o a defective moral character. Recently, however, it

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o what he does cannot be properlysupported without a discussion of addiction. While the pharmacological examples such as
alcoholism and heroin addiction are still the clearest examples of addiction, new models of
addictive behavior including exercise addiction, compulsive gambling, and even sexual
addiction have gained acceptance. Just as alcoholism was once thought to be a conscious
choice, these latter examples have long been thought to be the result of such things as a
defective moral character. Recently, however, it has been recognized that the sexual addict
or the compulsive gambler can stop their compulsion no more easily than the alcoholic. An
underlying statement, accepted by most in the world of addiction research, recognizes
addiction as an integrated, bio-psycho-social illness (Johnson, 1993). In other words, an
addiction is not an isolated physical or social illness. The addiction contains elements of
society, biology and individual psychology (Johnson, 1993).

The definition of the bio-psycho-social model states that an addiction is the
repeated use of a substance or a compelling involvement in behavior that directly or
indirectly modifies the internal milieu (as indicated by changes in neurochemical and
neuronal activity) in such a way as to produce immediate reinforcement, but whose
long-term effects are personally or medically harmful or highly disadvantageous to society
(Pomerleau, 1988).

This viewpoint manages to catch all addictions, including both substance and
process, and define them in a learning context. A brief, yet encompassing view of
addiction’s purpose is that of a coping device. The addiction becomes a method in which
the addicted individual can “manage and magically control multiple forms of anxiety”
(Keller, 1992, p. 224). Much like a security blanket, or favorite stuffed animal, the
addiction is used to protect and comfort the addicted individual. Understanding the
magical, and comforting, role played by the addictive substance is key to understanding
addiction. By viewing an addiction as a coping device, much of the addiction’s allure
becomes evident, as does the addicted individual’s continued return to it. Addiction is
invariably a progressive disease (Schaef, 1987; ). Simply put, it gets worse. Some
addictions progress more slowly than others, while some addictions progress very quickly.

Some of the progression speed would seem to be based in the individual. Not all
alcoholics drink at the same speeds, or have problems with their drinking after a certain,
predefined time. Some researchers argue that addiction is always fatal, but others view this
as a questionable statement (Schaef, 1987). Not only does addiction build, it builds until
the individual is destroyed.

Eisenstein was one of the first to list hypersexuality (now called sexual addiction)
as an addiction (Orford, 1985). Indeed, sexual addiction is like alcoholism in that the sex
addict uses a mood-altering experience, just as the alcoholic uses a mood-altering drug
(Carnes, 1983). Carnes (1983) goes further, recognizing the progressive cycle of sexual
addiction, and describing how the addict becomes increasingly focused on sex. The only
argument against labeling sexual addiction as an addiction, which has fallen rather short in
the last decade, is the societal definition of excessive sexual behavior. That is, each society
defines excessive behavior differently. What may be viewed as excessive in one locale and
time may be viewed as quite acceptable in another. Thus, while the true sexual addict may
be labeled as simply active, after a period of time, the level of activity will have grown to
a point where the addiction is unmistakable.
Gambling, meanwhile, is also a mood modifier, or psychotropic experience
(Orford, 1985). Much like sexual behavior and alcohol, gambling has the power to alter
moods and cognitive states in those who partake. Some have argued that gambling is so
very powerful a mood modifier, that it is for all intents and purposes a drug (Orford,
1985). Gambling addiction, too, is a progressive disease. Virtually everyone has heard
anecdotes of afflicted individuals gambling away careers, marriages, and homes. Gambling
addiction has now been recognized to be as powerful an addiction as alcohol, and has even
been compared in strength to heroin (Orford, 1985). The importance and similarity among
the addictions is their mood-modifying nature. Exercise, gambling, and sexual behavior are
all psychotropic behaviors, just as alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana are psychotropic
substances. Essentially, the addictive substance is psychotropic, and as such, is an
understandable coping device. All of these behaviors can make an individual feel better for
a while, and this brief respite from anxiety is what eventually leads the individual into

Some researchers seek an addiction gene, convinced that when it is found, the key
to all addiction will have been pinpointed (Edwards and Tarter, 1988). Based on the
similarity between alcoholism and other addictions, it is a small leap of logic to identifying
the theoretical genetic basis for alcoholism with a general genetic predisposition. It is
known that there are biological qualifications in regards to choice of addiction, and this is
rather logical (Johnson, 1993). An individual that becomes physically ill upon ingestion of
alcohol is highly unlikely to become enthralled with another, different substance, such as
tobacco or even a process such as gambling.

