02/21/2012 04:22 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2012

Are All Addictions Created Equal?

Are all addictions created equal?

Years ago when I was just starting out as a substance abuse treatment counselor, I questioned the difference between being addicted to alcohol vs. drugs. Like many, I was of the thinking that being an alcoholic is not as bad as being a drug addict.

After all, alcohol is a legal, socially acceptable vice that many people enjoy and heartily participate in. Every advertisement shows a good time, usually defined with beautiful people and beautiful places, adding to the pull of "Come on in, the water's fine."

Conversely, when one says that their loved one is a drug addict, we frequently picture an unsavory character, oftentimes unkempt, with a distrusting and devious look on his or her face.

I came to realize that addiction is addiction, and have often said "same soup -- different bowls" when a client seems to find a false sense of comfort in the fact that their loved one is an alcoholic and not a drug addict.

What prompted me to write about this subject was a recent visit from my sister. She is a kind, loving and often naïve (like so many) person when it comes to addiction. Over the course of her visit, she brought up the current tragedy of my ex-husband and how she tried to connect with him for coffee and his response was that it would not be a good idea as he was unemployed and homeless.

She cried and showed me the text, and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and say that I wasn't surprised and that he had once again worked very hard at sabotaging everything good in his life to get to this point.

She wondered why someone would go to so much trouble to ruin his life, and I brought up the addiction to food that a mutual friend of ours was currently engrossed in. She questioned the correlation and I told her that the world was full of people with destructive addictions, though one is not likely to wrap his car around a tree because he ate a gallon of ice cream in one sitting or because he is having a fast food withdrawal.

But let's look at the destructive nature of the food addict and how it might compare with the alcoholic/addict. The biggest difference is that the alcoholic/addict may have mind-altering effects due to the indulgence. Tsunami effects can take place when one's mind-altering addiction can overcome his or her life -- losing his or her family, friends, job or even life can be all too commonplace.

Addiction can be a very self-absorbing state, and so I believe that most addicts are self-involved and have difficulty stepping outside their own sphere of addictive behavior to honestly see what their actions are doing to others. We discussed the fact that our friend has two lovely, very young children. She is a good, caring mother, but is at least 100 pounds overweight. Though neither of us has witnessed dinner at their house, I'm told that she does nothing to diet or even curb her eating, and no one says anything to her for fear of the repercussions and severed ties with the friendship.

Pasta, potatoes and bread are mainstays for her. She is not doing anything illegal, but in my opinion, her addiction is self-serving and self-involved. Please understand that I am not judging her as a person or mother, nor am I privy to what goes on behind closed doors; but I am close enough to her family members to know that she is doing nothing to deal with this overweight, unhealthy status. Either physically dieting or going for professional help.

There is no question that many addictions (mind-altering or not) stem from an emotional upheaval that warrants counseling with a professional. It is hard for me to believe that people don't want to lead healthy, productive lives, as life is tough enough dealing with everyday issues as to not add an addiction that could result in someone heading 80 miles an hour into a brick wall of destruction.

In addition, children see their parents as role models. If drugs or alcohol are prevalent in a household, showing that this is the way to have a good time, chances are that the child or children will imitate this disposition, and addiction will have formed some pretty strong roots. So, if children see one parent eating an overabundance of food with no regard for nutrition or health, well, the road to obesity may well be paved.

Addiction is addiction, and sometimes it takes the alcoholic/addict to hit their bottom with a face plant with the law, the failure of their health, family destruction or financial uncertainty. How horrifically grave to know that the food addict my hit their bottom with a heart attack, diabetes or other life-altering experience.

So, are all addictions created equal? In my opinion; yes, if one continues down the path of destruction not only toward themselves but the family and friends around them. The adage that "I'm not hurting anybody by having a few drinks or a junk food festival" is a crock. One only has to stop and look into the scared faces of their loved ones to know that is as far from the truth as can be.

I invite you to explore my website at and to check out my upcoming seminar From Heartache to Hope - the Family's Role in their Loved Ones Addiction and Recovery on May 19th. If you can't make it to Santa Barbara, CA, it will be available on a CD or downloading capacities. In addition, please peruse my new book Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict available through me or Amazon.

For more by Carole Bennett, M.A., click here.

For more on mental health, click here.