Is Everyone An Addict?

14 Oct


With the term “addiction” being used so loosely these days, it seems we all could fit into at least one category of addiction.  There’s sex addiction, love addiction, chocolate addiction, carb addiction, gaming addiction, shopping addiction, Facebook addiction, the list goes on…  So are these “real” addictions or just a reflection of our tendency to think the worst of ourselves and others?  The answer to this lies in how you define the term addiction.

There is no formal diagnosis of addiction in the DSM-IV (the so-called bible for psychological diagnoses).  So the definition of addiction is left up to one’s personal opinion.  I use the term addiction under certain circumstances.  If person continues to engage in a behavior despite it causing significant negative consequences in their life, then it might be an addition.  But it’s also more than that.  I consider a person to have an addiction if they feel compelled to act in a way that is detrimental to them in the long run.  By compelled, I mean that they feel out of control and have difficulty limiting or adjusting the behavior (i.e., a person tries to stop or limit their use of a substance, but just can’t seem to do it).

I also believe that a person can be addicted to activities, not just substances.  Research has shown that similar parts of the brain are stimulated in various types of addictive behaviors.  So whether it’s chocolate, cocaine or sex the same part of the brain is activated when a person is addicted.  But I also think that the term addiction is often used improperly.  Some people use the term addiction and compulsion interchangeably.  But there is a difference between these two.

A compulsion, as in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is when an individual engages in a specific behavior in an attempt to mitigate their feelings of anxiety.  A compulsion is a ritual that a person performs that is repetitive and excessive.  It can be an action or a mental activity that the person feels driven to perform.  In order to be a true compulsion as part of OCD, it must take up more than an hour per day and interfere with the person’s ability to function effectively in social, work or other personal activities.  These compulsions can also be detrimental to the person in the long run, similar to an addiction, but in a different way.  For example, an individual’s compulsion to wash their hands repeatedly due to fears of contamination and germs may create problems in the long run when their behavior causes them distress and interferes with their relationships.  They may spend so much time engaging in the behavior that it interferes with them getting other things done at work or home.

So even though both types of behaviors may seem out of control and have negative consequences, they are different.  They are also different in terms of brain activity.   The addictive behaviors stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain and OCD behaviors trigger deeper parts of the brain (the basal ganglia and thalamus, in particular).  In addition, a compulsion differs from an addiction because the individual with an addiction is responding to a craving, whereas a person with a compulsion is responding to obsessive worry.

Being more precise about the terms we use helps to ensure we get the right treatment.  With greater precision we are also casting a smaller net in deciding what behavior is problematic.  To call a tendency to spend a lot of time of Facebook an addiction may minimize the severity and seriousness associated with a true addiction.  Like most things, both compulsions and addictions occur along a continuum.  Some addictive behavior is normal.  And some compulsive behavior is normal.  To determine the severity of an addiction or compulsion often requires looking at the consequences on one’s overall quality of life.

So what do you think?  Does this mean everyone is an addict?  Are you convinced that food addiction, for example, is real?  Post your comments  below.

To Therapy or Not To Therapy: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Debate the Benefits of Marriage Therapy

9 Sep

So far the second season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has been wrought with psychological issues.  And we are only one episode in!  At the dinner party at Adreinne Maloof’s house the topic of marriage counseling and therapy was discussed and various opinions emerged.  Ken Todd made a comment at the dinner party that he would not go to therapy because it would make him feel weak.  I’m glad that BRAVO decided to show that other people have differing opinions about the value of marriage therapy.  Unfortunately, the mistaken belief that therapy somehow means you are weak often deters people from getting much needed help.  People from various cultures tend to see therapy differently with some cultures being more open to it than others and Ken mentions that his belief about therapy is related to being British.  However, regardless of cultural background, many people hold the belief that if they go to therapy then there must be something truly wrong with them.  It is as if people see the act of asking for help as a character flaw, or some sort of validation that they are wrong, bad or weak.

