Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Why Did They Cheat? Part 3: Do They Have an Addiction?

Series: Why Did they Cheat?
  1. The Role of Oxytocin
  2. Entrapped or Enchanted?
  3. >Do They Have an Addiction?
  4. The Problem With Addictions

How did They Get Here?

The call came at 2:13 in the morning,

"Can you come get me?" The voice was that of one of my best friends.

"Where are you?" He gave me the address, which was in one of the most dangerous parts of Austin. "Where's your car?" I asked.

"I've been out using and ran out of the money so I loaned my car to my dealer, but he didn't bring it back. I'm stranded. Please come get me."

"Are you nuts?"

"These guys have guns," I could hear the fear in his voice and wanted to go get him, but I knew Stephanie would kill me.

"Are you serious?" I yelled into the phone, "You want me to drive down to that area of town at 2:30 in the morning to rescue you? This is your problem not mine."

"Would you at least hang a clean shirt on your front door that I can pick up on my way home? I need something to wear to work tomorrow."

"Fine," I hung up the phone and hung a shirt on the front door.

How did the most talented man
I've ever known get to this place?

Last week we reviewed the chemical realities of love, sex, and other addictions, but how do you know if it's really a problem? There are multiple ways to define addiction, but personally I like what is known as the four C's: craving, compulsion, control, and consequences.

The Four C's


At times cravings are triggered by situations associated with past acting out behavior, but they can also be triggered by the time of day, opportunity, smells, mood, lack of sleep, state of mind and countless other things. Cravings are something we think about all the time and can't get off our mind. They are created by dopamine in the pleasure-reward center of our brain and cannot be quieted until we satisfy that urge. Maybe you've experienced a craving for chocolate or even something as simple as brushing your teeth, but like an itch waiting to be scratched it seems nothing else can satisfy.


If the behavior is being driven by the pleasure-reward center and has been programmed into our very survival, it is no longer healthy. Whether its sugar, gambling, drugs, sex, food, pornography, alcohol, affair partners, or prostitution, compulsion drives us to do or consume more than we intended. We tell ourselves we will use moderation as an excuse to partake in the behavior and then indulge ourselves. One potato chip becomes the whole bag and one last text becomes another 1500 to the affair partner. In Alcoholics Anonymous it's said that one drink is too many and 500 is not enough. Rather than accepting the fact that any alcohol is too much, they convince themselves that moderation is a possibility and so justify taking that first drink. Dopamine's relentless demand for pleasure tempts us to compromise our morals and values to satisfy that compulsion. One indicator of a serious problem is when people begin to compromise their own integrity for the substance, person, or behavior.


The third C is really about a loss of control. The more the addict indulges the more unmanageable their life becomes. Once that compulsive activity begins, the addict goes far beyond what was intended. The longer they remain in the cycle, the more uncontrollable their lives (as well as the lives of their loved ones) become. Craving and compulsion become their source of life and all else falls away.


The consequences are what indicate you have a problem. For example: you have a craving and your goal is to only have one drink, to just text your AP one time, or to just look at porn for five minutes. Compulsion makes moderation an impossibility and as a result control is lost. One drink winds up being 20, one text leads to spending the night with your AP, five minutes of looking at porn winds up being five hours. All of these behaviors create serious consequences such as being arrested or even harming someone for driving drunk, destroying any chance of a future with your mate, or undoing months of hard work rebuilding trust.

These Four C's are the marker for the addictive process.

Are They An Addict?

The addictive process isn't physical dependence; it's not about abusing something or even daily use. It's about meeting the criteria of the four C's. If it meets those criteria then it's an addiction whether it's food, anger, sex, love, porn, exercise, or whatever else might meet that criteria.

Some reading this might be tempted to define their mate's behavior as an addiction because of the negative consequences of the affair to you or the marriage, but the four C's are not just about the negative consequences. For instance a one-night stand isn't an addiction if there's no craving, compulsion, or a loss of control where each time they repeat the behavior it spins totally of control and they have multiple one-night stands in one night. Addictions have nothing to do with frequency. Even if the behavior happens only once every ten years, if it begins with a crazy craving which results in a compulsion that sends them out of control and ends up with serious consequences then it's an addiction.

