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Article Summary

What Is Addiction?

For the vast majority of the population, the image of addiction is one marked by moral failure, victimhood, innate suffering, ignorance, and an inability to control the body and/or the mind.

However, recent scientific knowledge is painting a different picture of addiction - showing it as something that goes over and beyond the social construct described in the preceding paragraph.

Today, we understand that addiction goes over and beyond drugs, alcohol, and other foreign substances. In fact, it is more than just a simple condition - indeed, more complex than was previously thought.

As a direct result, the general understanding of addiction has grown to include the social, psychological, and neurophysiological aspects of the condition. Similarly, people have come to see it for what it truly is - something that, to some extent, goes over and beyond the responsibility of those affected.

In this review, you will improve your comprehension of addiction, understand what it represents, as well as see the different types of addiction that currently plague victims from all spheres of life.

Understanding Addiction

At its most basic, addiction can be defined as the complicated condition that affects the brain. As such, it is typically manifested through certain compulsive consumptions - either of substances or through specific actions - all of which have the culminating effect of causing harmful consequences to the victims and those close to them.

To this end, individuals who suffer addiction tend to focus intensely on the substances and/or activities that led to their present predicament. This is to such an extent that their compulsion ultimately takes over their life.

With time, they continue down the road to perdition - either drinking more or using more of the drugs/activities they are addicted to, even after they start noticing the problems it is causing in their lives.

In general, you can get addicted to any or all of the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Inhalants, such as glue and paint thinners
  • LSD, PCP, and other hallucinogens
  • Marijuana
  • Opioid painkillers like heroin, codeine, and oxycodone
  • Sedatives, anxiolytics, and hypnotics (medicines for anxiety, like tranquilizers)
  • Stimulants, such as meth, and cocaine
  • Tobacco

However, there is more to addiction that the substances listed above - which we will look at later in this guide. That said, the addicted tend to end up with distorted bodily functions, behavior, and thinking.

This distortion is caused by changes in brain chemistry, ultimately causing the addict to experience intense cravings to whatever they are addicted to. It is this desire that keeps them hooked to the addictive substance and behavior.

Further, most of the addictive actions and substances have a high likelihood of causing harmful changes in the functioning of the brain. These changes, on the other hand, tend to last over the long haul - even after the victim has already experienced the immediate effects of whatever has got them hooked.

With time, addicts end up building up the tolerance to the addictive substance. As a direct result, they need to take in more of the addictive substance just to feel the original effects.

According to the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), most people who are addicted to drugs tend to take even more drugs for the following reasons:

  • To feel good, or experience pleasure (high)
  • To feel better, such as by relieving their stress
  • To do better by improving their performance
  • To satiate their curiosity, or placate their friends, that is, peer pressure

That said, some people who experience addictive disorders are aware of the problem they are undergoing. However, they might find it difficult to stop the behavior in its track - even when they are willing to.

Still, addiction tends to create a variety of problems ranging from ill health to problems with friends, family members, colleagues, and employers. In fact, people who are addicted to the misuse of alcohol and drugs have a higher likelihood of contracting preventable illnesses and succumbing to premature death.

Addiction: The Medical Definition

According to criteria set forth by the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association, addiction needs to meet a minimum of 3 from the criteria listed below:

  1. Tolerance

    This refers to the use of more drugs/alcohol and engaging in particular behavior more often over time.

  2. Withdrawal

    You need to experience emotional or physical withdrawal when you decide to stop using drugs or alcohol, or behaving in a certain way. Common withdrawal symptoms for addicts include vomiting, nausea, sweats, shakes, irritability, and anxiety. Emotional withdrawal, on the other hand, will be quite as painful as physical withdrawal.

  3. Limited Control

    By limited control, we refer to finding yourself using more of the substances and engaging in the actions you are addicted to without realizing it - to an extent where you can't control yourself.

    For alcoholics, it might refer to drinking simply to get drunk, or deciding to have one drink, only to end up drinking more than you'd anticipated. The day after, you might regret your actions.

  4. Negative Consequences

    Another hallmark of addiction lies in your continued use or activity even after experiencing negative consequences to your self-esteem, mood, job, health, and/or family.

  5. Neglected and Postponed Activities

    As an addict, you will find yourself putting off and reducing work, recreational, social, and household activities because you need to drink alcohol, use drugs, or engage in particular behavior.

  6. Significant Energy and Time Investment

    Addicts have a tendency of spending substantial amounts of energy and time planning, concealing, using, obtaining, and recovering from use. They also spend time thinking about their use, while also trying to minimize or cover such use.

  7. Desire to Stop

    At some point, you'll feel an inherent desire to either stop the behavior/use or cut down on it. This means that your feelings get to a point where you want to control your use, to such an extent that you even make unsuccessful attempts to stop.