I know I am biased, since this is the work I do, but my belief is that going to therapy can actually reflect internal strength.  It is often very difficult and takes much courage for people to ask for help and guidance during times of stress.  The act of self reflection is not an easy one.  To look at yourself openly and honestly often takes much more inner strength than denying that you have problems or refusing to look at them.  My hope is that the airing of differing views of marital therapy will encourage thought, insight and open-mindedness among viewers.   It is also my hope that people not suffer silently, but reach out to others, seek help when needed, and take the brave step towards self reflection and improvement.

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and How BRAVO Handled the Suicide of Russell Armstrong

7 Sep

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills opened up their second season with some very relevant psychology-related topics.  Many were curious to see how the network, BRAVO, would handle the recent suicide of Russell Armstrong.  From the perspective of a therapist, their opening scene in which several of the housewives discuss their feelings and reactions to the event is a helpful way to deal with such a tragedy.  It is often recommended that people come together and share their feelings about tragedies as a way to cope with it.  In psychology, we call this type of sharing, “processing.”  Research has shown that processing one’s feelings about a death or tragedy can help people move through the grieving experience in a healthier way.  When we isolate in response to a death, it can become more difficult to deal with it and can actually create more depression and impairment.  Although Bravo did not spend much time focusing on how the various housewives are processing the tragedy, showing this way of talking openly and group support can be a good model for viewers to follow.

A Real Housewives Tragedy: The Suicide of Russell Armstrong

21 Aug

With the media attention given to Russell Armstrong’s recent tragic suicide, I figured there may be an opportunity for the public to understand suicide a little bit better.  Russell, the husband of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Taylor Armtrong, was reportedly suffering from major financial strain and he and his wife were in the process of divorce.  Instead of speculate as to why he did what he did, I intend to help readers understand suicide from a psychologist who has often worked intimately with it (me).

For many of us, we are mystified by such a horrific act and may struggle to comprehend how someone could make a decision to end their life- especially when there are children involved.  I have seen firsthand the devastating consequences suicide can have on the surviving family members, friends and loved ones.  I hope by debunking some common myths about suicide I can give readers an opportunity to understand suicide better and hopefully taken action if to prevent it, if needed.

Myth 1:  Everyone who commits suicide suffers from clinical depression.

Although depression is one of the most common reasons a person may have thoughts of suicide, not everyone who suicides has clinical depression.  People with Bipolar illness and Schizophrenia are at a particularly high risk of suicide.  Individuals with a substance abuse issues or addiction are also at an increased risk.  We also know that recent losses- such as a major financial loss or the death of a loved one or divorce can trigger thoughts of suicide even when the person does not meet criteria for Major Depression.

One thought pattern that is common among people who suicide is a sense of hopelessness.  The recent financial crisis in theU.S.affects people on a macro and micro level.  We may feel hopeless about the economy in general and if one has serious financial stress on top of that, they may feel even more hopeless and fearful.  The relationship between financial crisis is not just an American phenomenon.  Research found inEuropethat the number of suicides in European countries increased during their recent financial crisis.

Myth 2:  More women commit suicide than men.

In theUnited Statesresearch has found that actually more men than women commit suicide.  However, almost twice as many women attempt suicide than men.  It is believed that the reason for this is that men tend to use more lethal means.

Myth 3:  It is a bad idea to ask someone if they feel suicidal, because it might give them ideas, or somehow encourage them to do it.

Clinicians know that this is not true because it is our duty to make sure we ask if people feel suicidal and assess for risk when we see clients in therapy.  However, many people may hold onto the unfounded belief that asking someone if they are feeling suicidal may somehow push them over the edge to do it.  Due to this unfounded fear loved ones may avoid talking about suicide with the person they are worried about.  It is often difficult for individuals contemplating suicide to talk about it with others, asking them directly about it may open the door for them to share.  It is very important to realize that just asking someone if they are thinking of suicide will not make them do it.  Think of it this way- if you yourself are not feeling suicidal and someone asked you about it- would you suddenly think to yourself “Hmmmm…. That sounds like a good idea.”  Suicidal thoughts and actions are a very personal choice.  If you are concerned about someone, the best thing you can do is ask them in a very matter-of-fact and non-accusatory way.  Try to be gentle and straightforward.  They may be relieved someone has asked and may want help but not be sure how to ask for it.

Myth 4:  We can always see if coming.  Who is going to suicide and when is predictable.

