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The Secret Life of Other Addictions

By Brenda Iliff

Brenda IliffEqual but different. The same hopelessness applies to all addictions. Addiction is Addiction!

All addictions have a physical component (once we start, we can't stop) and a mental component (which leads to can't quit or stay quit.) These components lead us to the "gift of desperation" and a willingness to find the miracle that many have found in the Twelve Step rooms.

For many in recovery from alcohol and other drugs, concerns around food, sex, nicotine, money, work, gambling, gaming or addictive use of the Internet begin to surface. These addictions may have been present prior to the alcohol and other drug addiction. The alcohol and drugs may have even helped to navigate, cover or control the original addiction of food, sex, nicotine, etc. It becomes a game of 'Whac-A-Mole,' chasing one addiction after another. Addiction Interaction Disorder is the term used when addictions interact with each other and play off one another.

How could it be that we are in recovery yet still have an active addiction? What’s it like to be recovering with an active addition?

While addiction is addiction, there are gender as well as age patterns that impact various addictions.  Society typically attributes sex addiction, work and gambling to men, and food and money problems to women. Nothing could be further from the truth. Addiction is addiction; it is no respecter of gender. Men have binge eating rates equal to women; while all binge eaters are not food addicted, many are. Men have higher rates of sexual addiction, although women's rates are increasing and are ahead in the area of love addiction (the obsession.) Gambling, work and money addictions take different avenues with the genders but end with the same despair.

Sex, food and nicotine addiction are the most common addictions for people in alcohol and drug recovery. These addictions may not kill as quickly as alcohol and other drugs, but they leave people just as spiritually and emotionally bankrupt and desperate. The secrecy and shame of food and sexual addictions can far outrank that of alcohol and drugs. People faced with Addiction Interaction Disorder try a variety of strategies and tactics.

Here are some of the methods we have tried: We try to learn more about the other addiction, even reading about it through those great Hazelden Publishing books! We try to work our AA/NA program harder. We consider it a shortcoming or character defect, so we work the Sixth and Seventh Steps around it. We do Step Eleven and pray for God's will for us and the power to carry it out. Still we eat, purge, gamble, spend, restrict or experience uncontrollable sexual or internet behavior. We lose relationships, don't show up for life and feel all the more guilty because we're in recovery and we "should know better." It feels hopeless!

As the hopelessness grows, we may talk to our sponsors or friends in AA or NA and share a bit of those secrets. We finally have the courage to talk with someone about our food, sexual behaviors, spending, gambling, gaming, etc., and they look at us like we have three eyes or give us that blank "I don't get it" look. They may even laugh at our addiction. Comments like "Wow, I wish I was a sex addict, how do I get that addiction?" or "How can anyone be addicted to food?" only increase our shame and feelings that no one understands.

We need to experience the truth, and the truth is we are not alone. Many people in recovery experience Addiction Interaction Disorder.

We have a separate disease -- another addiction. Our addiction is a First Step issue and not a character defect. There is hope (Step Two) in finding people who "get it" and are living in the solution.

Step One helps us to learn about our specific addiction and identify with others who have it. It's important to get specific about our secrets and shame with people who understand the specifics of the addiction as well as the specifics needed for recovery. Others who binge, purge, gamble, spend, go into debt, act out sexually, etc. are found in Twelve Step fellowships with singleness of purpose to help those with these specific addictions. Addictions to other chemicals and behaviors are different, as is the solution!

Each addiction has its own unique language. For example, for sex addiction, the three circles may be part of the solution. For food addiction, it's identifying trigger foods and behaviors, and for gambling and debting addicts, it may be the pressure release group. For recovery, we need to hear the language of our specific addiction to identify both with the problem but more importantly with the solution.

How does one stay sober when there is still a need to eat, be sexual, spend, use the computer, etc.? The Twelve Step groups for specific addictions "get it!" Addiction is addiction, and in these groups, no one is alone anymore.

How can one be in recovery with another addiction? Start with Step One. Be with people who know what it's like to struggle with that addiction. Watch the hope grow.

Brenda Iliff, Executive Director of Hazelden in Naples, is a Certified Multiple Addictions Counselor with special training in sexual, food, spending and gambling addictions.  While her primary focus with Hazelden in Naples is on addiction to alcohol and drugs, she lectures monthly on the impact of other addictions and provides retreats for those seeking hope. 

On July 24-26, Brenda will present The Secret Life of Other Addictions retreat at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center.

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