What many non-addicts often struggle to understand is that addiction is never about the drug of choice itself. On the surface it would appear that alcoholism or sex addiction stemmed from an intense love of alcohol or sex. This is hardly the case. Addiction represents a deep and unattainable craving-a mental, physical, and spiritual longing. The item or behavior craved is not the issue. The problem is the insatiable need.
Addicts are people who live with a craving they cannot meet on their own. They feel out of place in the world, and they are uncomfortable in their own skin. But at some point they find that a particular substance or behavior gives them the release they’ve been looking for. It may be alcohol, food, drugs, sex, gambling, or codependent relationships. The craving encompasses their life-there is no life without fulfillment of the urge.
Given that addiction is the outward manifestation of this internal need, it is not uncommon for addicts to suffer from multiple addictions. Drugs and alcohol are a common combination as are alcohol and food. Once addicts get into recovery, they often find a host of other addictions they never realized they had. They begin to see that they’ve spent most of their lives trying to escape from life and that anything that promised to help them cope with life (no matter how destructive) was worth a try.
Naturally this would be the source of great angst for the addict. Admitting alcoholism was hard enough, now there’s the food addiction and the promiscuity and/or the inability to stay away from the casino. The individual is left feeling helpless in the face of so many debilitating conditions. It seems as if a normal, functional life is impossible.
For the addict suffering from multiple addictions, the first step is to realize that there is hope. If you can recover from one addiction, you can recover from several. No special powers will be required beyond willingness and honesty. When addicts relapse, the common cause is a failure to be honest with themselves and others.
It may be hard to attack several conditions at once. Most addictions will require the help of a support group or 12-step program. Suffering from multiple addictions could mean several programs and multiple meetings each week. But this is not the only approach. It is important for the addict to be well connected to his support network, but it is also important for him to begin reentering his life. He will need to establish a work life and he will need to work on restoring relationships. Unlimited 12-step meetings are a luxury most cannot afford.
While the addict needs to be willing to go to any length to get well, he must also be realistic. Honesty and the help of a sponsor can help the addict begin to categorize his addictions. Many addicts find that despite suffering multiple addictions, there is usually a primary offender. For example, one addict realized he had a problem with alcohol but he was also grossly obese due to compulsive overeating. When he began to get help for his food addiction and he dealt with the issues underlying his insatiable urge to eat, his compulsion to drink vanished. He realized that he drank as a part of his addiction, but that food was the true offender. When he got clean around food, alcohol ceased to be an issue.
Others find that once they put down a primary addiction, others spring up to take its place. One food addict, after getting into recovery, developed a destructive sex addiction. When she was unable to satisfy her internal cravings with food, she turned to sex. Though she continued in recovery for food addiction and maintained an abstinence from compulsive eating patterns, she also came to see that she needed the help of an entirely separate 12-step group to deal with the secondary addiction.
Many addicts will also start to see the ways in which they are perpetually looking to fill a vacuum in their lives. When the pack of cigarettes is definitively thrown out and the bottle corked, the addict continues to crave. They seek to find something to replace the void. Television, spending, gambling, and video game playing are common substitutes, but they show that the addict is not truly recovered-his spirit is still restless, uneasy, and longing for some comfort or escape. This inability to cope without a crutch shows that he still has not learned to fully welcome God into his void. He is still seeking to comfort and fix himself. Without a willingness to see the spiritual causes of addiction and without a true openness to God’s help, the addict will continue in a never-ending spiral of addiction and unmet need.