Even clinicians who are trained to assess a risk of suicide in others may not know who and when someone will suicide.  Many people who do suicide don’t seek psychological help beforehand.  If someone suffers from depression, they may actually seem better in the days and weeks leading up to their suicide.  This is thought to be because they feel relief in having come to the decision to end their life and escape their emotional pain.  Also, when someone is starting to come out of a depression but is still feeling sad they may still have the depressed mood, but they may have the energy to carry out their plans.  It is important to know the warning signs of suicide and take them seriously!  But we must also acknowledge that we can not predict human behavior with 100% accuracy.  This is very important for the loved ones of suicide victims to understand since there is often strong feelings of guilt among the loved ones who are left behind.  (See below for some common warning signs of suicide).

The Serious Consequences of Suicide

Suicide is a selfish act.  It has a tremendous effect on those left behind- often creating scars that will last a lifetime.  When I have clients who are having thoughts of suicide I often remind them very bluntly about the impact that decision could have on their loved ones and children.  Sometimes people get so locked into their own pain, they find it hard to look outside themselves, and they may have a distorted view that somehow ending their life will be better for others.  This distorted view must be challenged and any mention of suicide or indication of suicide be taken very seriously.  If you are a survivor of suicide (meaning someone you loved has committed suicide), there are resources available to help you.  Check out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at

Warning Signs:

–          person starts talking about death or suicide

–          the person begins to give away their belongings

–          the person is suffering from serious depression

–          the person has access to firearms or other lethal means

–          there has experienced a recent personal loss- or serious financial loss

–          the person is intoxicated or abusing substances

If you have more questions or would like assistance for yourself or someone you know, more information is available at

Manipulation and “The Bachelor Pad”- What You Can Learn From Watching Reality TV

12 Aug






When you stick 18 of the most infamousBachelor andBachelorette veterans in the same house with $250K on the line, it’s a safe bet things are going to get mental real fast. So we caught up with psychologist Alisa Robinson, PhD., of askdoctorlisa.comto get her thoughts on the Bachelor PadSeason 2 opener. In our exclusiveWetpaint Entertainmentinterview, we asked Dr. Alisa about Jake Pavelka’s possibly shady motives,Vienna Girardi’s manipulative ways, and who might be getting set up to be a victim.

Wetpaint Entertainment: What were your first impressions of the Bachelor Pad premiere? What should viewers be looking out for?
Dr. Alisa Robinson: The show is set up to bring out competitiveness and manipulation and, of course, selfishness with everybody kind of steering toward the money. So it makes for great entertainment, but it can also be educational if you know what to look for. So for viewers, if they want to get to a deeper level of understanding of themselves or other people what I would suggest is that they pay attention to the different forms of manipulation in the show. For example, we saw Vienna manipulating Kasey [Kahl], or attempting to manipulate Kasey to not vote for Gia [Allemand]. And then during the time when people are trying to build alliances you see a lot of manipulation back and forth. The reason it’s important to notice manipulation in television is because it can better prepare you to notice this in people in your own life. I think what happens is that people who are generally trusting and tend to see the good in people can be more vulnerable to being manipulated by others, and that manipulation is often done in a sneaky or covert way. So for people who are trusting like that you may actually have to train yourself to be able to identify manipulation in other people.

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Predictions for The Bachelorette Ashley and JP and Some Important Information For Couples to Know

4 Aug




Okay, so Ashley Hebert finally pickedJP Rosenbaum on the season finale of The Bachelorette. But what are the chances that this latest couple will survive the fate of so many of their predecessors and never get anywhere near an altar? We conferred once again with Dr. Alisa Robinson, PhD., to get some answers. In an exclusive Wetpaint Entertainmentinterview, Dr. Alisa explains disappointing success rate of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette when it comes to finding love, and tells us how Ashley and JP can buck the trend.

Wetpaint Entertainment: Why do so many of these couples fall apart?
Dr. Alisa Robinson: In The Bachelor and The Bachelorette in general, I think oftentimes the couples seem to really struggle with watching the show after it’s been taped. That process of seeing someone dating other people at the same time as they were dating you may feel similar to the experience of being cheated on. Even though intellectually the contestant knows that when they go off the person is dating other people, emotionally it can still feel hurtful, and feel as though you’ve been betrayed. Different people can handle that differently depending on their history and their background. I think for JP he really demonstrated that he’s a pretty mature guy. He handled it pretty well throughout the show. So that, to me, bodes well in terms of his being able to handle that period of watching her dating other men.

