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Substance Abuse, Food, Sex, and Gambling Addiction

Understanding drug use, drug abuse, and addiction

If you’re worried about your own or a friend or family member’s drug use, it’s important to know that help is available. Learning about the nature of drug abuse and addiction—how it develops, what it looks like, and why it can have such a powerful hold—will give you a better understanding of the problem and how to best deal with it.


People experiment with drugs for many different reasons. Many first try drugs out of curiosity, to have a good time, because friends are doing it, or in an effort to improve athletic performance or ease another problem, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Use doesn’t automatically lead to abuse, and there is no specific level at which drug use moves from casual to problematic. It varies by individual. Drug abuse and addiction is less about the amount of substance consumed or the frequency, and more to do with the consequences of drug use. No matter how often or how little you’re consuming, if your drug use is causing problems in your life—at work, school, home, or in your relationships—you likely have a drug abuse or addiction problem.

Common signs and symptoms of drug abuse:

  • You’re neglecting your responsibilities at school, work, or home.

  • You’re using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high.

  • Your drug use is getting you into legal trouble.

  • Your drug use is causing problems in your relationships.


Common signs and symptoms of drug addiction:

  • You’ve built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.

  • You take drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms.

  • You’ve lost control over your drug use.

  • Your life revolves around drug use.

  • You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy.

  • You continue to use drugs, despite knowing it’s hurting you. It’s causing major problems in your life—blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia—but you use anyway.

Understanding gambling addiction and problem gambling

Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slots—in a casino or online—problem gambling can strain relationships, interfere with work, and lead to financial catastrophe. You may even do things you never thought you would, like stealing money to gamble or pay your debts. You may think you can’t stop but, with the right help, you can overcome a gambling problem or addiction and regain control of your life. The first step is recognizing and acknowledging the problem.

How to help with a gambling problem:

Compulsive and problem gamblers often need the support of their family and friends to help them in their struggle to stop gambling. But the decision to quit has to be theirs. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is seeing the effects, you cannot make someone stop gambling.


If your family member has a gambling problem, you may have many conflicting emotions. You may try to cover up for a loved one or spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep him or her from gambling. At the same time, you might be furious at your loved one for gambling again and tired of trying to keep up the charade. The gambler may also have borrowed (or even stolen) money from you with no way to pay it back. He or she may have sold family possessions or run up huge debts on joint credit cards. When faced with the consequences of their actions, a gambler can suffer a crushing drop in self-esteem. This is one reason why there is a high rate of suicide among problem gamblers.

You may have a gambling problem if you:

  • Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or lie about how much you gamble, feeling others won’t understand or that you will surprise them with a big win.

  • Have trouble controlling your gambling. Once you start gambling, can you walk away? Or are you compelled to gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, upping your bets in a bid to win lost money back?

  • Gamble even when you don’t have the money. A red flag is when you are getting more and more desperate to recoup your losses. You may gamble until you’ve spent your last dollar, and then move on to money you don’t have- money to pay bills, credit cards, or things for your children. You may feel pushed to borrow, sell, or even steal things for gambling money. It’s a vicious cycle. You may sincerely believe that gambling more money is the only way to win lost money back. But it only puts you further and further in the hole.

  • Family and friends are worried about you. Denial keeps problem gambling going. If friends and family are worried, listen to them carefully. Take a hard look at how gambling is affecting your life. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many older gamblers are reluctant to reach out to their adult children if they've gambled away their inheritance. But it's never too late to make changes for the better.

Do I have a gambling problem?


  • Seek the support of others with similar problems; attend a self-help group for families such as Gam-Anon.

  • Explain problem gambling to the children.

  • Recognize your partner’s good qualities.

  • Remain calm when speaking to your partner about his or her gambling and its consequences.

  • Let your partner know that you are seeking help for your own sake because of the way gambling affects you and the children.

  • Understand the need for treatment of problem gambling despite the time it may involve.

  • Take control of family finances; review bank and credit card statements.


