Addictions come in all shapes and
forms. Difficult to define exactly, it has become popular to think of
almost any behavior that has a compulsive quality as an "addiction."
But for those who have an addiction, or for those affected by the
addiction of a loved one or close friend, it's clear what an addiction
means in "real" terms.
A broad definition of addiction is
that it is a dependency on a substance, an activity, or a relationship
that becomes primary in the person's life. It's characterized by
desires that consume people's thoughts and behaviors, and is acted out
in habitual activities designed to get the desired thing or engage in
the desired activity (addictive behaviors.)
Unlike simple habits or consuming
interests, addictions are "dependencies" with real life consequences
that seriously impair, negatively affect, and damages relationships,
health (physical and mental), and the capacity to function fully and
A more restrictive definition of
addiction is that it is only applicable to substance dependence, and the
user must show evidence of:
use (regular pattern of using)
use despite evidence of related problems (physical, social or work
(increase need for more and more of the substance)
(physical need for substance to ward off physical withdrawal symptoms)
For purposes of this article, the
first definition of addiction will be used. Using this definition,
addicts are "dependent" on that thing which dominates their thoughts and
desires and directs their behaviors, and the pursuit of that thing
becomes the most important activity in their lives. In the advanced
stages of addiction, the addiction dominates decision-making and nothing
is as important as the addiction itself.
How Do People Become Addicted?
Some people see addiction as a
disease in which addicts are afflicted and have little power over the
cause or onset of addiction. Others see addictive behaviors as a choice,
and addiction as the frequent outcome of this choice.
Addiction is considered by some to
be a pre-disposition (the "addictive personality") where others believe
it develops through exposure to the addictive behaviors of others (such
as family members.) In the case of "physical" addictions such as
alcoholism or drug dependence, many believe that susceptibility to
addiction is passed on genetically. Others believe that addiction is
simply the result of repetitive behavior that, in some people, leads to
a physical or psychological dependence. It is certainly true that
although not all addictions are physical, (gambling for instance), they
can be as destructive.
Understanding Addiction and
Defining exactly what is meant by
addiction is not simple. People often associate addiction only with
alcohol or drug abuse, but it's clear that addictive behaviors go far
beyond. In fact, the key to "addiction" is an obsessive and compulsive
need or dependence upon a substance, an object, a relationship, an
activity, or a thing.
Accordingly, it's both realistic
and appropriate to say that someone can be addicted to almost anything.
There are six clear indicators of an addiction:
An Object of Desire.
There's always an object of desire. This is the substance, thing,
activity, or relationship that drives
whether it be alcohol, food, sex, gambling, pornography, drugs, or
anything else that sparks obsessive ideas
There's an obsession with the object of desire; a need for the thing
that drives the addiction.
Behaviors. There is a compulsion to reduce
cravings and satisfy the obsession that drives the addict's behavior.
of Control. Addiction always implies a lack of
control over thoughts, feelings, ideas, or behaviors when it comes to
thing. Even when addicts try to stop or cut back on addictive
behaviors, they fail. This is the hallmark and a
defining feature of addiction and dependence.
There is a dependence on the object of desire, physical or
psychological, so only that thing can satisfy the
fulfill (at least temporarily) the addict.
Consequences. Addiction is always accompanied
by harmful consequences.
The Continuum of Addiction
Addicts don't become addicted
overnight. There is progression as people first engage in the behaviors
and experiences that may later become addictions and a risk of creating
an addiction over time.
For most addictions "tolerance" is
created through repeated use, in which more and more of the substance or
activity is required to feel the emotional satisfaction that the
addiction brings. Eventually the addict has to use (or engage in the
activity) just to feel normal. This is what "dependence" truly means.
Accordingly, there is a continuum
of addiction, ranging from pre-addiction to the advanced stages of
dependence. The progression from use into addiction can be measured in
The effect that
addictive behaviors have on effective and healthy personal functioning.
The intensity of
cravings for the substance, activity, relationship, or thing.
When taken together, these two
measurements can help people who engage in addictive behaviors gauge
their progression into addiction.
Recovering from Addiction
Whether physical or psychological,
we know that addiction can be overcome. Millions of severely addicted
people have either found or been helped into recovery, and many millions
remain in recovery their entire lives.
Drugs and Behavior