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Avoidance Coping Through Addiction

Updated: Mar 31

As avoidance coping strategies go, addiction is a powerhouse. A person’s addiction provides the ultimate escape. However, it does nothing to improve his/her reality. So, once the literal or metaphorical high wears off, what he/she was trying to escape is staring them in the face and has likely gained influence, i.e., is a larger problem than initially was.

I am using the term addiction loosely. I am talking about any substance or process (behavior) that triggers the reward system in the brain and allows a person to disengage from reality and becomes a habitual process.

The DSM-5 only allows for substances (drugs [prescription/illicit]/alcohol/caffeine/tobacco) and gambling to be associated with addiction due to a lack of research in other “addictive” behaviors like sex, shopping, eating, gaming (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Essentially, the DSM-5 has not caught up with recent studies, which show these activities light up the reward pathway in the brain in the same manner as substances and gambling. Thus, I include a whole host of substances and processes in my definition of addiction: codependent/toxic relationships (Loughead et al., 1998), food (Gordon et al., 2018), gambling, gaming (Andre et al., 2020), pornography (Park et al., 2016), sex (Hertlein et al., 2015), shopping (Kirezli & Arslan, 2019), substances (drugs [prescription/illicit]/alcohol/caffeine/tobacco), and working (Urban et al., 2019).

Addiction is a beast, and there is a variety of contributing factors, both biological and sociocultural. There are multiple treatment modalities – abstinence and harm-reduction are the most popular.

Beating an addiction is not easy - but it is possible! A plethora of studies indicate support is essential.

Get Help.

Gather the Troops.

Do the Work.

Create a life that you are not compelled to escape.

Contact me for help crafting your “sober” life in the life you desire.

Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association.

Andre, F., Broman, N., Hakansson, A, Claesdotter-Knutsson, E. (2020). Gaming addiction, problematic gaming, and engaged gaming – Prevalence and associated characteristics. Addictive Behavior Reports, 12, 100324.

Gordon, E. L., Ariel-Donges, A., Bauman, V. & Merlo, L. J. (2018). What is the evidence for “food addiction?” A systematic review. Nutrients, 10(4), 477.

Hertlein, K. M., Weeks, G. R., & Gambescia, N. (Eds.). (2015). Systemic sex therapy (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Kirezli, O. & Arslan, F. M. (2019). Analyzing motivational determinants of shopping addiction tendency*. Ege Akademik Bakis, 19(1), 61-74.

Loughead, T. A., Spurlock, V. L., & Ting, Y. (1998). Diagnostic indicators of codependence: An investigation using the MCMI-II. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 20(1), 64-76.

Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam., W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is internet pornography causing sexual dysfunctions? A review with clinical reports. Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(17), 1-25.

Urban, R., Kun, B., Mozes, T., Soltesz, P., Paksi, B, Farkas, J., Kokonyei, G., Orosz, G., Maraz, A., Felvinczi, K., Griffiths, M. D., Demetrovics, Z. (2019). A four-factor model of work addiction: The development of the work addiction risk test revised. European Addiction Research, 25. 145-159.

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