Beyond inherent, inborn predispositions to addiction, it is known that there are
many similarities in the childhood of addicts. That is, there are common points in the early
lives of almost all addicts. Potential alcoholics, it is known, often have trouble developing
interpersonal relationships, and those few that are cultivated can generally be categorized
as poor or superficial (Edwards and Tarter, 1988). In addition, alcoholics often come from
homes with significant levels of parental conflict and marital discord. Insufficient levels of
contact and poor parenting are often counterparts of the parental conflict and in-home
discord (Edwards and Tarter, 1988). Antisocial, or psychopathic, behavior in childhood
has also been linked to a greatly increased risk of alcoholism (Edwards and Tarter, 1988).

The list of traits does not end here, however. Further research uncovered more marks of
susceptibility, and these include: poor school performance, perceived use of drugs of
adults, conflict with parents, low religious involvement, absence of sense of purpose,
reduced social responsibility and psychological disorders such as depression, sociopathy,
and low self-esteem (Edwards and Tarter, 1988). In short, the boys at risk for alcoholism
have difficulty in the regulation if their behavioral level, and difficulty with goal directness
(Edwards and Tarter, 1988). Sexual addicts are not entirely different in their early lives.

Their home lives characteristically had quite inconsistent training, and highly erratic
discipline (Orford, 1985). Extensive research on sexual addicts, however, has yet to be
conducted, so most comparisons between alcoholics and sexual addicts are rather
tentative. Regardless of this, it can be seen that among various types of addicts, there are a
series of childhood behaviors and circumstances that tend to precede, and predispose the
individual to the addiction.

Even in adulthood there are definite, recognizable antecedents to addiction. Bruce
Alexander (1988) listed special traits of alcoholics as including the following:
hyperactivity, reduced attention span, increased sociability, increased social aggression,
and a generally heightened emotionality.While it is commonsensical to recognize these
traits after the alcoholic has been drinking, these traits are also present before drinking
(Alexander, 1988). Sexual addicts are listed as being afflicted with such things as
continuous need, a general compulsivity and unhealthy levels of self-contempt (Orford,
1985). A little thought will reveal the similarities between the compulsivity of the sexual
addict, and the cluster of hyperactivity, reduced attention span, increased sociability and
increased aggression among alcoholics. Again, as with alcoholics, sexual addicts evidence
these tratis before and after the act. Furthermore, research into further traits of alcoholics
yielded an excellent motivation for drinking: alcoholics commonly identify drinking with
enhanced personal power, and greater self-worth (Marlatt and Fromme, 1988), and thus
drink for greater power and self-esteem. It is not difficult to see that the sexual addict,
contemptuous of self, seeks increased self-esteem and greater personal power through the
act of sex. Similarities, in fact, between addicts are surprising.Virtually all addicts show
low levels of self-esteem , and other similar traits. Commonalties such as this underline
the equivalencies in the adulthood traits of addicts.
Choice of addiction is an interesting subtopic. Some have called it random,
indicating that the individual will become addicted to whatever is at hand. Contrary to this
statement, however, there are definite predispositions to different types of addiction.
Indeed, the particular addiction chosen is quite unlikely to become an alcoholic. Culture’s
influence is undeniable’ during the 1940’s it was a social norm to smoke, thus leading to
widespread nicotine addiction. Individual metabolism and heredity come in again when
considering how much effect the given substance or process has on the individual.
Availability’s role is obvious. If cigarettes are entirely unavailable in a culture, no one will
become addicted to them. Johnson (1993) does not rule out luck, and it is undeniable
that chance plays a definite role in addiction. Two children of nearly identical upbringing
may choose very different addictions, such as heroin and gambling. The choice of
addiction, therefore, is a multi-factorial thing, with both behavioral and biological
Addiction’s courses, for the most part, are a predictable and sequential thing. The
addiction can be easily broken into three stages, the precursor stage, during which the
individual is inclined toward addiction the onset stage, which is the final stage of
addiction. All addictions follow this sequence, both process addictions such as gambling
and substance addictions such as heroin. The length of the stages differ radically among
individuals. For one individual, the precursor stage may last for years, while for another it
may be months. An individual can linger in the onset stage for many years without the
behavior becoming a true addiction. However, another person may move to the
progression stage after only a handful of trials. Regardless, these stages always occur in a
specific order, one following another.