Do’s and Don'ts for Partners of Problem Gamblers


  • Preach, lecture, or allow yourself to lose control of your anger.

  • Make threats or issue ultimatums unless you intend to carry them out.

  • Exclude the gambler from family life and activities.

  • Expect immediate recovery, or that all problems will be resolved when the gambling stops.

  • Bail out the gambler.

  • Cover-up or deny the existence of the problem to yourself, the family, or others.

To find a provider in your state specializing working with addiction please click here

Sex addiction is characterized by an individual’s intense desire to take part in sexual activity. Some of the activities that, when taken part in obsessively or excessively, may indicate an obsession with sex include:

  • watching pornography either on television or online

  • thinking about sex for long periods of the day to the point in which it interferes with other priorities

  • excessive collections of sexual magazines

  • risk taking sexual behavior such as promiscuity or having sex in public places

  • excessive masturbation

Sex addiction typically causes the addicts thinking to be distorted and they will often rationalize their behavior in some way. Sex addicts will even blame others for their problems or their sexual actions rather than take the blame or accept that they were the doers of their actions. Most will deny that their interaction with sexual activities are a problem thus denying that they are an addict.

As sexual addictions progress, the behaviors that the addict takes place in will often progress as well. For instance, in the early stages of sex addiction, an individual may simply watch many hours of pornography. In time, this addiction may turn into the individual taking part in online sex groups that cost money. This can even progress to a desire or intense sensation to go out and perform these acts in public which can lead to promiscuous activity which poses a significant danger to the addict in terms of physical harm, disease or other problems.

Signs of Sex Addiction:

Early on, the signs of sex addiction may not be extremely easy to see but as time goes on, the signs will typically become more prevalent. Because sex addiction tends to progress rapidly and move from small discreet actions on to major, noticeable behaviors, you may recognize the following signs in an individual who is addicted to sex:

  • compulsive masturbation or stimulation

  • extra-marital affairs or multiple affairs in a non-married relationship

  • multiple one night stands

  • excessive and consistent use or pornography

  • practicing unprotected, unsafe sex

  • cybersex either over the phone or online

  • prostitution or purchasing the services of a prostitute

  • dating excessively for the ability to have multiple sexual partners

  • voyeurism or watching others have sex

  • rape

  • molestation

  • sexually harassing others

Consequences of Sex Addiction:

Many different consequences can result from an individual’s inability to control their sexual addiction. Some of the most common consequences of sex addiction include:

  • Financial consequences. From poor productivity at work because an individual has nothing but sex on his or her mind to money spent on sex through prostitution, cybersex, phone sex or online sexual fantasy chat rooms, there is great stress financially that can come from sex addiction.

  • Health consequences. Individuals who suffer from sex addiction are likely to take part in promiscuous activity which can lead to unwanted pregnancy, STDs such as AIDs or hepatitis, or rape

  • Social consequences. Sex addiction can lead to adverse social interactions. Many sex addicts will not interact socially because they spend their time taking part in cybersex while others may be over pushy or too sexual when in social interactions which can lead to social upset.

  • Emotional consequences. Sex addiction is a disease and many sex addicts, despite their desire to quit taking part in extreme sexual activity, are unable to on their own. This leads to failure and emotional upset that can linger and cause depression or anxiety for the addict.

Treatment for Sex Addiction:

Many forms of treatment for sex addiction exist to help you balance your life with healthy sexual relationships that do not hinge on the border of being addictive. A mental health professional and medical health professional can help to determine if you truly are addicted to sex, help you get to the bottom of the reasons why you may be suffering from sex addiction and even lead you in the right direction to overcoming your sex addiction once and for all.

Understanding Eating Disorders
Understanding Sex Addiction

To find a provider in your state specializing working with addiction please click here

There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. People with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight even though they are dangerously thin from starving themselves. People with bulimia nervosa eat unusually large amounts of food (binge eat) and then compensate by purging (vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics), fasting or excessive exercise. People with binge-eating disorder binge but do not purge, and they often become overweight or obese. Eating disorders may occur along with depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders, and can cause heart and kidney problems, even death. The disorders show up most frequently during teenage years, but there are indications they may develop earlier or later in life.

