that depends…

This question is something I have been asked hundreds of times over the years. By people struggling to understand their behaviors and family members trying to make sense of what they see in a loved one. This is particularly true when you are wondering about a behavior which often involves things which in different circumstances are quite functional and healthy e.g. sex, spending money, food and the like.

So how do we know?

There are three simple questions to ask yourself when trying to understand out of control behaviors…

  1. Is it having a negative impact on your life?
  2. Do you continue to do the behavior or use the substance, despite knowing the answer to question #1 is yes?
  3. Have you tried to stop but are having trouble stopping or staying stopped due to “craving”?

If the answers to those questions are all yes, there is a strong likelihood that you either have an addictive disorder or, at least, an out of control behavior, that needs to be addressed.

Let’s look a little more deeply into answering those questions.

Negative Impact

Physical, social or emotional impact is what we are looking for here. If your spouse or friends complain that you are not yourself; you don’t feel physically well while or after doing the behavior or using the substance; the behavior or substance causes regret, shame or negative responses in your home, work or social life. If no one but you knows the full extent of the behavior, besides secrecy being a red flag for addiction, if they did – would there be more negative consequences?

Continued Use Despite Negative Impact

So, you find that in your heart of hearts, you know it is having negative impact, but you still do not stop. Or you minimize it to yourself somehow, telling yourself it isn’t as bad as they say, or it’s just because you hadn’t eaten, or you just needed some stress relief or a brief escape…and you will stop tomorrow. But tomorrow comes and there is another reason not to stop.

Can Not Stay Stopped

You know you ought to stop or change your behavior somehow, but every time you try to stop, you find yourself doing it again. You feel the physical or psychological craving for the substance or behavior. If a person or situation comes between you and the behavior, you find yourself irritated or angry at that person or situation. You need it to cope with your days or with withdrawal from it.


If you find yourself identifying with these questions, there is every reason to hope for change. Reach out to a professional who understands and has evidence-based answers to working with these behaviors. Even if you have tried before – you can heal and have a life worth living. If programs or other attempts have failed you, don’t give up. You need something that addresses your behaviors AND the underlying pain that drives your behaviors. Often times programs only address the behaviors and not the underlying pain. You need both. Work with someone with whom you trust, connect and who will walk with you through the winding road of recovery, giving you the support and expertise you need.