When Coping Becomes Addiction

Some addictions fulfill the function of reducing tension through four sequential steps:

  • The addict experiences an unmet or painful life situation. Boredom, conflict with friends or family, a crisis, pain, or any other negative emotion creates tension or stress. Many different factors may come into play at this point. Constitutional or genetic factors will affect how much stress you can take before negative emotions develop. Modeling from parents and peers will also play a part in determining how you react to certain situations or emotions. Your social milieu will then expose you to possibly addictive behaviors and reinforce your attraction to them. Family factors such as overindulgence, chaos, or conflict can create excessive and distorted needs. A daughter, for example, who does not get adequate love from a father may well spend the rest of her life searching for this missing love in many disruptive male relationships. But since none of these is capable of being her father, her search is doomed to frustration. She becomes addicted to her search for love.
  • The unmet need creates a "pressure" or imbalance that can be relieved only by engaging in some behavior. The "surrender" to this behavior thus becomes the addiction.
  • With the "surrender" to the behavior comes a sense of relief, then denial. The relief in some cases may be profound. With it comes a reduction in need and a denial that the chosen behavior had anything to do with the relief. Denial plays a formative role in all addictions. In fact, it seems that for a behavior to become addicting, the relief it provides must be denied. The more unconscious the connection between the need and the behavior that brings relief, the more powerful the addiction. It’s as if the mind conspires to keep the addiction "game" secret. Somehow this helps to make the behavior more effective as a tension reducer.

    Notice that I am not saying just that the addicted person denies that he or she engages in some addictive behavior. I’m saying more than this. The addict denies that the behavior relieves tension — that it serves any purpose whatsoever. A great degree of rationalization then takes place. "I collect coins because it’s a good investment." "I gamble because buying lottery tickets benefits our schools and the next generation of kids." "I work hard because my kids deserve a better start in life than I got." One could write a book about these "excuses" for addiction.

    The connection between denial and the drive to engage in the addictive behavior is so strong that the very presence of denial, and any subsequent rationalization, can be taken as strong evidence that an addiction is present.

  • Once the addictive behavior is completed, the tension reappears. The tension relief that occurs in addictions, like the pleasure they afford, is temporary and ultimately unsatisfactory. Sooner or later the unbearable life circumstance surfaces again and the tension reemerges. This recreates a need for the behavior, and the cycle begins again.

If you are dealing with an addiction, or if someone you know is struggling with this type of behavior, we urge you to consider talking with a professional counselor.

Background Information

Addiction Triggers
What causes the addiction cycles to begin?

Dr. Jekyll's Potion
The link between alcohol and violent behavior may be stronger than you think.

If You're an Alcoholic
Think you'll never be able to quit? There is hope.

But I've Got Reasons!
Alcoholics offer countless excuses for drinking. They simply don"t hold water.

Questions and Answers

My husband is an alcoholic. Can it be treated, and is there hope for families like mine?

Have you ever been concerned that exercising the concept of "tough love" in a marital crisis could potentially kill the marriage?

Review Frequently Asked Questions


Absentee Father
One adult child of an alcoholic shares his experience of healing and hope.

Under the Influence
Growing up with an alcoholic father was frightening. In the end, I choose to give my father the gift of forgiveness.

It Would Never Happen to Us
Teen drug addiction is always some other family's tragedy, until it hits home.

If you've been through a experience related to this topic, we invite you to share your story with others.
Share Your Story

Other Things to Consider

The Hungry Heart
Our souls seek satisfaction like a starving man seeks food. Regardless of race, culture or creed, we have one commonality: hungry hearts. What is it our souls hunger for? Relationship.

Where is God in the Midst of All My Troubles?
So many cry out to Him in times of need, but is God really listening? And, more important, does He care?

Life Pressures: Workaholism

Parenting Teens Drugs and Alcohol, Eating Disorders, Internet Concerns

Relationships:  Anger