The Chaos Complex: Is the chaos in your life leading you down an addictive path?

Chaos Addiction


Complete disorder and confusion.

An addictive feeling if you’ve leaned into it for far too long.

So, can you be addicted to the chaos in your life? Unfortunately, yes, and it can create a multitude of issues later down the road if you have yet to realize that you’re suffering from it. 

Even though being “addicted” to chaos and stress seems absurd, the condition is much more widespread than most people realize. The term chaos addiction is relatively new since it’s an abstract addiction that can be hard to quantify. A chaos addiction occurs when an individual actively seeks opportunities to live in a constant state of turmoil. As a result, people can engage in behaviors that perpetuate chaos, such as overworking, changing jobs frequently, overspending, purposefully starting feuds with their friends, or engaging in drug or alcohol use.

Having a chaos addiction is already difficult enough to deal with, especially if you’re unaware that it’s happening to you. But what’s worse is the swarm of negative behaviors that follow the need for chaos, igniting a search for something that makes you feel alive. The need for chaos can often walk you straight into substance abuse, drowning you in a lot of fake serotonin and real pain later on. 

The Signs of Chaos Addiction 

Addiction is traditionally associated with alcohol and drugs, but there are other forms of addiction. For example, chaos addiction is considered an emotional addiction. Therefore, in order to understand chaos addiction, you need a basic understanding of emotional addiction:

  • Having an emotional addiction involves being dependent on the chemicals produced by the brain in response to emotional triggers. 
  • Individuals with emotional addictions depend on the physiological effects of feeling specific ways. For example, feeling out of control, stressed, worried, or scared. 
  • In order to maintain particular emotional states, one might constantly vent, relive negative experiences, or seek out other relationships and situations to trigger them.
  • When a person has an emotional addiction, they rely on these emotions to function, and when you rely on these to function, you enable them to become in control of your thoughts and actions. 

Could this be you or someone you know?

Substance dependence is the basis of all addictions. When addicted to chaos, the substance in question is actually internal and is known as “adrenaline.” Fundamentally, chaos addicts are addicted to adrenaline – hence the need to create situations that cause them to feel the rush of emotions that adrenaline can ignite. Much of the time, seeking that adrenaline and chaos can end up being wound in a tight spiral together with drugs and alcohol, creating a self-destructive behavior between emotional and physical needs.

Those suffering from chaos addiction may feel uncomfortable or uneasy when things are harmonious. The following signs may indicate a chaos addiction: 

  • You’re busy at all times – to the point of exhaustion. People who are addicted to chaos often choose careers and hobbies that keep them so occupied that they have no time to do anything else.
  • Your life is always filled with unresolved problems. In order to maintain their chaos addiction, some people pick unnecessary fights or cause issues among their peers just for the sake of having something to do.
  • You initiate fights that could have been resolved peacefully. Those with chaos addiction seek conflict over issues and expect an apology or de-escalation of the situation from other parties. This is usually met with more conflict, fueling the fire to exacerbate the problem rather than looking for a peaceful solution. 
  • When things are peaceful, you feel uncomfortable. In personal relationships, at work, or in other areas of life, chaos addicts feel uncomfortable when things are calm. As a result, people may leave healthy, stable relationships in order to pursue ones with more drama or conflict. Sadly, this can also lead to the selection of harmful romantic partners. 

Stress is something that many people wish to escape, but chaos addicts feel a fatal attraction to everything that disturbs them. And unfortunately, many people enjoy the sense of tension and permanent defense that comes with it, no matter the consequences.

How Chaos Finds You

You might wonder how someone becomes attached to the feeling of chaos, and it usually stems from childhood or because of some sort of trauma that was experienced. Some people actually feel energized by the stress and anxiety of chaotic events because it’s all they’ve known. Those who participate in the drama and intensity may say that they feel alive and are motivated by it.

Though anyone can become addicted to chaos, certain risk factors may increase the likelihood:

  • Being raised in a chaotic environment. Many people who experience chaos addiction were raised in chaotic and unstable environments. Because of this, they equate chaos with the norm and don’t feel comfortable when things are calm. A parent with a substance abuse or addiction problem may have raised them or they were in an abusive environment. It is not uncommon for addicts to grow up in environments saturated with intergenerational addiction, abuse, and mental illness. The chaos and dysfunction in a family can lead to detrimental trauma and psychological disturbances for children, whether it be constant yelling and screaming, caregivers severely under the influence and needing to be cared for themselves, or people coming and going in an irregular routine.
  • Traumatic experiences or events. In order to avoid thinking about or processing their trauma, people who have had traumatic experiences may turn to chaos. This can be recent trauma or something that happened in childhood that continues to come back up in adulthood. 
  • Present or past substance abuse. Individuals with dependency problems, drug or alcohol addictions, or gambling addictions may become dependent upon the chaos these behaviors bring. Experiencing chaos addiction can be a common experience for those in recovery – as they can notice cravings for the rush of adrenaline offered by the conflict surrounding their addiction, even after they’ve stopped using drugs or alcohol.

