Knowledge — 3 years ago

Addiction - what is Addiction and how to Recognize it

by Kelly B.

Addicted, Addiction, What is Addiction

Addiction - what is Addiction and how to Recognize it

Addiction is a condition that affects the brain and causes someone to want to repeatedly engage in a behavior, regardless of how determinantal the consequences may be. This is caused by a biological process that results in a disorder of the brain’s reward system. Addiction can occur in response to drugs or behaviors. For example, it is possible to become addicted to cocaine, opiates, gambling, food, nicotine, alcohol, and more. Certain risk factors can make people more susceptible to addiction than others. The road to recovery is often difficult and the affected person may not even realize that he or she has a problem at first.

Symptoms Associated with Addiction

There are different types of addiction and while the symptoms may manifest differently, you can likely expect to see the following common symptoms and behaviors:

  • The individual has a strong craving or desire to engage in the activity or utilize the substance.
  • The individual has attempted to quit or cut down on the behavior or substance but has been unsuccessful.
  • The individual feels compelled to engage in the activity or use the substance in increased amounts or for a greater period of time than was originally intended.
  • Use of the substance or engaging in the activity interferes with other responsibilities such as work or school.
  • Despite the problems associated with the addictive behavior or substance, the individual continues using it.
  • The pursuit of the substance or behavior, or the recovery from it, take up large amounts of time.
  • The individual puts him or herself in risky situations in order to use the substance or engage in the behavior.
  • The individual experiences tolerance and needs increased amounts of the substance or behavior.
  • Stopping use may result in physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Causes of Addiction

There are numerous psychological, genetic, and environmental factors involved in addiction. One factor, of course, will be the exposure to an addictive substance.

Biological Contributors to Addiction

Studies have found that genetics can have a 40 to 60% impact on the likelihood of developing an addiction. In general, research has found about a 50% link between genetics and developing a substance abuse addiction. Typically, there is not one gene for addiction but rather various gene combinations that can affect addiction. There may be other physiological factors such as variations in liver enzymes which are responsible for metabolizing alcohol and other substances. Additionally, males are more likely to struggle with addiction than females.

Psychological Contributors to Addiction

One study of 900 childhood abuse survivors found that the vast majority of them later struggled with various types of addiction. Those who have suffered from trauma are also more likely to later develop an addiction, possibly as a coping mechanism. Certain personality factors such as impulsivity, risk-seeking, and sensation-seeking are linked to substance abuse and gambling addiction. Mental health plays a role in the possibility of addiction. These can be psychological conditions like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Environmental Contributors to Addiction

Family dysfunction can contribute to addiction as well. Exposure to addictive substances and behaviors, whether in the family or in a social peer group, can increase the prospect of forming an addiction. Employment can reduce the risk of developing an addiction.

Negative Effects Associated with Addictions

Depending on the substance or behavior that someone is addicted to, it can have different negative effects. Here are some of the negative outcomes associated with addiction.

  • Cancer of the larynx, mouth, liver, lung, and esophagus from nicotine and alcohol addiction
  • Accidents from driving under the influence, swimming while high, etc.
  • Exposure to STDs, hepatitis, and other diseases from sharing needles or engaging in unsafe sex while under the influence or because of sexual addiction
  • Pulmonary disease from smoking
  • Cirrhosis (liver disease) from alcohol abuse and other substance abuse
  • Financial ruin from gambling abuse and paying for addictive substances
  • Ruining relationships
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Losing your job or failing out of school
  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Legal problems, including jail time
  • Death

Options for Addiction Treatment

If you or your loved one suffers from addiction, know that there is help available. The first step is usually for the addict to accept that he or she has a problem. You may want to talk to the person, preferably at a time that he or she is clear-headed, and mention your concerns. Come from a place of love rather than a place of accusation or blame. Let him or her know that you care and that they aren’t alone. Mention the concerning behaviors you’ve noticed. Do not be surprised if the person reacts with anger or denial. Remain calm, and know that you’ve at least planted a seed in their mind.


Forcing someone into addiction treatment, whether because of family pressure or court order, is not ideal. While it can work for some people, there is not much evidence that it is effective for most people either in the short or long-term. Nevertheless, mandatory treatment seems to be on the rise in the United States. Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia allow for involuntary commitment for addiction treatment.

Treatment, particularly for substance abuse, will start with going through a detox period where the addict experience withdrawal. It’s a good idea to do this under medical supervision because it is often unpleasant and can have a dangerous component. The symptoms of withdrawal vary in severity and depending on the type of substance used. They may include anxiety, irritation, sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, heart palpitations, heart attack, muscle tremors, and more.

Some addicts may be prescribed medications to help overcome the addiction or to treat concurrent disorders. Detox and medications are not enough, however. It is important for the addict to go through therapy in order to deal with any underlying issues that may trigger addiction and learn coping mechanisms. These therapy techniques may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, family therapy, marriage therapy, and group therapy. Finally, the addict may participate in ongoing support groups and life skills training.


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