Current treatment options may include mental health therapy, nutritional counseling, and medicines. One large scale study suggests an online-intervention program may help some college-aged women who are at high risk of developing an eating disorder. The program includes online discussion groups moderated by psychologists, as well as reading and writing assignments.

If you have anorexia you are likely to:

  • deny that you feel hungry, despite not eating

  • be obsessed with losing weight

  • count calories meticulously

  • hide food or secretly throw it away

  • completely avoid high-calorie foods

  • make yourself sick

  • exercise excessively

  • use drugs that reduce your appetite or speed up your digestion

  • wear baggy clothes to cover up any weight loss, or to keep warm

  • believe that you look fat, although you are considered underweight by other people.


Types of eating problems

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia is more common than anorexia. It is a cycle of feeling compelled to eat large amounts of food, and then trying to undo the effects of doing so. You may find yourself taking great care to keep bulimia hidden from those around you. You may dread being fat and probably believe that you should be much thinner than a healthy body shape or weight. However, the measures you may be taking aren’t actually doing what you hope they might:

  • laxatives don’t actually help with weight loss

  • being sick gets rid of less than half the calories eaten

  • diuretic drugs, which rid the body of fluid, have no effect on the amount of calories absorbed

  • a flat stomach may be a temporary benefit, but it soon returns to normal when fluid levels rise again.

Compulsive eating

You may eat compulsively if you have come to rely on food for emotional support. You may pick at food all day, and feel like you can’t stop yourself. You might also find that you eat without really thinking about it; for example, by regularly eating large amounts of snack foods while watching the TV or reading. You may also use food to cheer yourself up if you’re feeling unhappy. As a result, you are likely to be heavily overweight, and in danger of developing health problems because of it.

Compulsive eating is a way of masking problems, often connected with close relationships. Underneath it, you may have low self-esteem, even feeling worthless. You may feel lonely and empty, and have a deep sense of loss. Compulsive eaters often deal with problems in life by denying there’s anything wrong.

Binge eating

If you eat very large quantities of (often) high-calorie food, all in one go, it’s known as binge eating. The binges are often triggered by some serious upset; for example, you might find yourself eating much more than you normally would, following a stressful day at work. You may eat in secret, and during these binges, you may feel quite out of control. If you also have bulimia, you may follow up these episodes by making yourself sick or using laxatives. You will usually put on a lot of weight. Excessive binge eating may be life threatening.

Anorexia can result in you:

  • weighing much less than you should

  • being physically underdeveloped (this may happen if your problem occurs before puberty)

  • missing many menstrual periods or having them stop altogether (although this may not occur if you are taking a contraceptive pill)

  • losing interest in sex or experiencing sexual dysfunction

  • having changes in your personality

  • feeling a ‘high’ from denying yourself food or exercising too much

  • getting depressed

  • feeling tired and weak

  • poor concentration

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia can affect every aspect of your life: the way you think, your concentration and your ability to move around. Anorexia is a serious, life threatening illness.

Health effects of bulimia are not trivial:

  • A stretched colon, constipation, heart disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can occur with excessive use of laxatives, as they deprive your body of vital minerals.

  • Epileptic fits, muscular weakness and heart problems can arise from frequent vomiting.

  • Poor skin may develop due to dehydration.

  • Bad teeth can be caused by stomach acids eroding tooth enamel when vomiting and insufficient minerals remaining in the body.

  • Menstrual periods may become very irregular or stop altogether (although this may not occur if you are taking a contraceptive pill).

If you have bulimia you are likely to:

  • eat in binges (excessive quantities all in one go)

  • starve yourself after eating

  • feel out of control

  • experince depressed moods

  • make yourself sick or use laxatives (known as ‘purging’)

  • think constantly about eating

  • eat in secret

  • have irresistible cravings for certain foods

  • think of yourself as fat.

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