Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

The Addictive Personality: Why Recovery Is a Lifetime Thing

spilled wine.jpgIn his insightful book, “The Addictive Personality: Understanding the Addictive Process and Compulsive Behavior,” author Craig Nakken explains why, even after an addict has given up the bottle or the weed, she will never be done with recovery:


Addiction is a process of buying into false and empty promises: the false promise of relief, the false promise of emotional security, the false sense of fulfillment, and the false sense of intimacy with the world….Like any other major illness, addiction is an experience that changes people in permanent ways. That is why it’s so important that people in recovery attend Twelve Step and other self-help meetings on a regular basis; the addictive logic remains deep inside of them and looks for an opportunity to reassert itself in the same or in a different form.


Nakken brilliantly explains the addictive cycle that I merely call “the exploding head phenomenon”: the process by which I continually seek relief from uncomfortable feelings, a “nurturing through avoidance–an unnatural way of taking care of one’s emotional needs,” as he says. The addict, he clarifies, seeks serenity through a person, place, or thing. The cycle is made up of four steps:

    1. pain
    2. feeling the need to act out
    3. acting out and feeling better
    4. pain from acting out

Just in case you weren’t paying attention, he mentions pain twice. 

It’s so simple it’s laughable, really. When you can draw your little neat diagram to see what’s going on. But when you’re in the midst of it, emotions take over and it’s about as easy as driving your car through a blizzard. On a back road.


With some addictions, there is a physiological component that further skews reality. And while I used to believe that once you were off of booze you were safe from the physiological drama within your limbic system (emotion center of the brain), now I believe that the high of hypomania and mania produces the same illusion of completeness or serenity as when you reached the perfect buzz. Which is why it’s so hard to come clean with your doctor so that you both can work hard at pulling you down from the high before you crash.


“Emotionally, addicts get intensity and intimacy mixed up,” Nakken writes. 

During the trance created by acting out, addicts may feel very excited, very shameful, and very scared. Whatever they are feeling, they feel it intensely. Addicts feel very connected to the moment because of the intensity. Intensity, however, is not intimacy, though addicts repeatedly get them mixed up. The addict has an intense experience and believes it is a moment of intimacy.


I wish I had read that distinction about 20 years ago, because I’ve spent too many years confusing the two. Whether it be a work project, or a thrilling new friendship, or a media opportunity, I assumed that the trance state meant that it could complete me (as Jerry Maguire would say) at least take away all the restlessness I feel on a daily basis.

Nakken is right on when he says that it’s important for addicts to understand their propensity or yearning for trance-like states because, in some regards, we have to temper these urges our entire lives. Bottle or no bottle. “On some level,” Nakken explains, “the addict will always be searching for an object or some type of event with which to form an addictive relationship. On some level, this personality will always want to give the person the illusion that there is an object or event that can nurture him or her.”


So, great, then what do we do? According to Nakken, we need to turn to supportive, nurturing relationships in order to grow emotionally and spiritually. Like …

* Family and safe friendships. Nakken says we learn healthy interdependencies. I have trouble determining which friendships are safe for me, but for now, I’m just going to say those that don’t make me feel like my head is going to blow up.


* A Higher Power. The first three steps in most 12-step programs:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.


2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.


* Self. Now that’s more helpful for some people versus others. I feel like my “self” right now is a massive liability. But I do trust myself much more today than 20 years ago when I stopped drinking. Nakken writes: “Through a caring relationship with ourselves we learn self-nurturing–the ability to love ourselves and see ourselves as one resource we can turn to during times of difficulty.”


* Community. This one’s absolutely critical to me. Although I don’t frequent many 12-step groups today, I do swim with a fun group of people at 6 am and we laugh our way through our laps. I’m also very active in my parish and find that spiritual support vital to my recovery.

I love Nakken’s explanation of why we need these four kinds of relationships in our lives:


What all four types of relationships have in common is the fact that people must reach within themselves, but they must also reach out. In natural relationships there is a connecting with others–an act of giving and an act of receiving. In addiction there is only an act of taking. Natural relationships are based on emotionally connecting with others; addiction is based on emotional isolation.


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  • Maria

    Thank you so much for this. I agree 100%. I also needed to be reminded of all this, as I also deal with bipolar disorder and addiction. My drug of choice is food, and I’m currently in a 12-step program for this. And your words are yet another source of help. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  • Bob G.

    Great post! I especially found the 4 line cycle on addiction to resonate deeply in me. Thanks so much!

