People can become addicted to any number of substances or behaviors, including drugs, gambling, sex and food, but can you become addicted to another person? In some sense, yes – it’s called codependency, and it can be extremely damaging to both individuals.
Codependency can arise in any type of relationship, but we most commonly think of the addict and their highly enmeshed spouse or partner. By denying the existence of a problem, trying to control the addict’s drug use or rescuing them from the consequences of their actions, the partner enables the addiction. The partner feels needed and the addict feels justified in maintaining their drug habit. It’s a win-win that actually ends up being lose-lose.
A critical task of addiction recovery is restoring empathy. By sharing stories and reaching out to help others in recovery, addicts gradually repair the empathy deficits caused by drug and alcohol abuse. But is it possible to have too much empathy? When does being “too nice” become a problem?
Human beings have an innate capacity for empathy, but because of biology, environment and other factors, we each inhabit our own unique space on the empathy spectrum. People with autism spectrum disorders, for example, may struggle to interpret basic emotions whereas people with certain brain anomalies are hyper-empathetic. For instance, people with a condition known as mirror-touch synesthesia have hyperactive mirror neurons, cells that fire when we see others in pain. So they actually feel physical pain when they see someone else suffering.
Every parent wants to raise a smart kid. It seems logical that intelligence would correlate to better grades, a higher paying job and improved satisfaction with life. Yet studies show that a high IQ can get us into all kinds of trouble. Not only are brainiacs more likely to max out their credit cards and declare bankruptcy, but they’re also at greater risk for substance abuse.
According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a high IQ in childhood is associated with a higher risk of getting drunk and binge drinking. Youth who were “very bright” (with an IQ over 125) engaged in binge drinking roughly once every other month while children with an IQ below 75 engaged in binge drinking less than once a year. Similarly, the National Child Development Study in the U.K. showed that the more intelligent participants were in childhood, the more alcohol they consumed in adulthood.
People with high IQs are also more likely to smoke marijuana and take other illegal drugs compared with those who score lower on intelligence tests, according to a study from Cardiff University in Wales. Researchers speculated that individuals with a higher IQ are more willing to experiment and seek out novel experiences. In addition, smart teens aren’t likely to see occasional drug use as particularly harmful, though they may not understand the serious risk of addiction or be able to accurately assess their own risk factors.
‘Too Smart’ to Be an Addict
In addition to being more likely to use drugs, people of high intelligence are typically less willing to admit a problem and seek professional help and harder to treat when they arrive in treatment. Here are a few reasons that intelligence can actually become a handicap to recovery:
Intellectualization. Intellectualization is a defense mechanism in which addicts argue over logical flaws and over-analyze insignificant details to prove they do not have a problem. What they discover in treatment is that addiction is not an illness that can be approached intellectually. Smart people do foolish things …