Addiction is More than a Game

Sunday, 30 August 2009 19:08 Written by  Priya A. Shah

Addiction is a serious problem and can range from online activities to not being able to control one’s drinking. Some questions you may have are answered here by Vanessa E. Ford (pictured to the left), a Chicago-based independently licensed clinical social worker who specializes in psychotherapy and addiction.

vfGMO: What is an addiction and how does an addiction begin? When does the pattern of behavior become an addiction?

Ford: Addiction is characterized by a pattern of behavior best defined by loss of control and continued behavior despite negative consequences.  It is also sometimes thought of as a kind of disease characterized by obsessive (thoughts) and compulsivity (behavior).

When referring to a chemical addiction, physiological addiction is specifically defined by either established tolerance (needing more of the substance in order to get the desired effect and/or same amount of the substance doesn't produce original or desired effect), and/or withdrawal syndrome specific to substance in question.

Behaviors can also be addictive; examples include food addiction (binge eating disorder e.g.), gambling, sexual compulsivity. Some may also include "love" or relationship addiction, or expand to include all eating disorders as a sort of sub-set (anorexia or bulimia nervosa).

GMO: What’s the best way for someone to quit cold turkey?

Ford: This can be very dangerous, depending on the substance in question. Alcohol (not heroin, as is commonly believed) is actually one of the most dangerous. If you feel you have a chemical addiction, the best thing to do is to get properly assessed/evaluated by a professional specifically credentialed in your state on addictions. Mental health credential or training alone is not sufficient to properly evaluate someone with an addiction. The professional (social worker, psychologist or physician/psychiatrist) can then make recommendations about next steps.

GMO: What are some signs to read easily when you’re addicted to something?

Ford: Continued use despite trying to stop or cut down, unsuccessful attempts to cut down, continued use despite unwanted consequences, recreational activities overall diminish in favor of those activities or peers that support use/drinking, others verbalizing concern. A brief screen often administered in ER settings is the CAGE.

GMO: What kinds of people (personality) do you think are at high risk for addiction?

Ford: Addiction professionals believe that it is a myth that there is a "personality type" associated with addiction. The personality traits associated with drinking (or other addictions) are believed to be formed as a result, not a cause of drinking. There have been longitudinal studies that support this.

GMO: What kind of mental health problems can addiction cause?

Ford: Worsens/exasperated depression/anxiety (although the person may experience short-term relief of symptoms, in the bigger picture actually worsening); relational problems; poor quality of sleep (again, a person's experience may be that it "helps" them sleep or fall asleep, but actually interferes with restful sleep); related environmental problems that can exasperate or cause mental health problems- e.g. financial problems, job loss or problems with employer (e.g. attendance issues), etc.

GMO: Are there prescription drugs for some of the symptoms?

Ford: For information on medication options, starting with one's primary care physician or preferably a psychiatrist is recommended.

GMO: Do women react to addiction differently than men?pic

Ford: Yes, women are smaller than men so actually the onset of addiction such as alcoholism is often years faster than men, but due to concerns like social stigma, roles as a caregiver in the family, social norms about being a "helper" and not asking for help for oneself, or concerns about child welfare involvement, they are grossly under-represented in treatment centers.

GMO: Why have you chosen to specialize in addiction?

Ford: As a clinician, nothing is more rewarding than to be a witness to the truly rapid and overwhelmingly positive change in my clients who suffer from addiction and then begin to address it effectively. It is nothing short of miraculous!

GMO: How can going to support group meetings help a person?

Ford: It lessens social isolation, stigma [and offers] 24/7 support, as professionals may only be available limited days/hours. It helps by replacing unhealthy peer groups and activities with healthy ones. Peer support is absolutely recommended.                                         

GMO: What kind of things can an addiction get in the way of in regards to daily life activities?

Ford: Everything you can think of.

GMO: College binge drinking seems to be a “cultural” aspect. Is it only a problem if the drinking continues later in life?

Ford: No, binge drinking in and of itself is associated with many problems, and is increasingly being addressed as a serious issue on college campuses. Even if the person drinking does not later become an alcoholic, it is associated with increased incidents of: unwanted pregnancy, unsafe sex, date rape, STIs, accidents, poor school performance, fights/assault, DUI, and overdose or death.

GMO: When setting a time limit for something, such as logging on to Facebook, doesn’t work, what is the next best thing?

Ford: Working towards total abstinence with the help of a professional. This may also include trying to identify and correct underlying issues that the addiction may be attempting to "self-medicate." Examples may include poor self-esteem, social isolation, social anxiety, anxiety or depression in general, etc.

GMO: What do you have to say about cultured women and addiction?

Ford: For African American women, additional life stressors such as institutional or cultural/societal racism may exasperate other issues, such as anxiety or depression, which in turn may exasperate potential to develop additive behaviors or chemical addictions. Racism, which makes hard-won career advancements that much more difficult to achieve, may also be a barrier to seeking treatment (fears of being held back if needing to take a break from work to focus on treatment).

GMO: Do you have any other tips or advice for our readers?

Ford: When in doubt, consult a professional. Also, when dealing with chemical addiction including alcoholism, exercise caution when considering behavioral change and make sure progress is being monitored by a professional. Reasons why this is recommended include dangers associated with cold-turkey withdrawal, or rapid psychiatric changes (e.g. if a substance or behavior was masking or self-medicating an underlying problem, and the behavior is suddenly stopped, could increase risk for suicidal impulses, etc).

To contact Ford or view self-test questions, please visit

Priya A. Shah

Priya A. Shah

Priya A. Shah lives in Chicago. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2010, where she studied magazine journalism and fiction writing. She has been a staff writer for GMO since 2007. She’s written and interned for various media outlets such as India Tribune, Today's Chicago Woman, Tribune Media Services, GlossMagazineOnline and Echo (the student produced magazine for Columbia College Chicago). She’s contributed to A Fresh Squeeze (, an online publication for green living in Chicago, and her school newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle.

Priya can be reached at or