Serial killers are viewed by many experts in both psychology and psychiatry to be
the ultimate extension of violence (Geverth, 1990). As this statement would suggest,
serial killers have many traits in common with each other. The proper psychological
classification for serial killers has been bandied about for many years, but the most
appropriate is that of psychopathic sexual sadist (Geberth, 190; Ressler, 1988). In
psychological circles, the phrase ASPD, or anti-social personality disorder has replaced
the earlier terms psychopathy and sociopathy.

Anti-social personality disorder has a variety of characteristics, some of which
better describe serial killers than others. The inability to love, which is often considered to
be the core of ASPD is especially evident in the serial killer (Holmes and De Burger,
1988). That is, the killer simply never develops any lasting relationships which do not
have obvious cause-and -effect, value, such as ‘she gives me money.’ This is strikingly
similar to an alcoholics’ difficulties in forming relationships.
Highly impulsive and aggressive behavior is another part of the serial killers
psyche, and studies show that they require more thrills than normal people (Holmes and
De Burger, 1988). Just like young children, they must constantly be in search of new
entertainment, and like the young child they show little ability to restrain the occurrence or
the nature of their behavior. The difficulty in controlling their own behavior is not
dissimilar to the findings of Edwards and Tarter (1988) regarding potential alcoholics. An
inherent sadistic nature is yet another part of the serial killer, along with a fascination for
violence, injury and torture (Geberth, 1992). While the young child may pull the legs off
of a grasshopper for entertainment, the serial killer enjoys doing or fantasizing about doing
such things to fellow humans.
The classic feature of the psychopath (and thus the serial killer), now known as the
ASPD individual, is an absolute lack of guilt. Participation in activities which could result
in social disapproval will generate guilt and remorse in a normal, healthy individual, but
the serial killer does not experience either of these feelings to any sufficient degree
(Holmes and De Burger, 1988). Ted Bundy is a classic example of serial killer. In
addition to an inability to love, and a sadistic nature, anti-social personality traits he
manifested included: evasive personality, strong feelings of insecurity, general anger, and
a tendency to run from problems (Holmes and De Burger, 1988). In short, those traits
which help us to get along with each other–ability to love, to control behavior, and a
conscience–fail to develop in the ASPD afflicted individual.

There are similarities and common vulnerability factors between ASPD and other
psychological disorders.The cluster of disorders, with the exception of ASPD, includes
borderline personality, hysteria, drug abuse, gambling, alcoholism, and bulimia (Tarter and
Edwards, 1988). Bundy’s feelings of insecurity are nothing new to an addicted individual,
and have correlated with a near-predisposition to addiction (Tarter and Edwards, 1988).
His evasive personality is nothing new to anyone who has dealt with an alcoholic, who will
routinely dodge anything that approaches a question regarding their behavior. In addition,
Bundy had earlier experienced problems with alcohol and drugs as do many ASPD
individuals (Holmes and De Burger, 1988). Ted Bundy is a prime example illustrating the
many common points between anti-social personality disorder, there are other, distinct
similarities between serial killers and their crimes. Serial murders are, as a whole, lacking
in clear-cut motives (Holmes and De Burger, 1988). This gain is generally sexual, and it
has been posited that all serial murderers are nectophiles (Brown, 1991). Some of the
killers motivation consists for uncontrolled drives, reflected in their inability to control
impulsive behavior or change their actions consideration of others (Holmes and De
Burger, 1988). There is not external motive in a serial murder. The victim is killed for
psychological gain on the part of the murderer.

The evidence of forethought, of sometimes extensive planning, is always
observable. Even though some serial killers claim that their crimes were spontaneous, that
there was no forethought or planning, some experts now question whether such a thing as
spontaneous homicide really exists (Ressler, 1988). This is supported by the fact that
fantasized violence is quite obvious even among those killers that claim not to have
fantasized at all (Ressler, 1988). The serial killer spends an amount of time planning the
murder, whether consciously or not, and this is reflected in the killer’s actions and in the
crime scene.
Another interesting feature of the serial killer is their ability to thoroughly conceal
their criminal activities. Only in rare cases are even the killer’s intimates aware of his
activities (Holmes and De Burger, 1988). Ted Bundy even went so far as to volunteer
time helping with the investigation of several killings which he had committed, with little
suspicion turned toward himself (Holmes and De Burger, 1988). None of his coworkers
suspected him, and even past lovers, while admitting he was rather an intense person, did
not believed he was capable of murder (Holmes and De Burger, 1988). This is akin to the
closed addict, who hides his drug problems or other addiction from loved ones for years.
Their lack of close relationships and of remorse only aid this ability.

