Have you ever heard of the term Shadow Addiction? Shadow Addictions are becoming incredibly and increasingly more common in our society. The spike in the number of younger therapy clients coming to me with shadow addictions inspired this tip.
First, let’s clarify what an addiction is. Psychology Today gives a great overview of addiction, stating, “Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance [alcohol, cocaine, nicotine] or engages in an activity [gambling] that can be pleasurable but the continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships, even health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.” It goes on to explain different types of addictions and the biology and chemistry behind them and how to seek out treatments plans. I encourage you to take a look.
While shadow addiction is a form of addiction, it is, on the surface, socially acceptable. It does not necessarily interfere with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships, even health, as stated in the definition above, but that does not mean the behavior is not negatively impacting quality of life.
When we think of “addicts”—whether it is gambling, sex, drugs, alcohol, food, exercise, etc.—we think of a person whose compulsive behavior is out of control and obvious. A shadow addiction, on the other hand, does not necessarily debilitate the sufferer, but the effect it has on relationships and sense of self and overall functioning is real and, left unchecked, can lead to a full-blown addiction.
The real question about any mood-altering activity is: Are you controlling the behavior or is it controlling you?
For clarity, let’s use exercise as an example. An addiction to exercise could be working out five hours a day in a bulimic-type fashion. The shadow addiction might present as exercising for an hour a day, every day, and needing to get in that hour. If the quality of your entire day is ruined if circumstances arise not allowing you to exercise, that extreme response is out of balance. On the surface, exercising an hour a day seems healthy, and you may admire someone who possesses such a high level of motivation, but quality of life is impaired if that hour a day is a compulsion. The high level of emotional distress that accompanies deviating from the prescribed schedule indicates a shadow addiction.
A therapist friend recently told me a story that illustrates shadow addictions perfectly. She said she had a client who came to her saying she had a drinking problem. When she inquired how much the client was drinking daily, the client replied, “I have one Scotch nightly.” When the therapist seemed a little confused, the client went on to say, ”But every other minute of the day, I think about taking that drink.” You can see how this is a problem.
I quit drinking when I was twenty-one. I have an addictive personality and background, so I am very aware of my own shadow addiction tendencies. Although I stopped drinking young, my struggle with transferring that addiction to other behaviors has been a lifelong challenge. I can still easily get sucked into mood-altering activities from compulsively training for a triathlon to being inflexible about a vegan diet, which binds anxiety about other things.
My heightened awareness of my addictive nature challenges me to skip working out and choose a lazy Sunday with my husband once in a while to maintain a healthy balance. Trust me, if I were not vigilant, I would be actively addicted to many things. But I do the hard work of checking in, staying in therapy, and keeping an open dialogue with my friend and addiction expert Patty Powers, because I love my sweet life.
What are your shadow addictions? What behaviors negatively impact the quality of your life?
The most common shadow addictions I see in my practice are alcohol, social drug use, technology, sex, and exercise.
If I said you were going to do a thirty-day cleanse starting now and you could not engage in your chosen shadow addiction behavior, would you be able to do it? How does the thought of it make you feel? This is an opportunity for you to dig deep and get real with yourself. Having an addict’s mind, I know intimately the frightening power of denial as a defense. Why wait until something bad happens to wake up in your life? Now is the time.
As they say in addiction circles: Anything you put above your recovery you lose. In the case of shadow addictions, it might be more accurate to say: Anything you put above being fully present in your life suffers.
What is suffering in your life right now?
I would love to know how you feel about this topic, so please drop a comment! I am here to help.
I hope you have an amazing week, filled with relaxed joy and pleasure, and, as always, take care of you.
Love love love