, it makes sense that people could get misdiagnosed as an addict even by professionals. And, due to all the attention that addicts and alcoholics receive, it’s easy to see why there is a growing problem with substance abuse in our society. All of this attention that is heaped onto the overall problem of addiction too sends an implicit message to us and in particular our children that substance misuse and abuse is okay and in fact can bring rewards. This means that even if we try preventative measures that explicitly teach children of the problems with substance use, that this could fall onto deaf ears because of the conflicting implicit messages that children are receiving regarding this subject. Thus, this cycle of more and more attention being given to substance abuse only fuels problematic substance use in our society.
So what can be done about this? First of all, we need to learn other ways to fill people’s and children’s need for attention and validation other than with substances or other addictive behavior. We need to learn to love each other in healthy ways, and we need to address childhood trauma and teach those afflicted about unconditional love. We need to find positive ways to encourage and validate each other. And, the underlying problems that fuel addiction, such as depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, trauma, PTSD, or problems with emotions need to be addressed just as much as addiction and seen as primary problems in a person’s life, rather than addiction being seen as the primary issue in a person’s life. If we can do these things and more, it is possible that less people and children will turn to substances in order to gain attention, approval, and support.
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