What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

The word addiction is used in several different ways. One definition describes physical addiction. This is a biological state in which the body adapts to the presence of a drug so that drug no longer has the same effect, otherwise known as a tolerance. Another form of physical addiction is the phenomenon of overreaction by the brain to drugs (or to cues associated with the drugs). An alcoholic walking into a bar, for instance, will feel an extra pull to have a drink because of these cues.

However, most addictive behavior is not related to either physical tolerance or exposure to cues. People commonly use drugs, gamble, or shop compulsively in reaction to being stressed, whether or not they have a physical addiction. Since these psychologically based addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, they can account for why people frequently switch addictive actions from one drug to a completely different kind of drug, or even to a non-drug behavior. The focus of the addiction isn't what matters; it's the need to take action under certain kinds of stress. Treating this kind of addiction requires an understanding of how it works psychologically.

When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one's morality or strength of character. Experts debate whether addiction is a "disease" or a true mental illness, whether drug dependence and addiction mean the same thing, and many other aspects of addiction. Such debates are not likely to be resolved soon. But the lack of resolution does not preclude effective treatment.

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Recent posts on Addiction

By kazan.vperemen.com (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

10 Patterns of Addictive Behavior

By Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. on February 22, 2017 in Science of Choice
The following list identifies several important behavioral patterns associated with addiction.

Jonezen Finds His Frequency

By Michael Friedman Ph.D. on February 21, 2017 in Brick by Brick
The music of Christopher Richard Jones – better known as the Hip Hop artist Jonezen – has been connecting.

Drug Use And Creativity

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on February 21, 2017 in In Excess
A recent systematic review of the psychological literature reviewed all studies that provided empirical data on the relationship between psychoactive substance use.

Cutting Down on Drinking or Drugs the Natural Way

Is your drinking or drug use getting out of control? Natural supplements and other non-medication approaches can help.

A Teens Journey of Their Own

By The Resilience Regiment on February 17, 2017 in Voices in Recovery
The Resilience Regiment speaks with Paradigm Treatment Centers

Seeing the Whole Picture

By The Resilience Regiment on February 17, 2017 in Voices in Recovery
The Resilience Regiment speaks to Evolve Treatment Centers

Trumpaholics Anonymous

By Robert J Landy Ph.D. on February 16, 2017 in Couch and Stage
An imagined group of Donald Trump addicts convenes in a church basement.

National Children of Alcoholics Awareness Week

By Indra Cidambi, M.D. on February 16, 2017 in Sure Recovery
Why family-based recovery is important.

David Bowie's Life at the Extremes

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on February 15, 2017 in In Excess
David Bowie was one of the most interesting people that ever lived. With an ever-shifting persona he sometimes lived life at the extremes (addiction and an interest in the occult)

A Life-Pivoting Change of Identity

By Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D. on February 14, 2017 in Ambigamy
Hunger for pride can become dangerously addictive. Abandoning pride and being proud no matter what, don't solve it. Instead, change what you're proud of.

Addicted to Your Kid? Narcissism, Fear and Parenting

By Meredith Resnick L.C.S.W. on February 13, 2017 in Adoption Stories
It's possible for people to be addicted to other people—including their children.

Why Gaslighters Accuse You of Gaslighting

Gaslighters frequently accuse their victims of manipulating, cheating, and being addicted. Why do gaslighters do this, and why does this tactic work so well?

Sex And Water Fetishes

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on February 10, 2017 in In Excess
Water-based fetishes and paraphilias appear to be rare but there are various references to it in both the popular and academic literature. To find out more, read on.

My Daughter Has Been Rejecting Me for Years

By Barbara Greenberg Ph.D. on February 09, 2017 in The Teen Doctor
How to deal with rejection from your young adult daughter.
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How to Achieve Your Goals by Creating an Enemy

By Nir Eyal on February 09, 2017 in Automatic You
If used correctly, scapegoating can be a powerful tool for resisting temptation and sticking to hard goals.

Failure to Launch: What do we (mom & dad) do now?

By Jeffery S. Smith M.D. on February 08, 2017 in Healing and Growing
Helen and Bill were at their wits end with their son, Josh, 22. What can parents do to help young people struggling with adult life?
Robin Marantz Henig

A Web Site for the Heartbroken

By Robin Marantz Henig on February 08, 2017 in Cusp
Is romantic love a kind of addiction? And if it is, do other kinds of love -- such as the kind parents and grandparents feel -- make the same imprint on the human brain?

Why Do I Care What People Think?

By Kimberly Key on February 07, 2017 in Counseling Keys
Maslow said, "Sick people are made sick by a sick culture; healthy people are made possible by a healthy culture." Here's a test to help you discern your best road to health.

Men's Mental Health: A Silent Crisis

By Rob Whitley, Ph.D. on February 06, 2017 in Talking About Men
Numerous researchers state that there is a silent crisis in men’s mental health. Is this the case? What are the issues and what are the solutions to improve men's mental health?

The Savior Complex

The term “Savior Complex” may have a positive connotation- however, when you learn more—it is clear that this behavior pattern may be problematic.
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What Advocates Can Do to Enhance Mental Health Care

What stops people who need mental health treatment from getting the support they need?
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Engage Your Brain for Mental Fitness Later in Life

By Richard Taite on February 03, 2017 in Ending Addiction for Good
What can you do to keep mentally fit as you age? Here are a few tips to consider.
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The Lure of the Special Occasion

By Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. on February 02, 2017 in Science of Choice
Why is relapse so often preceded by the statement that this is a “special occasion”?

Will the Trump Family Come Unglued?

By Karl Albrecht Ph.D. on February 02, 2017 in BrainSnacks
Will we see the over-stressed Trump clan come unglued? And if so, what would be the impact on the presidency?

Can Craving for Cocaine Be Blocked in Addicted Individuals?

Ketamine may significantly diminish craving for cocaine in addicted individuals.

Treatment for Fibromyalgia: Nice Work When It Works

By Mark Borigini M.D. on January 31, 2017 in Overcoming Pain
The commercials tell us it works. The studies say it works. And now the analyzers of the studies agree. If only it worked for everyone.

7 Truths If Someone You Love Is Addicted

Addiction can be overwhelming, especially to those on the outside looking in. Knowing what you’re dealing with helps.

What It’s Like Being a Guy with Binge Eating Disorder

It's important to remember that men endure eating disorders as well.
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How Medicaid’s Addiction Treatment Services Will Change

It is crucial that everyone be able to access quality addiction treatment, no matter their income.
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Three Reasons Why Good Sleep Is Crucial for Mental Health

By Richard Taite on January 27, 2017 in Ending Addiction for Good
Many of the most common sleep aids have some risk for abuse or physical dependency.