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The Adolescent Addictive Process

by Dore Frances, M.A., founder of Horizon Family Solutions, LLC
I will start this column off by stating that there is no such thing as an adolescent addictive personality, in the sense that there is no adolescent personality type that causes addition; this has been clearly proven. When I speak of the adolescent addictive personality I am speaking of how this powerful illness - addiction - alters one's personality.

Addiction is not the only disease that has this affect. I had cancer when I was 35, and as a result of that illness, it altered my personality and the way I saw and walked through my life and the rest of the world. Some people who have had cancer or know someone in cancer treatment speak of this effect as the "cancer personality."

I believe that this powerful process of decay that we call adolescent addiction alters these children in how they view themselves, the world, and in how they conduct themselves as human beings.

The current medical definition of addiction in Webster's New World Medical Dictionary is a helpful one.

It is as follows: Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition characterized by compulsive drug seeking and abuse and by long-lasting chemical changes in the brain.

But because we are social creatures, and because adolescent addiction primarily affects how they engage in relationships, I offer a different definition of addiction.

My definition of adolescent addiction is this: Adolescent addiction is a pathological love and trust relationship with an event and/or object.

At its most basic level, the adolescent's primary relationship becomes one with an object - alcohol and/or drugs - or with an event like gambling, gaming, sexual acting out, etc.

Instead of going to other people or to a value system to solve issues and problems, the adolescent addict goes to the event or object that their addictive ritual is centered around, in so doing they learn problem solving techniques that tie them to the addictive process. There are four basic forms of relationships in which humans get emotional intimacy and spiritual needs met.

These four are:

  • A relationship with spiritual principles (like honesty, integrity, respect, etc.)
  • A loving relationship with oneself
  • Relationships with community
  • Relationships with family and friends
These four are where humans turn when they have issues and problems to find help and solutions. Adolescents learn to transform pain into new growth and insights.

As the addiction progresses, the adolescent ends up turning away from and against these four; in fact, adolescent addiction works to destroy a personal relationship with these four groups, to the point where eventually the addict's only relationships are with themselves (creates adolescent addictive narcissism), and with other addicts. The adolescent addict ends up having only superficial relationships with people, their community, and spiritual principles. They become one-dimensional, they lack depth, for their life is about chasing sensations at the cost of these four forms of relationships. The betrayal of these four natural forms of relationships creates pain, which become the irritant from which they seek relief by acting out in addictive ways. The adolescent continues to spiral down into addiction until they are willing to end this dysfunctional destructive relationship, rejoin humanity and relearn human ways of dealing with issues and problems.

This is partly why the residential / wilderness community model of recovery found in the self-help movement is so effective; it gives the individual a place to learn how to be human again.

As the adolescent addicts distance themselves from their humanity and the humanity of others, they go through a process of decay, of disintegration. It is this process that is called the addictive process.


Dore Frances, M.A., is an educational consultant, childs right advocate, parent coach, specializing in working with troubled teens and their families in the United States, Canda, and abroad. See her site at: www.guidingteens.com or contact her by phone at:(541) 312-4422, or email at:Dore@DoreFrances.com.
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