It is important to understand terms to understand addiction. The first term to grasp is addiction. In this article, we take a look at the very idea of “addiction.” In another post, Is It Really Sex Addiction?, I take a closer, clinical examination so we may learn to tell the difference between addiction and other constructs, like hypersexuality or compulsion.

Addiction is just a construct. A construct is what is sounds like, something constructed for use, a purpose-built idea assembled from supporting beliefs about phenomena we want to work with or get under our control. In the case of addiction, the phenomena has to do with loss of control over certain types of behaviors and a runaway desire for something. 

Is addiction a disease? Well, disease is another construct. Is addiction just a compulsion? Once again, compulsion is another construct. Don’t get me wrong! Addiction, disease, and compulsion are real. Calling something a construct is not the same as saying it is fiction or imaginary. Terming something a construct is simply a recognition that we try our best to put a label and a definition on a cluster of phenomena that seem related to each other.

Most if not all mental health problems are constructs. Depression and anxiety are constructs, too, as is PTSD, OCD, Bipolar, and so on. Constructs are how we boil down a variety of complex and seemingly related phenomena. It gives us a handle on them so we can do something with them.

Constructs are a mental object—that is, an idea. We cannot put a construct in a museum so everyone can look at it. In like fashion, we cannot perform and MRI and point out the little white spot in the brain where addiction lives. The same is true of a compulsion. 

Signs of disease, on the other hand, may be identified with body scan technologies, depending on the disease. White spots indicate physical lesions that could be a sign of a physical disease, like a stroke, tumor, or migraine. In this case, it is similar to putting an object on display in a museum. Disease is more than just an idea. Nevertheless, our ideas about disease make a huge difference. For example, someone may not think obesity is a big deal, so they don’t try to lose weight. Obesity, however, is correlated with a host of other medical problems. But the idea—the construct—of obesity in the person’s mind has interpreted obesity as “not a big deal” rather than “among leading causes of death in the U.S.”

So, constructs matter. Constructs matter because they are what we come up with to deal with what we experience. They are like a bridge between mind and matter. Constructs are attempts to understand and name clinical signs and human experiences, which have a physical or embodied reality. Constructs, however, also have a mental reality. They are formed by what we think, how we interpret, what we believe, and what we value.

The point is, telling the difference between addiction, compulsion, or just plain, ordinary desire is to tell the difference between constructs. How we define the constructs and where exactly we make the distinctions has more to do with how we think than how the world really is.

Terming something a construct is simply a recognition that we try our best to put a label and a definition on a cluster of phenomena that seem related to each other.

Photo attribution

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Now, the goal is to get as close to reality as possible—how the world really is, which includes myself. How I really am, how I really work. We want to escape delusions about self and the world and contact truth. But on our way toward that goal, we need to work through our thoughts and perceptions about the world. And “the world” here includes self, others, society, and nature. Added on to the world in our efforts at definitions and distinctions must also be God.

This is another discussion, but without God, the arch-principle of reality, the Truth Itself, we will always have a measure of delusion about self, others, and the world.

So, what is addiction? How do we identify it? 

A mother or father will answer this differently than a clinical psychologist. It is identified differently depending on your supporting beliefs and experience of the phenomena that we label, addiction. 

Clinicians and researchers have spent time in careful consideration about how to distinguish one thing from another in order to define addiction in clinical terms. They have refined the construct. And, therefore, to more accurately identify addiction in the real world.

Click here for the next article, Is It Really Sex Addiction?, in which we take a closer look at the clinical construct of addiction. We look at the criteria that defines addiction in clinical terms, to tell the difference between addiction and other struggles—or, constructs!