One of the biggest problems for those addicted to chaos is perpetuating the belief that they are victims. In the same way that you believe that you are a victim of your thoughts and words, assuming that chaos is part of who you are leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy: You say you are something, and so you are; you say something will happen, and so it does. 

Interestingly, chaos can help a controlling individual feel more in control at the same time. In order to overcome the chaos, they have to take charge and exercise control over certain situations. As is the case with most addictions, this can result in a vicious cycle that leads to more addiction.

Additionally, they may be trying to distract themselves from experiencing something painful: a bad relationship, feelings of unworthiness, or traumatic memories from childhood. On the other hand, they may be trying to fill an inner void because their behavior is an outward manifestation of their internal state, which is unstable and riddled with anxiety. This unstable nature provides a mixture of feelings and emotions, such as angst, excitement, and suspense; it usually happens so fast that the brain doesn’t know how to handle it effectively. When you are in the midst of an adrenaline rush, your senses are heightened, allowing you to react quickly to the unexpected. That feeling naturally gives you thrills, even if you don’t know what will happen or how bad the situation could get.

How to Manage Chaos

Chaos addiction may seem more challenging to handle than addictions to alcohol and drugs since it’s more abstract in nature. However, in spite of the fact that chaos can’t be detoxed like traditional substance abuse, there are still ways to mitigate it.

A person’s first step to overcoming chaos addiction is to identify the source of turmoil in their lives. Following that, it is a matter of changing the behavior of a person in order to avoid chaos and achieve a more stable, calm life. Furthermore, the underlying causes of the addiction to chaos must be identified and addressed. For example, could this person be avoiding another emotion? Do they seek chaos as a way to validate their anxieties? 

Getting rid of the need for chaos can take time, just like any other addiction. To overcome chaos addiction, here are a few tips:

  • Identify the source of the addiction. Consider the things in your life contributing to the chaos, such as your relationships, work, living environment, or the behaviors you engage in regularly.
  • Analyze what changes need to be made in these areas to avoid chaos. This step can be challenging for those who suffer from chaos addiction. It may not seem appealing to someone addicted to chaos to give up a certain lifestyle or leave a dysfunctional relationship for a more stable, calm one. However, it’s important to establish goals for changing the behavior.
  • Clarify your motivation for seeking chaos. Most addictions begin as a way to escape unpleasant situations, emotions, or experiences that we don’t want to deal with or process. Whenever you engage in chaotic behavior, pause and ask yourself what you are trying to avoid with the particular choice of chaos at that time. 
  • Acknowledge anxiety and find ways to cope with it. When things are calm, chaos addicts feel anxious and uneasy and can experience anxiety when working toward a more stable life. When things become calmer, it’s important to have coping mechanisms ready to use when anxiety inevitably starts to occur. When things are calm and stable, uneasy feelings can be challenging 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. To manage anxiety, you must learn to accept this calm, accept it as safe, and sit with it. Practicing this will empower you by reinforcing that calm is healthy and engaging in chaos will only perpetuate the anxiety you wish to avoid. 
  • Question if there is a possible co-occurring disorder that you’re dealing with. When it comes to chaos, it can quickly go hand in hand with substance abuse. If you are early in recovery or looking for help, understand that anxiety is typical. Because of life difficulties, such as trauma and anxiety, a person may use substances to diminish the feelings of anxiety. But when an individual ceases their addictive behavior of any kind, the anxiety may resurface. 

Additionally, one might seek chaos to manage the discomfort of the new normal after recovery. Similarly, if you are conditioned to anticipate chaos in the environment, such as “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” you may engage in similar behaviors to feel in control of a constantly dysfunctional environment. As a result, you are still caught in the vicious cycle of using chaos to resolve unresolved anxiety that arose from it in the first place.

Get Help Today

Don’t worry if you are just beginning your healing journey or are only part of the way through.  Especially after reading this article, someday you will make the decision to do what’s best for you and make peace with who you are, chaotic or traumatic past notwithstanding.

In order to effectively start changing your mindset, you need to realize that you can be something other than a victim, replacing your old story with something new. For many people who seem to attract constant chaos, the reality is that they bring it in to perpetuate the identity they’ve created for themselves. However, once you understand that you’re free to change your story, thoughts, and conversations, you’ll notice that chaos begins to loosen its grip on your life.

Like with any addiction, overcoming these patterns may be hard to do alone. If you’re having trouble moving past chaotic behavior, need help identifying the causes, or need additional support, working with a mental health professional specializing in behavioral addiction can be a huge help. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, chaos and the co-occurring disorders that can grow around you may make recovery difficult. At Discovery Point Retreat, we explore the trauma, depression, or stress that may push you towards unhealthy temporary relief options. Call our attentive team today at 855-306-8054 or contact us online.


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