  • Debbie B

    As usual, I so identify with what you have to say! I had a mid-life crisis about 5 years ago, two months before my 40th birthday. (Yes, it was on the nine for me.)
    Wonderful things came out of that very dark time. After ignoring ten+ years of my counselor’s advice, I admitted I am an alcohlic, and from that stemmed many, many blessings.
    It was incredibly painful, and though I wouldn’t want to go through it again, I NEEDED that mid-life crisis. I NEEDED to quit drinking. I NEEDED to learn to stand up to my husband. Now I’m grateful for my crisis. It actually had a happy ending.

  • JiLLB

    Like Maria, I have food issues… I’m a professional emotional eater. Right now, I could eat from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep. The hard part about a food addiction is that we still have to eat. The thing we have a problem with is something we have to “use” every day, multiple times a day. Having not struggled through alcohol or drug addictions, I have no idea what that’s like. I can, however relate to Maria.
    My psychologist also calls self-injury an addition. It’s not, of course, an issue when it’s only a few times. When it becomes a pattern of coping and there is long-term “use” she does use the word addiction.
    The word pertains to so many behaviors. I like your post, although sometimes hearing it… well, it’s not always something I want to hear. Addictions feel comfortable. Still, thank you for this.

  • John Rambo

    Why American men should boycott American women
    I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?
    American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.
    This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.

  • RP

    John Rambo,
    Really? Well, I have a feeling that American women wouldn’t want anything to do with you either.

  • L Johnson

    What an idiotic statement John Dumbo can only conclude your drunk and high to post your offensive trash. Hopefully even non American women won’t bother dating someone like you. God Help you

  • rbee

    I read this book years ago and although I defer on some of Mr.Nakkens final thoughts, his description of the process and the family dynamics are spot on. I come from multi-generational addictive males and this book as well as Dr. Paul Tourniers “Guilt and Grace” and Gerald Mays “Addiction and Grace” helped open my eyes to my need for recovery and community. “Victory is when our breaking point becomes our turning point” (L.Burt). Thanks for the commitment to helping others with this blog.

  • sunnycc

    John Rambo – Have you met Charlie Sheen or tried any of his winning propositions?
    Have you ever lived outside of the USA for an extended period of time?
    If your post is an authentic rant, please seek professional help. I am sincerely concerned for your mental well-being.

  • sunnycc

    Excellent article, w/hits on many points. Thank you :-)

  • nattalia

    how do you get an addictive personality to realize that he has a problem that needs correction? my husband has had a problem with alcohol throughout our marriage – no matter where we moved he would always find a drinking buddy or two and I always played second fiddle. It has been a draining relationship for my part and now that the kids are gone I don’t see much point in carrying on this way.

  • LK

    nattalia…only way to help him is help yourself. If you are in a relationship with an alcoholic you are sick too. You cannot help it because it is the nature of the disease. Go to alanon for yourself and your kids (even if they are not at home). Whether you leave him or not it will be a great way to get a perspective on how you have been manipulated. Underlying emotional abuse does effect your psyche even if you think it doesn’t. Good luck!

  • RS

    This article gives me insight into a few questions I have been having. I think it is a good article. I apologize for not have any more then this to say about it. Thank you.

  • Meg

    thanks for this post, therese. i’m definitely going to have to check this book out. after having just relapsed from a drug addiction, it’s clear how recovery is a lifelong process. it’s so easy to fall back into old habits and patterns of thinking.

  • Connie

    Thank you so much for this blog and your book. I really needed this article today to help make sense of myself. Your writing has provided me with many insights and offers hope. Truly, thank you!

  • kate

    thank you xx

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment dangerblu

    you described me to the tee. I have an addictive personality, along with bipolar,severe childhood abuse, and an undeniable urge to act out at at times. I cant seem to control the desire to always be up to no good mischief. It never seems to matter what i have to give up or how great the loss may be. I just dont seem to care about anything or anyone during the times I need to run and gun. I just wanna do what I wanna do, when I wanna do it and too bad if you dont like it, get used to it, or get over it. It may have been cute in my 20’s but Good God Im about to turn 50 and its so not cute to anyone. Ive lost everything and nearly everyone ive ever loved but oh well they must have not been worth it anyways right? I mean really these are the things I tell myself everyday all the time just so I dont have to take responsibility for my bad behavior and screwed up life. Its some kind of sick. I feel as if the wires in my brain needed for common sense are constantly misfiring and sending out the order to fire the launch sequence, before I can say WTF ..Im already out tthe door and on my way to sins ville, or mischief town. Im about 2 more up to no goods and the only man i ever loved, deep in my soul, and with all my heart kinda love, {my husband} will be good and gone for sure. And noone would blame him for leaving. He is a sent from heaven, god given angel that has loved me unconditionally, forgiven me repeatedly, and has done everything and anything without hesitation to help me, including defending my diseases to everyone Im desperate for someone to tell me why

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment dangerblu

    i wont stop doing what I do and be grateful for the life and the love I have been finally blessed with HELP

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