Symptoms Of Addiction

Whether you are addicted to alcohol, drugs, illicit substances, or antisocial behavior, the symptoms of such addiction can be groups into four broad categories. These categories encompass the following:

  1. Impaired Control

    For starters, you will always feel a strong urge or craving to use whatever you are addicted to. You will also want to cut down and control your use but fail in your attempts.

  2. Social Problems

    The nature of addiction is such that it will lead you to fail in your ability to complete the tasks and responsibilities that are required of you at work, home, and school. Further, you will give up or cut back on your leisure, work, and social activities in favor of your addiction.

  3. Risky Use

    In some cases, you might find your addiction leading you into dangerous and risky situations - such as continuing to use even after you know the problems that you pose.

  4. Effects

    With time, you will notice the effect of whatever it might be that you are addicted to. In the case of alcohol and drugs, you will build higher tolerance meaning that you will need larger amounts to derive the same feelings of happiness. Conversely, you will experience withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit.

    In many cases, you might end experiencing both addiction and mental illness. Although mental illness is sometimes a precursor to addiction, it might also be triggered by your addiction.

How Addiction Feels

Whatever it might be that you are addicted to will certainly feel good - albeit in your first stages of use. This is because addictive substances and activities stimulate the pleasure nerves and hormones of the brain.

This works through such neurotransmitters as GABA and dopamine. In case you are genetically predisposed to addiction, the substances won't just feel good. They will feel like they are part of your life and that you need to start and/or continue chasing after them.

At this juncture, addiction will start taking root. In fact, among those who are genetically predisposed to such, there is a tendency to be willing to undergo adverse situations only to continue feeling high and getting more of the addictive substance/behavior.

In most cases, addicts experience substances differently than a non-addict would. This is why there are so many problems between addicts and non-addicts - because the two sides can't understand each other.

For people who are not addicted, alcohol, drugs, and certain behaviors will only produce a high that's mild at best. Therefore, they won't be able to understand why addicts go to such great lengths even after it has become clear that their lives are being destroyed in the process.

Over and above everything else, denial is one of the main defining factors of addiction. Due to the good feelings addictive substances elicit, addicts will initially deny their problem - both to themselves and to their loved ones. With time, the addiction will isolate them from the activities and people who mean the most in their lives.

Common Types Of Addiction

As we mentioned earlier, you can get high on something completely beyond the reaches of alcohol and drugs. Although you might think that these two are the main hallmarks of addiction, there is more to it than that.

In fact, anyone can get addicted, at any time - regardless of cultural background, socioeconomic status, or age. The lines between those things that are addictive and those that are habitual are so thin that you might not feel yourself crossing them.

Whereas a habit is something you do out of choice, addictive behavior might crop up and continue replicating itself in yourself to the point that you turn to it as a destruction from feeling trauma, pain, or discomfort.

Whether this comes in the form of a substance, activity, or thought, addictive behavior will eventually take over your life even before you realize what is happening.

Such actions, be they positive (like exercise) or negative (such as alcohol and substance abuse), release endorphins (potent chemical) in the brain. As a direct result, you will feel intense pleasure.

The continued release of endorphins will reinforce the same actions, and you will continually choose to engage in the same behaviors that cause you to feel good. Repeating these actions will only reinforce your addiction.

In most cases, addiction doesn't just crop up on its own - rather, it is a mechanism for coping with anxiety and stress. Once you grow into an addict, you won't be in a position to address the anxiety and stress that might have pointed you that way, at least not without help from professionals and loved ones.

Instead, you will choose to continue engaging in the behavior that makes you happy, all the while ignoring the real source of your problems. These sources will worsen over time. Ultimately, you won't be able to realize that your behavior is creating damaging effects in your life and the environments you move in.

As you already understand, addiction goes beyond alcohol, drugs, and other substances. In fact, when you replace substance with behavior, you will be able to broaden your understanding of what addicts often have to deal with.

Whether it is bungee jumping, art, the Internet, or sex, the burning desire to experience that elusive high becomes so strong that you will lose control over your life. With time, you'll even start seeking out these activities irrespective of the negative consequences it is causing.

Although experts haven't yet come to an agreement on all true addictions, the habits listed below are some of the addictions you might experience - over and beyond alcohol and drugs, of course:

1. Love

In this case, you will feel addicted and drawn to emotional intimacy - to such an extent that you will be said to be experiencing love addiction. Addicts in this area tend to engage in compulsive and dependent patterns of relationships, sexuality, and romance.

At times, the addiction might carry harmful consequences both for the addict and their partner. The addict, to this end, will seek the changing high that they get from feelings of being in love.

Although it is frequently viewed as being less harmful compared to the other types of addiction, love addiction can sometimes be the reason behind custody issues, lost marriages, and broken relationships.

