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What is Addiction?

four different images of addiction.

Most people don’t think about questions like “what is addiction” because they believe they know everything about it. However, there’s a lot you can learn about addiction.

Addiction is a complicated condition wherein a person uncontrollably uses certain substances or engages in risky activities or behaviors even after they induce significant damage in their lives.

Various reasons increase the risk of addictive behaviors ranging from the environment to genetics, peer pressure, and underlying mental health problems. Not all cases of addiction are the same. We can identify several types, such as:

  • Substance addiction
  • Sexual addiction
  • Porn addiction
  • Drug addiction 

Although the effects and symptoms of addiction are severe, these problems are treatable. The exact treatment depends on the type and severity of the addiction. Generally speaking, the treatment includes therapy, medications, and hospitalization in some cases. Support groups play an important role in addiction treatment, too.

What is the definition of addiction?

Definition of addiction is that it’s a chronic, relapsing disorder indicated by compulsive behaviors and seeking of substances and their continued use despite harmful consequences they cause, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The abovementioned definition applies to all categories of addictive behaviors. For instance, what is sexual addiction? Sexual addiction is the compulsive behavior associated with the continued seeking of sexual activity that disrupts a person’s life.

Addiction doesn’t develop overnight but is considered a process. Once the addictive process is initialized, a person pursues some action for motives or appetitive effects such as pain relief, fantasy, arousal manipulation, and others. Addictive behaviors serve hedonistic or nurturing-related motives, but others are also plausible, e.g., achieving fantasy or oblivion. 

What are the reasons for the addiction?

Several reasons contribute to developing an addiction. The reasons for the addiction are listed below.

  • Trauma: traumatic events can cause a domino effect of changes in the brain. A person may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, or cope with trauma by engaging in risky behaviors such as substance abuse.
  • Co-occurring disorders: the presence of diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health disorders can lead to addiction. These disorders include but aren’t limited to anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Genetics: family history increases the likelihood of developing an addiction.
  • Environment: the environment wherein we are raised and continue to live has a significant influence on our mental health. This is primarily due to exposure to addictive agents, peer pressure, etc.
  • Strained relationships: problematic relations with family members or significant others often lead a person into depression or risky behaviors that may contribute to the development of addiction.
  • Questionable prescribing practices: some drugs, such as benzodiazepines, may lead to addiction when used for long periods. A patient develops tolerance to the drug and needs a higher dosage to experience its effects. Many doctors over-prescribe certain medications that are associated with addictions. 

What are the addiction categories?

The most important addiction categories are behavioral addiction, substance addiction, and impulse addiction.

Behavioral addiction refers to non-substance addictions that involve a compulsion to engage in a certain behavior, such as gambling. Behavioral addiction is similar to substance addiction, and Comorbidity is also common, i.e., a person with behavioral addiction may also have some kind of substance use disorder.

Substance addiction represents the recurring urge or desire to continue taking the drug despite harmful consequences. Substance addiction involves a wide range of substances such as alcohol, legal and illegal drugs, and mood-altering agents. 

Impulse addiction is a condition wherein a person experiences difficulty controlling behaviors or emotions. Impulse control disorder can be pathological gambling, kleptomania, intermittent explosive disorder, pyromania, and trichotillomania. The main characteristic of these disorders is struggling to resist the urge to engage in activities or behaviors that are either excessive or harmful to others.

How to withdraw from substance addiction?

To withdraw from substance addiction, a person may give up “cold turkey” or gradually lower the amount or dosage of substance they consume. Although drug withdrawal seems simple in theory, professional help and assistance are crucial. 

Drug addiction is serious, and so are the withdrawal symptoms. For that reason, medical supervision by doctors and nurses is the best way to manage symptoms according to their severity. Some patients may need medications that make the withdrawal process easier.

Can heritability affect addiction?

Heritability can affect addiction, and a growing body of evidence confirms this relationship. Addiction is moderate to highly heritable, and a person’s risk of developing an addiction is proportional to the degree of genetic relationship with an addicted relative.

