The Expert Corner: Obsession vs. Addiction

The Expert Corner: Obsession vs. Addiction

Expert Corner QuestionYou know how something can just replay over and over in your mind, no matter how hard you try to get it out? When I was little, it was like that with Legos: I would build them, take them apart and start all over. Everything was about getting back to a table to build. Now I’m obsessed with heroin, but it doesn’t feel like it’s bad, it’s just my next obsession. I guess I’m wondering if that is all addiction is, being obsessed. Millions of people are obsessed with their stuff. Why does being obsessed with a drug make me an addict?

Elevate Expert AnswerObsession is an interesting word. People can be “obsessed” with many things, not necessarily bad. For some, they become obsessed with their work. Others may call them workaholics, but truly great businesspeople are often hyper-focused and put work ahead of other priorities in life.

There are people obsessed with exercise and eating healthy. This “obsession” has the benefit of being a good activity for the body and mind, without much consequence. 

The best thing to do is to try to look further out in time. If this action were continued over and over and over for weeks, months or years, what would be the consequence? 

Expert Corner - Obsessed vs AddictedIf someone were literally in the gym 10 hours per day under some compulsive impulse to work out, the rest of their life may obviously suffer. Similarly, someone who works too much might not spend as much time with their kids as they would like. In fact, finding the right work-family balance is one of the biggest issues most people face in life. 

However, these things in themselves are not necessarily bad, as they don’t seem to damage the balance of life on their own.

Heroin on the other hand, has well-documented consequences. It is, without question, physically addictive. Once a person has started using it daily, the body literally experiences nausea, muscle cramping, severe anxiety, flu-like symptoms and other issues as a withdrawal from the drug. 

There is also the danger of overdosing, as well as having to “sacrifice anything” to fill the habit. When you use the word “obsession”, there are so many tales of lives and families being devastated from heroin use that it doesn’t need to be restated here. 

The best way to evaluate this is to simply follow this path out in time. I’ve personally never known someone who used heroin for a short while as an obsession, yet did not become addicted. In fact, the three most likely scenarios are: death, incarceration or getting sober after going to rehab – and the first two are much more likely. “Just stopping” is extremely unlikely.

I’ll say one last thing about this. Addicts are typically the last ones to realize they are addicted. They usually think they have it under control and have their behavior very rationalized, even when it is absurd.

An addict may think it’s perfectly reasonable to sell their shoes for drugs and may even convince themselves that shoes are not really necessary anyway. This is why interventions sometimes have to be done in an attempt to get the addict to see how their behavior is affecting themselves and their loved ones. 

I would strongly encourage you to seek treatment for your “obsession” sooner than later, even if you can’t see it as a problem yet. 

Answered by: Dan Manson
Elevate Addiction Services President
Disclaimer: The Expert Corner is a place for an open, honest discussion about addiction that cuts through the buzzwords and clichés to bring you real, unfiltered answers. However, Dan’s responses are not intended and should not be taken as medical or psychiatric advice. Keep the conversation going by sharing your own thoughts or submitting a question to Dan.

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  • Lauren Elizabeth

    Sometimes when I work out, I will run on the treadmill for endless hours. My mom would always say to be careful not to become obsessed. Now I can see why.

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