2. Exercise

During exercise - especially of the extreme kind - the body produces the flight or fight stimulants that make you feel good. With time, you will need to exercise even harder to achieve the same type of feeling.

At its highest form, pure adrenaline tends to be released into the brain when you feel like your life is in danger. This naturally-produced drug is addictive in the sense that you need to push your body even harder to be able to produce more of it.

With time, you will develop a dangerous cycle where you work so hard that you might even injure your body. At this point, you should know that you are already addicted to exercise.

3. Gambling

Gambling is another one of the addictive activities that people are now being warned against. It comes with many risks - not least of which is the risk of financial ruin and the destruction of your reputation.

At its most basic, gambling can be defined as a type of impulse control disorder. As such, addicted gamblers tend to become so obsessed with winning back their money. This causes them to continue gambling even when they are losing more money than they initially invested.

Of all the behavioral addictions listed here, gambling mostly closely resembles addiction to drugs, alcohol, and substance abuse. In fact, gambling has been classified by the APA (American Psychiatric Association) as a definitive addictive disorder.

Other studies show that gambling tends to light up the same areas of the brain as drugs and alcohol. It is for this precise reason that gamblers are usually given the same type of treatment and therapy as alcoholics and drug addicts.

4. Sex

Although this is something you might only have heard of through the internet and/or mass media, sex is actually as addictive a behavior as drinking alcohol and taking drugs. For most addicts, the defining characteristic is a near-obsessive craving for sexual intercourse.

However, sex is yet to be classified formally as an addiction - for obvious reasons. Still, there are treatments and therapies designed to deal with it.

That said, the signs and symptoms of sex addiction are totally understandable. They include complete loss of control, as well as a heightened disregard for the consequences and risks associated with sex.

Typically defined as hypersexual behavior disorder, sex addiction can still be treated through the 12 step program, as well as by joining Sex Addicts Anonymous.

5. Internet

The world is increasingly connected. However, this has not come without its disadvantages. In fact, psychiatrists and psychologists now agree that internet addiction is an actual thing.

More particularly, it applies to those people who lose their ability to control how much they go online. Such behavior eventually leads to adverse consequences for the victims both at home and at work.

According to the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting of 2014, Internet addiction is now characterized by changes in the brain. For the typical addict, the internet would occupy 11 hours out of their day. This problem is so penetrative that 6-14% of all studied internet users experience it from time to time.

Internet addiction can fall into either or both of the following categories:

  1. Social Media Addiction

    Within the same boundaries as internet addiction lies social media addiction. With the penetration of social platforms, people are now turning to their devices to check up on recent updates, scrolling mindlessly, and finding out what others are up to.

    Some are so addicted that they end up posting all details of their daily lives - from the moment they get up in the morning right to the point when they fall asleep. Others end up spending copious amounts of time taking pictures that they deem "Instagram-worthy," editing videos for uploading to YouTube, and updating posts and refreshing their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

    The unfortunate thing about social media addiction is that it stops these platforms from doing what they were designed for - making meaningful connections between people. As such, the typical addict would prefer to spend time with virtual friends than with actual people.

  2. Porn Addiction

    While watching pornography, the brain also produces adrenalin - much in the same way as if you were with a partner. However, you become so addicted to this self-induced pleasure that you will start preferring the people engaging in sexual activities over the internet that actual, physical people you might encounter in real life.

    The growing addiction eventually means that you start viewing porn as a reality. With time, you will need to watch even more videos and photographs to achieve the same level of arousal as you used to get when you first developed the habit.

    Although it tends to start like a minute, harmless type of behavior, porn addiction might become your new norm. As a direct result, you will increasingly find it hard to engage with other sexual partners without resorting to pornography.

    Further, your compulsive engagement in pornography might lead to the detrimental of your ability to meaningfully engage in any other activity - either at work, with friends, or in your family.

6. Shopping

If you are addicted to shopping, the chances are that you will end up spending money compulsively. This is regardless of whether or not you can realistically afford what you are buying, or if you even need it in the first place.

According to recent estimates, around 6% of the entire American population is addicted to shopping. In fact, given these statistics, it is not surprising that credit cards are so popular, or that so many are already in debt as a direct result.

That said, most shopping addicts tend to turn to their habits to relieve stress or forget their problems. Ironically, most of these problems are related to money (or lack thereof).

When shopping addiction gets out of control, it can be described as a form of impulse control disorder - and not a true addiction in the real sense of the word. Still, if you always find yourself buying items you don't need to avoid your feelings of sadness only to feel guilty down the road, the chances are that you are an addict. Alternatively, you might have a closetful of clothes and accessories that can only mean that you are a shopaholic.

Studies, however, point out that women are affected more by shopping addiction than men. The condition also breeds personal problems, which can be dealt with through behavioral therapy and counseling.

