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 continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. Users 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. Because of tolerance, the biological reaction of withdrawal occurs the drug is discontinued. 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 compulsively use drugs, gamble, or shop nearly always in reaction to being emotionally 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

Invisible

By Fran Simone Ph.D. on July 28, 2015 in A Family Affair
Conflict is a part of every relationship. It’s often more pronounced for family’s affected by addiction. Often moms, dads, sisters and brothers disagree on how best to handle the thorny situations fueled by the addict’s behavior.

The Psychology Of Live Online Casino Gambling

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on July 28, 2015 in In Excess
One of the main reasons I don’t like gambling at Internet casinos is that I believe the majority of game outcome are likely to be pre-programmed and/or predetermined. To me, this is somewhat akin to playing with imaginary dice! But what do we know psychologically about what factors promote and inhibit gambling online?

Rx Pain Meds and Teens – A Troubling Combination

Do you know about the dangers lurking in your medicine cabinet? Chances are, like many of us, you have one or more unused prescription bottles sitting in your medicine cabinet right now. For parents with teens, this can be a very dangerous scenario.

4 Keys to Happiness

Happiness is not about what you need from others, it is really about what you are willing to give to others.

Heroin Abuse is on our Doorstep

Of course, I see it every day because I work in the addiction treatment field, but increasingly, families that never thought they’d be touched by substance abuse or addiction are having just that experience.

Cheating Yourself? I Hear the Advice, I Do What I Want

Real behaviour change is not about willpower, or stages of change, but about satisfying wants and dealing with needs along the way.......it is about coherence at all levels of the person......

Improving Self-Control by Enhancing Working Memory

Successful self-control involves the active maintenance of goals and goal-relevant information in working memory.

Better Than Chocolate

By Elias Aboujaoude M.D. on July 24, 2015 in Compulsive Acts
A new parent-child reward-punishment dynamic centered on technology.

4 Mental Health Disorders That May Thrive on Loneliness

By Kira Asatryan on July 23, 2015 in The Art of Closeness
It's possible you're not mentally ill. You're just lonely.

Are We Finally Ready to Invest in People, Not Prisons?

For too long, he said, harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines, mostly involving drug use, have been disproportionately affecting minorities and the poor, and costing both those who are imprisoned and the society paying for that imprisonment far too much.

3 Ineffective Ways I Tried to Manage and Enjoy My Drug Use

By Anna David on July 22, 2015 in After Party Chat
When you’re enjoying something, you’re not trying to manage it and when you’re trying to manage it, you’re no longer enjoying it. But I didn't know that so I tried a trifecta of ridiculous ways to keep my cocaine use under control.

The Psychology of Box Set Binging

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on July 21, 2015 in In Excess
Recent media stories have reported on the alleged negative effects of box-set bingeing (‘Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you're lonely and depressed - and will also make you fat’). But what do we know about box-set bingeing psychologically and is it really bad for our health?

5 Ceremonies of Healing

Simple ceremonies that you create and enact can help you heal emotionally and maintain your mental health.

Revolutionary Relief

A one-two punch of blocking cravings and bolstering mental health is the secret to success at Start Fresh Recovery.

Gambling: Harmless Fun or Perilous Compulsion?

By E E Smith on July 19, 2015 in Not Born Yesterday
Omar Sharif, who died recently, was known for his roles in great movies like "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago." Many people also knew that he was a world-class bridge player but I, for one, was surprised to learn that he had lost several fortunes over the years while gambling on the game.

Heroin: A Growing Problem

Heroin use has increased across the U.S. among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels.

Listening to Your Body

This is common among addicts. We use whether we feel good or not. We use more when we feel bad, sick, lethargic, or stressed out.

The Benefits of a Trauma-Sensitive Approach to Healing Shame

I have created a compassion cure program for former victims of trauma that includes: self-understanding, self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-kindness, and self-encouragement. This article focuses on the first of these five components of self-compassion.

5 Reasons We Act Impulsively

We need to treat willpower as a limited and important resource.

Negotiating Your True Worth

By Billi Gordon Ph.D. on July 16, 2015 in Obesely Speaking
Understanding what you are versus who you are in a world that understands neither.

Steps to Heal Sex Addiction: The Building Blocks of Intimacy

What's needed is an understanding of the building blocks of intimacy, which when worked on individually and as a whole, will gradually allow the addict to learn a new style of relating to others.

The Secret Reason So Many of Us Procrastinate

There’s no way of telling just how common this form of procrastination is. But given the phenomenon of psychological reactance, it’s safe to say that at some point you’ve probably been guilty of it yourself. That is, of delaying something which not only would be good for you to do but which you actually want to do. . . .

3 Kinds of Motivation for Addiction Recovery

How can you know you have left "no stone unturned" in trying to help someone you care about who suffers from addiction to alcohol, drugs or some destructive behavior?

10 Ways the Children of Single Parents Defy All Stereotypes

By Bella DePaulo Ph.D. on July 15, 2015 in Living Single
Here are 10 stereotype-defying scientifically-based facts about the children of single parents. Sometimes they do even better than the children of married parents. How is that possible?

Living in the Candy Store

Taking responsibility for yourself sometimes means taking responsibility for the world you live in. Change where you are and change who you are. The latest generation of technological assists do that exactly that, helping you march to your own tune and do the work you think is important.

Should Amy Winehouse Have Been Taught Controlled Drinking?

By Stanton Peele on July 14, 2015 in Addiction in Society
Was there any way to prevent the 27-year-old genius, Amy Winehouse, from dying by binge drinking? She consulted well regarded doctors and drug counselors, as described in the new documentary, Amy. They told her to stop drinking, which was perhaps a good idea, one that Winehouse herself endorsed, but never succeeded at.

Writing Wrongs

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on July 14, 2015 in In Excess
Writing a diary is nothing new. A number of psychologists have done studies showing that diary writing is far more than writing for posterity. Some scholars have gone as far as to say that writing down your feelings is psychologically good for you. But what does the psychological literature say?

Healing in the Desert

The Resilience Regiment speaks with Michael V. Genovese, M.D., J.D., of Sierra Tucson.

F%$& Shame, TEDx and Mental Health

By Adi Jaffe Ph.D. on July 13, 2015 in All About Addiction
Many of us don't give the proper weight to the use of mental health labels. As this talk shows, diagnostic labels can actually impact the way in which labeled individuals perform. If nothing else, this fact should make us more wary of using these labels as everyday placeholders to describe those around us. We may just be sentencing them to meeting our low expectations.