These three traits serve to make the serial killer very dangerous. Their lack of
conscience, as a result of ASPD, lack of external motivation, planning and ability to hide
their criminality make them virtually invisible. Even after several bodies have been
discovered, area law enforcement may not realize that a serial killer is at work.

The serial killer is well-rooted in history, probably as far back as man’s earliest
days. One of the most memorable is Jack the Ripper, the first recorded serial sexual killer.
Jack the Ripper terrorized London for a few short years in the latter half of the nineteenth
century, murdering and mutilating middle-aged prostitutes. Though some claims are much
higher, most authorities indicate four definite murders as his hands, and possibly five.
Still, his exploits were well known, hence his survival in culture today.

There have been many theories of crime posited, which by nature, also apply to the
serial killer. Biological theories of crime first appeared in the 1800’s, hinting at some
general mental or character deficiency which led to the criminality (Holmes and De
Burger, 1988). Any more advanced theories had to wait until the first decade of the
twentieth century, when the first systematic studies of murder were conducted (Holmes
and De Burger, 1988). Sociogenic theories, explaining murder as a result of societal
influence began to appear within a few decades (Holmes and De Burger, 1988).
According to the sociogenic approach, the serial killer can be viewed as an ultimate
product of their culture. The sociogenic approach, the serial killer can be viewed as an
ultimate product of their culture. The sociogenic approach leaves no room for genetic or
physiological predisposition, or existing weakness, when exposed to the proper stressors,
will become serial killers. This covers the fact that some people, though faced with
essentially the same upbringing and life situation of serial killer, will not become serial
The serial killer, rather than being a creature of complete and unutterable evil, as
Gerberth (1992) would argue, is in truth an addict. Shaped by a dysfunctional childhood
and faulty learning, the serial killer learns to depend on fantasy as a coping mechanism.

This is, in certain respects, no different from the alcoholic using their drink of choice as a
coping mechanism. Just as addicts tend to fall into a downward spiral, until all else in their
lives centers around the addictive substance, the serial killer’s life begins to revolve around
fantasy. The revolution becomes so dominating that eventually fantasy becomes the center
of the serial killer’s life. And just as the heroin addict’s need for a fix may drive him to
steal, the serial killer’s obligation to the fantasy drives him to murder. In short, the cycle of
the serial killer is no different from the cycle of any other addict, the end result of murder
being functionally the same as the heroin addict’s theft.

Alexander, Bruce. (1988). “The Disease and Adaptive Models of Addiction.” In Stanton
Peele (Ed.), Visions of Addiction. Lexington: DC Health and Company.

Carnes, P. (1983). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. MN: Compcare
Edwards, Kathleen and Tarter, Ralph. (1988). “Vulnerability to Alcohol and Drug Use: A
Behavior-Genetic View.” In Stanton Peele (Ed.), Visions of Addiction. Lexington: DC
Health and Company.

Geberth, Vernon J. (1992). “Serial Murder: A Psychology of Evil.” Law and Order, 40,

Geberth, Vernon J. (1990). “The Serial Killer.” Law and Order, 38, 72-77.

Holmes, Ronald M. and DeBurger, James. (1988). Serial Murder. Newbury Park: Sage.

Johnson, Brian. (1993). “A Developmental Model of Addictions, and its Relationship to
the Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Journal of Substance Abuse
Treatment, 10, 23-24.

Keller, Eileen L. (1992). “Addiction as a form of Perversion.” Bulletin of the Menninger
Clinic, 56, 221-231.

Marlatt, G. Alan and Fromme, Kim. (1988). “Metaphors for addiction.” In Stanton Peele
(Ed.), Visions of Addiction. Lexington: DC Health and Company.

Orford, Jim. (1985). Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of Addictions. New
York: John Wiley and Sons.

Pomerleau, Ovide and Cynthia. (1988). “A Biobehavioral View of Substance Abuse and
Addiction.” In Stanton Peele (Ed.), Visions of Addiction. Lexington: DC Health and

Ressler, Robert K., et al. (1988). Sexual Homocide. Lexington: DC Health and Company.

Schaef, A.W. (1987). When Society Becomes an Addict. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Serial Killing: Is It An Addiction?
Rush Cornwell
November 22, 1998


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