Therapy That Works...

Gearing Advantage

Doctors Sylvia and Milton Gearing have been serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1985 with compassion and professionalism.

The Gearings implement the latest in psychological research to stay at the cutting edge of their field and bring the most effective and life changing techniques to their clients.

Their methods and strategies have been sharpened over the years, and are now built upon Gearing Up’s Three Gears of Change.

Anna Nicole Smith - Feb 17, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith: Addictions or Bad Habits?

February 17, 2007

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, CBS 11 News

The recent death of media personality, Anna Nicole Smith, has reminded many Americans of the dangers of addiction. But many of us are asking when does a bad habit become an addiction. Here to tell us more is CBS 11 News Contributing Psychologist, Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Q: First of all, why has this story about Anna Nicole Smith held such fascination for so many Americans?

Dr. Sylvia: Anna Nicole Smith embodied a life of extremes. Her exhibitionism, her physical appearance, her private life, and her public behavior were all created to "feed" the media frenzy she craved. Like many people, she preferred to live her life in the fast lane and lacked insight into her motivations, her effect on others and her dangerous lifestyle. Her catastrophic losses evoked our sympathy while her irresponsible love life elicited our confusion. In the end, she possessed a characteristic everyone could identify with, because her life and her death were shadowed by sorrow and controversy.

Q: Certainly this story has turned our attention to the huge problem of addiction in this country. What do experts estimate the economic toll is of addictions?

Dr. Sylvia: According to top researchers, the addictions' cost to health and productivity in the U.S. is over $300 billion annually. If the definition of addiction is broadened to include behavioral addictions such as compulsive overeating and gambling, the costs rise considerably from there.

Q: Why can addiction be such a struggle?

Dr. Sylvia: Without a doubt, addiction is a living nightmare. It is an affliction seen at every socioeconomic level, as we see in the case of Anna Nicole Smith. Unchecked, it can relentlessly destroy even the best of lives. Addiction is especially malignant because it can exist in the lives of seemingly normal people, even those in the public eye. Because it is a progressive disease, many people are deeply into their addiction without understanding the severity of their behavior before it is too late.

Q: So addictions can be deeply rooted in the individual before they realize it?

Dr. Sylvia: They absolutely can sneak up on you because of they way the work with the brain. According to neurobiologists, the addictive substance, whether it is a drug, gambling or promiscuity, evokes reactions in the brain's reward system. Because of these powerful brain patterns, what was once an idle flirtation can lead to a deadly end, as we see with many celebrities.

Q: Are most addictions highly genetic or are there other equally powerful factors?

Dr. Sylvia: While there is a genetic basis for most addictions, there are usually other vital factors that push people into addiction such as stress, personality, temperament, mood disorders, etc. For example, an important study published in 2004 reported that while genes are linked to alcoholism, many alcoholics also have a pronounced tendency to develop anxiety. Up to 70% of alcoholics are reported to suffer from anxiety and depression, according to this study in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Q: What are the differences between a bad habit and an addiction?

Dr. Sylvia: They are intrinsically different behavioral patterns, but a bad habit, with enough stress, can become an addiction. In other words, one can be a precursor of the other.

Bad Habits:

  • Often irregular indulgence
  • Some Awareness of Bad Habit
  • Can Stop if Required
  • Habit is not Harmful


  • Compulsive Behavior, Difficult to Stop
  • In Denial of Addiction
  • While Pleasure Oriented, Seeking Escape, Bliss or Euphoria
  • Rush of Addiction
  • Over Time, Requires More of Addictive Agent to Reach High

Q: Any final advice for our viewers if they are worried about addiction in a loved one?

Dr. Sylvia: Make sure you do not become an enabler of an addict through your own denial. Positive illusions are helpful in creating and maintaining a loving marriage but when taken too far, they can insulate us from recognizing a dangerous pattern. If you see the signs of addiction in a loved one, get them help with a psychologist who can diagnose the addiction and the other psychological factors that accompany addiction. With proper help, support and time, a good outcome is possible.