7. Work

Although this might come as a surprise, it is entirely possible to become addicted to working. This happens especially when you love what you do - and derived feelings of pleasure anytime you are working.

As a direct result, you will start choosing to spend more time on your job than on other fulfilling pursuits, such as relationships, starting and raising a family, or interacting with others on a social level.

Work has actually been shown to push up the levels of adrenalin in some people, forcing them to keep going to maintain a certain degree of accomplishment. With time, workaholics become easily susceptible to stress, pressure, and implosion.

8. Video Games

If you always find yourself living in an alternative reality due to the number of hours you spend playing video games, it is highly likely that you are an addict. Research shows that such addiction is especially common among men and boys.

Another study found that 1 out of every 10 video game player aged between 8 and 18 was an out of control gamer. Among the addicts, video games take over the player's life - making them feel like it is a reality and not the fantasy it actually is.

Luckily, as with the other types of addiction listed above, you can be weaned off games through behavior modification and counseling. Although it might take some time, the treatment will eventually work, and you will get back to reality.

9. Plastic Surgery

Some people are highly concerned about their bodies and how they look. To improve, they choose to undergo plastic surgery the first time. Although it might seem harmless, this modification gives feelings of happiness, prompting further appointments with a plastic surgeon.

Today, plastic surgery has become so affordable that it has been a source of addiction among many. The typical addict drifts from one doctor to another until they get to one who will agree to the treatments they propose.

That said, the primary cause of this type of addiction revolves around BDD (body dysmorphic disorder). Currently, 1-2% of the entire American population suffers from BBC according to reports posted by the International OCD Foundation.

The disorder is also considered to be most prevalent in patients who have undergone plastic surgery at one point or another. Addicts tend to be overly concerned about their appearance, with some believing that they are deformed, ugly, or both.

10. Food

Among those who are addicted to food, you will find people who tend binge eat or overeat to such an extent that they cannot control how much they consume. These addicts may end up in such precarious situations while trying to cope with trauma, failed relationships, and emotional states. Not surprisingly, food addicts tend to be obese or overweight. However, even those who have average weight might also suffer from this type of addiction.

For many years now, Americans have been arguing whether an obsession with food can be termed as an addiction - or if this is just an excuse by some to overeat. However, the truth of the matter is that binge eating disorder actually exists. In fact, it is so prevalent that it affects around 3% of all American adults.

The main symptoms of food addiction include overeating while alone, eating to deal with emotions, and feeling increasing guilt after a binge eating session. Although the main causes remain unknown, scientists postulate that depression more than addiction is the main cause.

11. Risky Behavior

People who actively seek out risky thrills tend to display the same symptoms as alcoholics and drug addicts. In this group, those affected get a rush whenever they engage in any activity that can be considered risky - such as rock climbing and skydiving.

After a while, those who are addicted to risky behavior start seeking out even more dangerous pursuits and activities to achieve the same level of high excitement. Studies show that the thrills flood the brain with chemicals that are similar to those released by alcohol and other addictive substances.

From the above forms of addiction, it is clear that not every behavioral addiction meets the classic definition. However, they tend to share similar social and psychological hallmarks. As a direct result, the traditional types of treatment used to heal addicts would work well irrespective of the cause of addiction.

The Cost Of Addiction

Whether you are addicted to cigarettes, or you love shopping or gambling, the cents and dollars you will end up spending will prove detrimental to your financial well-being. Additionally, the cost of addiction to your family, as well as to the community might prove even higher.

For instance, twice as many people in the US die from alcoholism every year than the number of lives lost in motor vehicle accidents.

Similarly, alcohol intoxication accounts for 40 to 50% of all traffic fatalities, 64% of fires, and 25 to 35 of non-fatal injuries sustained in vehicle injuries.

Not surprisingly, rescue teams and traffic police discover alcohol present in close to 50% of all homicides - either in the immediate vicinity or having been consumed by the perpetrator or the victim, or both.

Treatment For Addiction

Apart from the above statistics, most addicts only decide to stop after having suffered enough from the negative consequences of their actions. Although addiction feels good and you might not want to stop, it also causes serious results - both to your body and to everything you hold dear.

The only source of refuge in such a situation is to get help. Instead of waiting until you hit rock bottom, you should take action as soon as possible. Even as you consider what to do, remember that the earlier you take the first step, the easier it will be for you to kick your addiction.

In most treatment programs, the doctors and medical practitioners involved will diagnose the problem, find out if there are any underlying causes, and come up with the best solution. You will also receive all the resources needed to help you overcome your habits and addictions.

Overall, your treatment will involve diagnosis and evaluation, detoxification, therapy, family support, and more. The broader the range of treatments, the easier it will be for you to achieve your treatment goals and change from an addict to a non-addict.

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