Addiction is a neuropsychological disorder characterized by a persistent and intense urge to use a drug or engage in a behaviour that produces natural reward, despite substantial harm and other negative consequences.

Addiction is a complex and chronic disease characterized by the compulsive and uncontrollable use of a substance or engagement in a behavior despite harmful consequences. It often involves the development of physical and psychological dependence on the addictive substance or behavior. Repetitive drug use often alters brain function in ways that perpetuate craving, and weakens (but does not completely negate) self-control.

Addictions can have a profound impact on an individual’s life, leading to a range of health, social, and economic problems. This article will provide an overview of various aspects of addiction, including its definition, common types, risk factors, and treatment options.

Addiction is typically characterized by the following elements:
  • Compulsion[1]: Individuals with addiction often feel an overwhelming urge to use the substance or engage in the behavior, even when they are aware of the negative consequences.
  • Loss of Control: Addicts frequently find it challenging to control or limit their substance use or behavior, resulting in recurrent overindulgence.
  • Negative Consequences: Addiction leads to harmful consequences in various aspects of life, such as health, relationships, work, and finances.
  • Persistence: Addiction is a chronic condition that tends to persist over time, with relapses being common.

Addiction creates a sense of pleasure in the brain and removes discomfort from cravings. Compulsions involve an overwhelming urge to do something but don’t create satiation in the brain’s reward circuitry. Loss of control in its broader sense encompasses both the relative inability of an addict to terminate consumption once initiated and the inability to refrain from substance use following a period of abstinence.

Half of people 12 and older have used illicit drugs at least once. Drug overdose deaths in the US since 2000 are nearing one (1) million. The federal budget for drug control in 2020 was $35 billion. 13.5% of Americans 12 and over used drugs in the last month, a 3.8% increase year-over-year (YoY). 22% of males and 17% of females used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs within the last year. Drug use is highest among persons between the ages of 18-25 at 39% compared to persons aged 26-29, at 34%. 9.49 million or 3.4% of Americans aged 12 and older misuse opioids at least once over a 12-month period. Over 70,000 drug overdose deaths occur in the US annually. Though legal, alcohol kills over 95,150 Americans every year. 27.4% of the U.S population aged 12 or older are current (past month) users of a tobacco product

This has been attributed to impairments in the area of the brain that is responsible for executive functions including behavioural autonomy and self control. Impairments to the frontal lobe following long term chronic substance use may result in compulsive behaviour. Typically, addicts cannot predict or determine how much of the drug they intend to use and for how long they will use it.

There’s a stigma attached to addiction in society, and there’s a lot of guilt and shame for the individuals who struggle with the condition. Often, this is adding fuel to a fire that was already burning strong. People with substance use disorders tend to evaluate themselves negatively on a regular basis, which is a habit that has its roots in childhood experiences.

Continual negative self-talk adds to feelings of shame and guilt. When you constantly feel as if you’ve done something wrong, it’s tempting to try to cover up these challenging emotions with drugs and alcohol. These unhelpful emotions contribute to the negative feedback loop that sends people spiraling into addiction.

Common Types of Addiction
  • Substance Addiction: This includes addiction to substances such as alcohol, nicotine, opioids, stimulants, and illicit drugs.
  • Behavioral Addiction: Behavioral addictions involve compulsive behaviors that do not involve substance use. Common examples include gambling addiction, internet addiction, food addiction, phones & devices addicton, video game addiction, sex addition, porn addition, kleptomania, exercise addiction, and compulsive shopping addition.

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic and progressive condition characterized by an individual’s compulsive consumption of alcohol despite adverse consequences. People with AUD often experience a strong craving for alcohol, an inability to control their drinking,

and the development of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. This addiction can lead to a wide range of physical, psychological, and social problems. It is a significant public health concern with substantial implications for the affected individuals and society at large, making it essential to seek evidence-based treatment and support.

While some individuals can use drugs such as cannabis and cocaine recreationally, there are others for whom drugs become an obsession. The powerful effects of drugs such as heroin and cocaine often lead to addiction, with those affected being unable to control their urge to take the substance.

Drug addiction often leads to the breakdown of relationships, job losses, financial struggles, and homelessness. It can have a devastating effect on family members and can result in a host of mental and physical health issues.

Prescription medication is typically given to those who suffer from conditions such as chronic pain. Nonetheless, these medications must only be taken in the short term and should never be abused. Abuse of prescription painkillers can lead to devastating addictions that can be very hard to break.

Gambling addiction, also known as pathological gambling or gambling disorder, is a compulsive behavior characterized by the uncontrollable urge to gamble, leading to adverse consequences in an individual’s life.

Those affected by this disorder often experience preoccupation with gambling, repeated failed attempts to stop or cut back on gambling, restlessness or irritability when attempting to cease gambling, and the need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement. Gambling addiction can have severe financial, psychological, and social consequences, including financial ruin, strained relationships, and emotional distress.

