Humans are creatures of habit, and most of us find a sense of peace and stability in doing certain things again and again. But sometimes, as a result of a traumatic event or disorder, a person can lose control of a repeated activity, resulting in negative consequences for the person’s health, happiness or relationships.
The word “addiction” comes from a Roman legal phrase meaning “to give over control” of one’s life, behavior and actions. Addictions can be divided into two categories: substance addiction and behavioral addiction.
This category includes forms of addiction to substances that are ingested into the body, including drug addiction and alcohol addiction. Addictive substances may include:
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a legal beverage, but intoxication can cause health problems, and alcohol addiction is a serious disease.
- Legal, non-prescribed substances: These include potentially addictive substances that can be obtained over-the-counter, or without a prescription. Cigarettes and chewing tobacco fall into this category.
- Prescription drugs: Drugs that are prescribed by a doctor for therapeutic purposes and then misused can become addictive.
- Street drugs: Street drugs are substances that are illegal to obtain or sell, and can cause dependency in the user.
Medical professionals categorize “abuse” and “dependence” differently. From a medical standpoint, just because a person is using a drug doesn’t mean she is addicted.
“Abuse” means using a drug or substance to excess in a way that harms the body. Abuse can lead to intoxication or poisoning. Sometimes, repeated abuse can lead to dependence.
“Dependence” takes place when a person has difficulty discontinuing the use of a substance. This can happen for reasons that are psychological, emotional or even physical, such as a change in brain chemistry. A person who is physically dependent can become ill when he stops using the substance.
Symptoms of Substance Addiction
The symptoms of addiction vary widely, depending on the substance. In general, a person may have a drug addiction or alcohol addiction if she:
- Becomes sick, depressed or aggressive when the substance is withdrawn.
- Makes important decisions based on the substance.
- Prioritizes the substance over relationships, favorite activities, work or financial stability.
A behavioral addiction describes a pattern of repeated behaviors or actions that have become harmful and difficult to discontinue. Treatment for a behavioral addiction rarely involves physical withdrawal. Recovery can still be very difficult, though, since the repeated behavior provides a sense of euphoria or a coping mechanism upon which the addict has come to depend for his sense of security and wellbeing.
As with any harmful addiction, this sense of wellbeing is false, and loss of control over the behavior can cause serious harm to an addict’s health and relationships. Examples of behavioral addictions include gambling addiction, sex addiction and shopping addiction.
Treatment for Addiction
Often, a person who becomes addicted to a behavior or substance doesn’t recognize the addiction for some time. When awareness takes place, the person may still willfully ignore the problem for weeks or even years before seeking help.
Treatment is available for every form of addiction. The first step to recovery occurs when a person recognizes that she has lost control and needs help. All addictions are different, but in almost every case, this first step is the most important and also the most difficult.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 4th Ed. Washington D.C. American Psychiatric Press.
The Good Drugs Guide. (2010). Behavioral addictions. Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://www.thegooddrugsguide.com/addiction-types/behavioral-addiction/index.htm
Kranzler, H. R. & Li, T-K. (2008). What is addiction? Retrieved August 3, 2010, from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh312/93-95.pdf