That being said, the heritability of addictive disorders can be considered paradoxical primarily because addiction tends to depend on the availability of the addictive substance or agent and a person’s choice to use it. 

Keep in mind the studies on the heritability of addictions are conducted in populations and age groups that share the likelihood of exposure to the addictive agent. There are also similarities in environmental factors that influence the risk of developing an addiction.

Studies show heritability is the lowest for hallucinogens and the highest for cocaine. While genes influence each stage from the initiation to addiction, the genetic determinants may vary. 

In other words, addiction is a result of interaction between genes and the environment.

What are the symptoms of addiction?

sad woman sitting by a brick building

Symptoms can be psychological, physical, and social. The exact symptoms of addiction are listed below.

  • Changes in appetite, mood, and sleep pattern
  • Inability to stop
  • Secrecy, solitude, lying, and/or stealing
  • Continuing using substances or engaging in certain activities despite negative consequences
  • Denial
  • Lack of interest in other things you used to like
  • Financial and legal problems 
  • Engaging in risky activities and behaviors
  • Withdrawal symptoms upon attempting to stop 
  • Taking more than necessary or intended
  • Increased use of certain substances
  • Prioritizing the behavior or substance that causes addiction than other aspects of life, e.g., family, work
  • Changes in social groups, hanging out with new (unusual) friends
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in energy levels 
  • Having stashes
  • Change in appearance such as tired, haggard look

To learn more about the symptoms and effects of addiction, you need to focus on specific disorders. For instance, as you learn what porn addiction is, you also get informed about symptoms specific to this disorder. 

How does addiction make people lose control?

Addiction makes people lose control because the addictive agent has a major impact on the brain and every aspect of life. A person with addiction is usually in denial and doesn’t acknowledge the existence of this problem in the first place. 

They continue to seek the substance or certain behavior, but they need greater amounts to feel the “desired” effects. Since the priority is on achieving certain effects such as pleasure or pain relief, their lives revolve around those substances (or behaviors). The vicious cycle continues, and a person finds oneself losing control. 

Not only does an individual lose control of substance use, but in every other aspect of life. One of the signs of being addicted is a change in social groups, contributing to the lack of control. A person is surrounded by other addicts and thereby constantly exposed to an addictive agent. 

How can addiction make you disinterested in other activities?

Addiction makes you disinterested in other activities because they are unable to provide the same effects you get from addictive agents. 

Hobbies and other activities you used to enjoy can’t give you pain relief, pleasure, satisfaction, and other effects that a drug, alcohol, or other substances can offer. 

For that reason, people with addiction gradually lose interest in other activities, even if they used to love them. 

Can the reward system of the brain affect addiction?

The reward system of the brain can affect addiction by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a feel-good chemical. Despite the fact that each addictive agent has unique effects on the brain, dopamine stimulation in the reward system is a common denominator. 

In fact, studies describe addiction as a disease of the brain’s reward system. Dopamine in the brain is crucial for processing information regarding saliency, i.e., the core of the neurotransmitter’s ability to influence or control reward, the expectation of reward, emotions, feeling of pleasure, and motivation.

Upon consuming a certain substance, dopamine levels go up and produce feel-good emotions. A person wants to experience the same effects again and continues using. This paves the way to addiction. 

What are the treatment methods for addiction?

man and a woman having a conversation

The treatment methods for addiction are listed below.

  • Detoxification: the first step in addiction treatment. The main purpose of detox is that it allows a patient to rid the body of the addictive substance (or more of them) in a safe, medically-supervised environment where withdrawal symptoms are managed adequately.
  • Psychotherapy: an integral component of addiction treatment. Several approaches are available depending on the severity of the addiction. The most common type of psychotherapy for addiction treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Besides individual counseling, a person may attend group sessions, family therapy, couples therapy, etc. The goal of therapy is to address negative thought and behavior patterns that contribute to addiction.
  • 12-step program: used primarily for the treatment of alcohol and substance abuse. The program functions as a group therapy where people meet for mutual support but also to discuss their addiction and road to recovery.
  • Medications: may involve drugs that treat withdrawal symptoms and cravings or medications to manage underlying mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Not every person with an addiction will receive medications.
  • Hospitalization: necessary for persons with a severe addiction that would induce severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
  • Education: throughout the treatment process, the patient also receives valuable information that helps them on the journey to recovery. A patient learns what drug addiction is, its root causes, how to cope, etc. 

