If you’ve spent any time recently learning about addiction you’ve probably come across the term acting out. You can probably guess at the meaning of reaching out. But how about acting in? All three of these terms are related to the addiction cycle. Acting out is the beginning of the release side of the addiction cycle where the addict has begun tiptoeing his or her way to a slip or relapse. A few examples of acting out are:

  • Looking at porn
  • Masturbating
  • Cruising
  • Voyeurism
  • Exhibitionism
  • Phone Sex
  • Anonymous Sex

These are sexual behaviors an addict has lost control over. A broader interpretation of acting out includes when an addict is in a state of reaction versus response to circumstances. Road rage is a perfect example that addicts and non-addicts can all relate to. When we are raging behind the steering wheel we have lost control over our anger and are reacting from a myopic perspective instead of responding with a mindset rooted in the bigger picture. Addicts act out when tension has built of over time, leading to a loss of control.

So how did that tension get built up? It is a result of acting in. Simply put, acting in is a mindset that says, “I can handle this on my own. Just don’t do it (addictive behavior). Just think about something else. Acting in can look like:

  • Avoiding anything sexual
  • Compulsive working out
  • Suppressing negative emotions
  • Distracting self with productivity
  • Beginning to isolate and “go it alone”

An example of acting in is when a hiker begins to think he has gotten off the trail but refuses to check his map, consult a GPS device, backtrack to a place where he knew he was on the right back, or look for trail markers. Instead, he presses forward thinking, “I’m sure I’ll see the next marker any second. I can check the map later if I need to.” During this time the hiker’s judgement goes out the window and denial begins to set in. “I’m not lost, I don’t need help.” As soon as a stressor enters the equation, the hiker may begin to “act out” by continuing to hike after sunset or attempt crossing water at night or without gauging how deep the water is. This is the beginning of denial and poor judgment that an addict exhibits while acting out. Acting in is a final desperate attempt to control self from acting out.

The good news is there is hope for the addict who has begun acting in. The solution is reaching out. All of the things that the addict doesn’t want to do when he or she begins acting in are probably appropriate: calling a trusted person to talk with, meditating, journalling, going to a meeting, or seeing a therapist trained in addiction therapy etc. The lie in acting in is, “If I’m strong enough to get through this on my own, that means I’m a good person”, when the truth is that the doing things on his or her own is what has brought the addict to the brink of desperation.

Hope begins when you confront your weakness and find true strength by reaching out.