Kathy is a 35-year-old mother of three who spends much of her time worrying about her depressed mother. Her mother calls her daily and complains about her life. The oldest of four children, Kathy has always been “the responsible one.” She knows she cannot “fix” her mother, but she feels compelled to keep trying, to the detriment of her own well-being. She alternates between feeling exhausted, angry, hurt, sad, and discouraged when obsessing about her mother. Secretly, she also feels powerful, needed, and important when attempting to control her mother’s moods. She’s addicted to this codependent and destructive relationship.

I could go on, telling story after story of addictive and compulsive behavior that hasn’t yet reached a crisis point. This parade of addictions is with us every day in every walk of life. We anesthetize our pain with our substance or behavior of choice, secretly hoping we’ll never have to face the power of our problems.

A Parade of Addictions

In case I haven’t convinced you yet that we’re a parade of addicts, let’s make a list of everyday addictions. Let’s take a look at the activities and substances that can hook us. Let’s look at the ways we can lose our souls to the powers of these addictions, relinquishing our ability to choose what is best for us along the way. Here are some everyday addictions:

drugs, alcohol, and gambling
food, caffeine, and sugar
sex and pornography
work and perfectionism
codependency, approval, and worry
spending, shopping, and coupon-clipping
television, video, and video-gaming
exercise and sports
love, romance, and romance novels
money, accumulation, and success
e-mail, Internet, and chat rooms
cell phones
power and anger

The list could go on and on. I suspect you have recognized my point: Virtually anything can become a compulsion and qualify as an everyday addiction.

Humans are prone to addiction and compulsive behaviors. What begins as a benign activity, such as buying something on the Internet, can gradually become addictive. For some people, innocuous and infrequent spending soon becomes obsessive—they do it more and more, hiding their behaviors from others. For others, random outings to the casino become an infatuation with the neon lights and the glimmer of winning something big. They move from infrequent outings to an obsessive attachment to the activity, cloaking their behavior in secrecy and denial. For others, the occasional dinner party and single glass of wine slips easily into two or three glasses of wine nightly. Soon they’re hooked!

Society as Addict

Why can we so easily be hooked? Why are we self-controlled in one area of our lives and completely unable to set limits in another?
Anne Wilson Schaef has an interesting perspective on the matter. Schaef, author of When Society Becomes an Addict, says the addictions we can see are only the tip of the iceberg and that society itself reinforces addictions by ignoring their presence. She believes that no one has only one addiction. Instead, we all have multiple addictions, characterized by self-centeredness, dishonesty, preoccupation with control, abnormal thinking processes, repressed feelings, and ethical deterioration. She asserts that our society not only encourages addictions but sees them as normal. As someone recovers from one addiction, another is likely to surface.

Is this why we smile when we mention addiction to caffeine, nicotine, food, cell phones, and e-mail? Schaef’s theory makes sense. Few people are screaming about the rampant obesity in our society. Few are carping about our addictive interest in television, movies, or movie stars, or the tremendous negative influence these have on us. Few even decry the moral deterioration caused by pornography. Like television and the movies, these are considered “victimless” problems.