What are the most common addiction types?

The most common addiction types are:

  • Porn addiction: a compulsive behavior indicated by concurrent use of pornographic material. A person with porn addiction spends a lot of time watching pornographic content and is unable to enjoy sex without watching porn first. Talk therapy is the main course of treatment of porn addiction, but a patient may receive medications if they also have OCD or depression.
  • CHS addiction: a condition where a person uses large amounts of cannabis frequently and experiences symptoms such as severe nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. The only definitive way to treat CHS is to stop taking marijuana.
  • Nicotine addiction: occurs when an individual becomes addicted to nicotine. The main symptom is the constant need to smoke cigarettes. The main course of treatment involves a combination of counseling and medications.
  • Substance addiction: compulsive use of substances such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, opioids, and other substances. The main symptom is the pronounced craving for the substance and the need to use greater amounts. Substance addiction is treated with detox followed by counseling.

The most common addiction type is substance addiction. After all, there is a wide range of substances known for addictive characteristics. Some substances, such as alcohol, are easily accessible, and a person doesn’t have to “work hard” to obtain them. Other substances such as cocaine and heroin are illegal to buy but provide stronger effects that make a person with addiction willing to break the law, if necessary, just to obtain. To understand how a person becomes addicted to these substances, it’s enough to learn what an addiction is. 

What are the addiction treatment centers?

Types of addiction treatment centers list

Addiction treatment centers are centers with programs created specifically to treat various types of addiction. As mentioned in the “what is addiction definition” section, these behaviors are compulsive and tend to develop gradually. 

A thorough and well-structured program in an addiction treatment center such as Diamond Rehab Thailand is beneficial for a successful recovery and works better than trying to recover on your own. Although the access to care has improved a lot, there’s still a lot of work required due to many gaps in the referral process. 

Types of addiction treatment centers include:

  • Residential treatment centers: inpatient programs that usually last three to six months or up to nine months. Patient attends therapy sessions and learns coping skills that help them tackle triggers that contribute to addiction. 
  • Outpatient treatment centers: less restrictive than residential programs; patients attend counseling sessions a few times a week but get to go home afterward. These centers are more suitable for patients whose addiction is less severe but are also recommended to men and women who complete residential treatment to have more support on the journey to recovery.

What are the addiction-related artworks?

Addiction-related artworks portray the struggle with drugs, alcoholism, or other types of addictions in art. 

For example, A Star Is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, as well as Sandra Bullock’s 28 Days, are two movies that depict addiction to alcohol, what happens when the treatment goes wrong, and the challenging journey to sobriety.

Novels that capture the chaos and pain of alcoholism include The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. Charles Bukowski is known for his poems that speak about alcoholism. Good examples are A Gentle, Alcoholic Night, and The Alcoholic.

Must-see movies about drug addiction include Trainspotting starring Ewan McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller, and Less Than Zero with Robert Downey Jr. and Jaime Gertz

Books that depict the characters with substance addiction include Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr. and Nelson Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm.

What is the process of rehabilitation?

The process may differ, as programs are customised based on what the patient needs as well as the severity of the addiction or mental illness, but the goal of rehabilitation is always to ensure the individual’s well-being. Most treatment programs include: evaluation, detox or the clearing of alcohol and other drugs out of your system, psychological treatments, education sessions, and supportive services. When you transition into outpatient therapy, you may still have one-on-one or group therapy sessions and to some patients, these may last for the rest of their lives.

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