For instance, porn isn't an addiction if there's no craving, or compulsive use resulting in them being out of control and going much farther than intended, which leads to serious consequences. However, I'm not saying that if it fails to meet the criteria of the four C's then it's not a serious problem. In my mind anything that is contrary to love is self-centered and presents a serious problem. But, the course of treatment will vary according to whether it's an addiction or some other form of acting out.

Love Addiction

For many, the issue is more of a love addiction. Love addiction is characterized by a repetitive pattern of moving from relationship to relationship seeking a love that never lasts. Although these relationships may involve sex, the craving and compulsion tend to be relational instead of sexual. This category differs from emotional affairs in that it's more about experiencing intense feelings than about friendship.

It is a hopeless search for "falling in love" with "the one," who can help them sustain the intense emotional feelings generated by the first stage of a relationship. This never ending search and the fear that there may be something more poignant to a future relationship prevent them from ever fully committing. Having discovered that their mate isn't "Mr. or Mrs. Right", these people compulsively pursue the search for their soul mate.

M. Scott Peck, in his book, The Road Less Traveled, differentiates true love from the false love (he would call it romantic love). He explains that "falling in love" is not love at all. It is not even about the other person. It is how the other person makes one feel about oneself. Peck would even surmise that anyone who has "fallen in love" will eventually fall "out of love" and then must choose love. True love is about knowing the other person and letting the other person know you. This is healthy intimacy, not the false intimacy the love addict has mistaken for love.1

Characteristics of Love Addiction:

  • Tends to occur more frequently with females.
  • Usually ambivalent about their marriage.
  • May overvalue the person they are infatuated with.
  • Are incapable of judging the negative characteristics of their affair partner. While they may see the defects, they won't give these defects any weight. Instead they'll see them as unique or special.
  • There may or may not be an actual relationship with the person they are "infatuated" with. It can be more like an obsession that is not reciprocated.
  • Frequently complain about the lack of romantic love in the marital relationship.
  • May feel they've married the wrong person.
  • Experience intrusive thoughts about their romantic partner. May spend as much as 80% of awake time thinking about this person, trying to determine how the other person feels about them.
  • The obsessive nature of the relationship creates unrealistic expectations of the "love object" in regards to how they want to be shown love in return.

At the beginning of the article I asked the question, "How did (my friend) ever get to this place?" In retrospect, maybe the better question would be: How did he get out of that place? Shortly after he entered recovery I asked what was different this time from all of his previous attempts to get free. He said, "In the past I knew I was completely unable to handle cocaine, but thought I was more than capable of managing the rest of my life. Each time I tried my way I would get triggered, go crazy, and spin totally out of control until something bad happened. This time I finally understood it's not just cocaine that I can't handle; it's my life. I've finally given up control. A funny truth about life is that to gain control you must first be willing to give up control. It's possible to escape the bonds of addiction, but the only currency you can use to buy your freedom is your pride and your ego. With addictions, until you're willing to accept the fact that you're not normal, which for you means there is no moderation, you'll never be free.

Giving up control can happen many different ways, but if you don't know where to start I suggest giving Hope for Healing a try. It's a safe place to work through acting out behaviors whether they meet the criteria of the four C's of addiction or not.

1 Peck, M. Scott. The Road Less Traveled. New York: Touchstone, 1978, Print.



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Great Article!

Thank you so much for this article Rick. God has given you such depth of insight.


This series is helpful in explaining addiction to us. Thank you.


This series has been incredible !! I would say your the first human to be able to describe this subject in a way that could be understood. . I had to listen to each video twice to really "get it " but it has brought a lot of clarity to me and my situation. . I just finished my Harboring hope course and have started to go over my work book again . I cant express how grateful I am to you and your entire team!!
Thank you for your devotion to truly help others .


No memory

I really need help here, I'm not sure if anyone reads these posts but I have to try. My husband is an alcoholic and his sex addiction occurred before he got sober. He has told me about some of the escorts he has been with but after going thru bank records and Google timeline there are so many more hotel sites and even dating back farther than he says he remembers. Is this possible that he really doesn't remember, mostly how di I even begin to process the unknown??? I'm praying someone will read this and help me.

What type of affair was it?

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