Active Addiction and Mental Health

by Timothy Stewart

When I was in the throes of active addiction, I was sick. Addiction is a sickness. In medical terms, addiction gets classified under mental health, but the word addiction is everyday street language. The medical profession uses the term substance abuse to describe addiction, but it’s not about the chemical or the activity. Addiction is a psychological and pathological reaction to anything with life-damaging consequences and is not limited to drugs or alcohol. Addiction is all about the way the addict’s mind takes in and processes information and the behaviours that thinking spark in the addict.

When I got serious about recovery and started attending regular meetings, one of my regular meetings took place at St. Mary’s Hospital. Going to the hospital like that started to make sense to me. I was sick, so I went to the hospital. For the most part, healthy people don’t go to the hospital. Hospitals treat sick people. Before I understood that I had a mental illness that needed medical attention, I thought I was a bad person. But understanding that I was actually sick and needed medical attention made me stop thinking I was a bad person and that there was no help for me. I didn’t ask to be an addict like a person with diabetes didn’t ask to be saddled with that. 

As I try to emphasize all the time in coaching my clients, being addicted to a substance does not necessarily mean having a chemical addiction to a substance. Sure, there are substances that have proven addictive qualities, like the nicotine in cigarettes, but active addiction is about so much more than chemical dependency. Addictive addiction is all about the state of your mind.

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