Eating disorders are also known as food addictions, and they can destroy the lives of those affected. The most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia. Eating disorders are classed as an unhealthy or abnormal attitude towards food. Those who suffer from anorexia tend to severely restrict the number of calories they consume,

which can lead to devastating health consequences. Bulimia sufferers will binge eat and then purge themselves or exercise excessively to burn off the calories consumed. Eating disorders are mental health issues and are notoriously difficult to treat.

Video gaming addiction, also known as gaming disorder, is characterized by the excessive and compulsive use of video games to the detriment of an individual’s daily life. Those affected often exhibit symptoms like loss of control over gaming, preoccupation with gaming activities, withdrawal symptoms when not playing, and the continuation of gaming despite negative consequences in areas such as school, work, or relationships. While gaming itself is a popular and enjoyable pastime for many, excessive gaming to the point of addiction can have serious repercussions on one’s physical and mental health.

Pornography addiction, often referred to as compulsive pornography use or porn addiction, is characterized by the excessive, compulsive, and uncontrolled consumption of sexually explicit material, which leads to negative consequences in various aspects of an individual’s life. People struggling with pornography addiction may experience a range of symptoms,

including an increasing need for more explicit material to achieve the same level of satisfaction, neglecting responsibilities, and difficulty in forming or maintaining real-life relationships. This behavioral addiction can have profound effects on an individual’s mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.

Signs of behavioral addictions could include:
  • Efforts to hide the behavior or how often it is engaged in from friends and family
  • Feeling an inability to resist urges to engage in the behavior
  • Relying on the behavior to relieve stress or cope with difficult emotions
  • Becoming defensive when questioned about the behavior
  • Experiencing excessive guilt after engaging in the behavior
  • Making promises to cut back or stop but not keeping them
  • Becoming moody, irritable, or upset when unable to engage in the behavior

Risk Factors for Addiction
  • Genetics: Family history of addiction can increase an individual’s susceptibility to addiction.
  • Psychological Factors: Conditions like anxiety, depression, and trauma can make individuals more vulnerable to addiction.
  • Social and Environmental Factors: Peer pressure, availability of substances, and exposure to addictive behaviors in the environment can influence addiction risk.
  • Neurobiology: Changes in the brain’s reward and pleasure centers can contribute to addictive behaviors.

Age is another one of the risk factors for addiction. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism[2] conducted a survey that showed that young adults from the ages of 18 to 24 were more likely to have both drug addictions and alcohol use disorders.

If a person starts using drugs or alcohol when they are young, it can have an effect on their brain development and make them more susceptible to mental health disorders when they get older.

Treatment of Addiction
  • Detoxification[3]: For substance addictions, the initial step is often detoxification to manage withdrawal symptoms.
  • Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy are commonly used therapeutic approaches.
  • Medications: Medications can be prescribed to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms, particularly for substance addictions.
  • Support Groups: Participation in support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), can provide valuable peer support.
  • Inpatient and Outpatient Programs: Treatment may be provided in residential or outpatient settings, depending on the severity of addiction.
  • Holistic and Complementary Therapies: Some individuals find benefit from complementary therapies like yoga, meditation, and acupuncture in their recovery.

It is important to note that addiction treatment should be tailored to the individual’s specific needs, and a combination of different approaches may be most effective.

  1. Compulsion refers to the irresistible and often repetitive urge to perform specific behaviors or rituals, driven by an overwhelming sense of anxiety or the need to alleviate distress. It is a core feature of various mental health conditions, most notably obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Individuals experiencing compulsions may feel compelled to perform certain actions, such as counting, checking, or washing, in response to intrusive and distressing thoughts or obsessions. These behaviors are intended to prevent a feared event or reduce anxiety, even though they are often irrational or excessive. Understanding and addressing compulsions are crucial in the treatment of conditions like OCD, as they significantly impact daily functioning and quality of life. [Back]
  2. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is a research institute within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) dedicated to advancing the understanding of alcohol use, its impact on health, and the prevention and treatment of alcohol-related disorders. Established in 1970, the NIAAA supports and conducts research on various aspects of alcohol use and its effects on individuals and society. The institute plays a critical role in disseminating research findings, promoting public awareness, and shaping policies related to alcohol consumption and its consequences. NIAAA’s research efforts encompass a wide range of topics, including the neurobiology of addiction, the epidemiology of alcohol use disorders, and the development of effective prevention and treatment strategies. The institute’s mission is to improve public health by providing evidence-based information and resources to address the complex issues surrounding alcohol use. [Back]
  3. Detoxification, often referred to as detox, is a process aimed at safely managing the withdrawal symptoms that occur when individuals with substance use disorders discontinue or reduce their substance intake. The primary goal of detoxification is to rid the body of the toxic substance while providing medical and psychological support to manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent complications. This process is a crucial initial step in the treatment of substance use disorders and is often followed by further rehabilitation and therapy. The specific methods and duration of detoxification can vary depending on the substance involved and the individual’s health status. It is essential for detox to be conducted under the supervision of healthcare professionals to ensure the safety and well-being of the individual undergoing the process. [Back]

Further Reading


Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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