The statement that the serial killer is addicted to what he does cannot be properly
supported without a discussion of addiction. While the pharmacological examples such as
alcoholism and heroin addiction are still the clearest examples of addiction, new models of
addictive behavior including exercise addiction, compulsive gambling, and even sexual
addiction have gained acceptance. Just as alcoholism was once thought to be a conscious
choice, these latter examples have long been thought to be the result of such things as a
defective moral character. Recently, however, it has been recognized that the sexual addict
or the compulsive gambler can stop their compulsion no more easily than the alcoholic. An
underlying statement, accepted by most in the world of addiction research, recognizes
addiction as an integrated, bio-psycho-social illness (Johnson, 1993). In other words, an
addiction is not an isolated physical or social illness. The addiction contains elements of
society, biology and individual psychology (Johnson, 1993).
The definition of the bio-psycho-social model states that an addiction is the
repeated use of a substance or a compelling involvement in behavior that directly or
indirectly modifies the internal milieu (as indicated by changes in neurochemical and
neuronal activity) in such a way as to produce immediate reinforcement, but whose
long-term effects are personally or medically harmful or highly disadvantageous to society
(Pomerleau, 1988).
This viewpoint manages to catch all addictions, including both substance and
process, and define them in a learning context. A brief, yet encompassing view of
addiction's purpose is that of a coping device. The addiction becomes a method in which
the addicted individual can "manage and magically control multiple forms of anxiety"
(Keller, 1992, p. 224). Much like a security blanket, or favorite stuffed animal, the
addiction is used to protect and comfort the addicted individual. Understanding the
magical, and comforting, role played by the addictive substance is key to understanding
addiction. By viewing an addiction as a coping device, much of the addiction's allure
becomes evident, as does the addicted individual's continued return to it. Addiction is
invariably a progressive disease (Schaef, 1987; ). Simply put, it gets worse. Some
addictions progress more slowly than others, while some addictions progress very quickly.
Some of the progression speed would seem to be based in the individual. Not all
alcoholics drink at the same speeds, or have problems with their drinking after a certain,
predefined time. Some researchers argue that addiction is always fatal, but others view this
as a questionable statement (Schaef, 1987). Not only does addiction build, it builds until
the individual is destroyed.
Eisenstein was one of the first to list hypersexuality (now called sexual addiction)
as an addiction (Orford, 1985). Indeed, sexual addiction is like alcoholism in that the sex
addict uses a mood-altering experience, just as the alcoholic uses a mood-altering drug
(Carnes, 1983). Carnes (1983) goes further, recognizing the progressive cycle of sexual
addiction, and describing how the addict becomes increasingly focused on sex. The only
argument against labeling sexual addiction as an addiction, which has fallen rather short in
the last decade, is the societal definition of excessive sexual behavior. That is, each society
defines excessive behavior differently. What may be viewed as excessive in one locale and
time may be viewed as quite acceptable in another. Thus, while the true sexual addict may
be labeled as simply active, after a period of time, the level of activity will have grown to
a point where the addiction is unmistakable.
Gambling, meanwhile, is also a mood modifier, or psychotropic experience
(Orford, 1985). Much like sexual behavior and alcohol, gambling has the power to alter
moods and cognitive states in those who partake. Some have argued that gambling is so
very powerful a mood modifier, that it is for all intents and purposes a drug (Orford,
1985). Gambling addiction, too, is a progressive disease. Virtually everyone has heard
anecdotes of afflicted individuals gambling away careers, marriages, and homes. Gambling
addiction has now been recognized to be as powerful an addiction as alcohol, and has even
been compared in strength to heroin (Orford, 1985). The importance and similarity among
the addictions is their mood-modifying nature. Exercise, gambling, and sexual behavior are
all psychotropic behaviors, just as alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana are psychotropic
substances. Essentially, the addictive substance is psychotropic, and as such, is an
understandable coping device. All of these behaviors can make an individual feel better for
a while, and this brief respite from anxiety is what eventually leads the individual into
addiction.
Some researchers seek an addiction gene, convinced that when it is found, the key
to all addiction will have been pinpointed (Edwards and Tarter, 1988).