Can You Be Addicted to Chaos?

February 28, 2023

5 mins

Never Alone Recovery


We often refer to things as "chaotic," but did you know that you can actually be addicted to chaos? Here's everything you need to know about chaos addiction.

Let’s set the scene: Someone is recovering from a difficult time in his or her life. Perhaps it’s due to an unhealthy home dynamic, or substance abuse disorder, or a traumatic incident. But things are getting better now. There are no more sources of stress, and he or she is finally living a calm life. 

But rather than appreciating how things are going so well, this person seemingly does everything he or she can to create a problem. Sometimes this means getting invested in other peoples’ problems, but in many cases it’s just creating problems for himself or herself.

As it happens, someone who’s exhibiting this pattern of behavior could be experiencing chaos addiction.

One of many emotional addictions that can affect people, chaos addiction is, as the name suggests, an addiction to chaos. And while it sounds straightforward, it can have many cascading effects on other areas of your life. 

So is chaos addiction a real thing? Let’s find out.

Chaos & Emotional Addiction

Addiction is traditionally associated with alcohol and drugs, but there are other forms of addiction as well. For example, chaos addiction is considered an emotional addiction. Since understanding chaos addiction requires foundational knowledge of emotional addiction, here’s what you need to know.

An emotional addiction is when someone is dependent on the chemicals produced by the brain as a response to emotional triggers. These are known as ‘hit emotions.’ 

When experiencing an emotional addiction, the individual has become reliant on the physiological effects that come with feeling a certain way. Though not the same thing, runners becoming addicted to the “runner’s high” is a similar idea. One might engage in certain behaviors to sustain a particular emotional state, whether that means venting constantly, reliving negative experiences, or seeking other relationships and situations to trigger hit emotions.

When a person has an emotional addiction, he or she relies on hit emotions to function. Chaos addiction, therefore, is when a person’s hit emotions are chaos or a lack of control.

What is Chaos Addiction?

Chaos addiction is actually a recent term used to describe a pattern of creating chaos in one’s own life in order to trigger a particular physiological response. Endorsed by figures like Doctor Phil, chaos addiction has been broadly laid out according to a series of hypothetical behaviors you might see from someone addicted to chaos, including:

  • Yelling and screaming to make one’s point
  • Escalating arguments in order to win
  • Making one’s own problems into everyone’s problems
  • Breaking or disrupting things during arguments
  • Strongly averse to boredom
  • Yelling at strangers for minor inconveniences
  • Wanting to always be the center of attention
  • Often has a crisis that needs to be solved
  • Threatens to break up, or actually breaks up, with partners often
  • Is often the one who starts fights

Addiction is far less about what specific substances or things a person is addicted to, and far more about the unhealthy behaviors that characterize his or her addiction.

Chaos addiction is not listed in the DSM-V, which compiles and classifies various mental disorders as a guide for healthcare professionals. However, recent research into addiction has expanded it beyond drugs or alcohol. It is more complex and varied, describing when someone is compulsively performing a behavior. Per this perspective, addiction is less about specific substances and more about the unhealthy behaviors that characterize an addiction.

Addiction occurs as an individual pursues an action that makes him or her feel good. The more this action is engaged in, the more preoccupied with it a person becomes, until he or she loses control of the behavior. Over time, the person struggling with the behavior may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms, making it even harder to stop.

Addiction counselor Rita Barksy has described helping patients to overcome chaos addiction, referring to how the chaos of growing up with a dysfunctional daily life and of substance abuse can be something a patient develops a tolerance to. After experiencing so much chaos, you develop a tolerance to chaos in much the same way as someone develops a tolerance to alcohol. For someone who’s addicted to chaos, the recovery process means regaining a sense of autonomy and safety as life becomes more manageable. 

But according to Barksy, here is where the paradox lies. A person addicted to chaos is so used to being in crisis that he or she may feel exhilarated by a sense of calm being broken. It becomes easy to engage in other peoples’ drama, react to problems, and join in self-defeating behavior. 

The problem with this is that a person with chaos addiction focuses on negative cycles that simply perpetuate the chaos and negativity. Feelings of chaos start to become part of the individual’s identity, making them feel like a victim. Someone with chaos addiction complains about how troublesome life can be and doesn’t believe it’s possible for life to be less chaotic. In fact, someone addicted to chaos will go to great lengths to manufacture chaos where none previously existed. 

How to Manage Chaos Addiction

Because it’s more abstract than alcoholism and drug addiction, chaos addiction may seem difficult to manage. While a person can’t detox from chaos like with more traditional substance abuse, there are still ways to mitigate it.

Identifying the source of the chaos addiction – in other words, the thing in his or her life that is used to cause turmoil – is the first step. After that, it is a matter of changing a person’s behavior to avoid chaos and achieve a calmer, more stable life. 

In addition to addressing the reliance on chaos, it’s important to figure out and address the underlying cause of the addiction to chaos. Is this person avoiding some other emotion? Is he or she seeking out chaos as a way to validate their anxieties? 

Finding coping mechanisms to deal with those feelings is far healthier than creating chaos to fill the silence.

Another way of dealing with chaos addiction is to address anxiety outright. The uneasy feelings that come when things are calm and stable can be difficult to manage. But finding coping mechanisms to deal with those feelings is far healthier than creating chaos to fill the silence. And if dealing with these feelings alone is scary, there’s always professional support.

Stay Grounded with Never Alone Recovery

Being addicted to chaos is hard, but things don’t have to feel so out of control. With proper assistance, anybody who’s addicted to chaos can live a normal, healthy life.

But chaos addiction isn’t the only form of addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling, Never Alone Recovery can help. With free drug rehab placement and partnerships with state-of-the-art facilities nationwide, we’ve got the resources to help you regain control of your life and wellness.

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