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Some Tips on How To Manage Difficult Problems

1 Aug

Check out my video on some tips on how to manage difficult problems.  Keep in mind that this is just a starting place for how to work on challenging problems in your life.  This video can give you the framework to begin to start dealing with life issues more effectively.

Do Bootcamps for Teens Really Work? Check out this article from

15 Jul

With Emily (Shay Mitchell)’s ex-flame Maya (Bianca Lawsoncoming home from boot camp on an upcoming episode of Pretty Little Liars, can we expect her to give up her experimentation with sex and drugs? According to Dr. Alisa Robinson, PhD., of, if Maya’s parents are expecting the pseudo-military treatment to reform their lost little girl, they’ll be sadly mistaken.


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The Complexity of Mother-Daughter Relationships and The Real Housewives of New York

8 Jul

The relationships between mothers and daughters are often complex.  The most recent episode of Real Housewives of New York illustrated this.  I’m sure many women can relate to LuAnn’s attempts at finding the right balance between being a friend and being a mother.  Ramona’s daughter, Avery, expressed frustration with her mom for not being home enough, but also demonstrated respect and admiration for her mother in a very touching way.  This type of mixed feelings is very common in parental relationships.  There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but an emphasis on what is wrong or missing in a parent is often most salient during the teen and young adult years.


It is clear that there is much love between Ramona and her daughter Avery, and it’s is very possible that Avery is what we called “parentified.”  To be parentified means that the family dynamics influence a child to take on an adult role before they are actually an adult.  This can happen when one or more parent has a substance abuse problem. The child ends up being the responsible one, and may take over some patent-like responsibilities, or may act or think like a “little adult.”  Becoming parentified can also occur when a child has many siblings and out of necessity must help to raise the younger children in the household, hence spending more time parenting than being a kid.  Avery demonstrates wisdom beyond her years.  She is reasonable in the advice she gives to her mom and Sonja as they shop for Burlesque clothing.  Yet, she also tells her mom that she doesn’t like being home alone at 9:30 at night when her mom and dad are out.  Although one could be quick to judge these mother daughter relationships, the one common theme is the presence of love.


Perhaps the take away message from watching the complex and interesting dynamics between the mothers and daughters of The Real Housewives of New York is that mothers are human, too.  They can make mistakes and still be good mothers.  They can disappoint us, anger us, or even betray us, but it doesn’t mean we stop loving them.  Mother and daughter relationships are complex and varied.  Although it’s possible that some mother daughter relationships are too damaging and may never be repaired, many women may find peace in accepting their mother for who she is.


Getting to a place of acceptance of your mother for who she is may not make for good television ratings, but it will allow you to have a more enjoyable and peaceful relationship with the person who will forever be your mother.

The Bachelorette Ashley Herbert and how her suitors responded to her interest in Bentley

1 Jul

Sure, The Bachelorette star Ashley Hebert could have been a bit more tactful when she confessed to the boys that she had seen Bentley Williamsin Hong Kong to seek “closure,” but did it really call for the anger and resentment that culminated with Mickey McLean quitting the show? Dr. Alisa Robinson, PhD., of, explains that the male hive-mind may have been the ultimate force at play in Season 7, Episode 6 — and that guys like Mickey may have been burned once too often.

Wetpaint: How could Ashley have better handled the situation?
Dr. Alisa Robinson: When she told them in the group they seemed to have a different reaction than when she told JP by herself. One of the reasons the guys in the group may have responded differently is how they were told. It might have gone over better if it was in a one-on-one environment. What happens sometimes in a group setting is that you’ll have one guy or a couple of guys with a strong opinion, and that can influence or rile up the rest of them — that kind of group mentality. In these shows sometimes, even though each of the men have a bond with the Bachelorette, they also develop bonds with each other. And research has found that men bonding in groups tends to be very strong, like in sports.

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