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The American Psychiatric Association defines the addiction as a complex condition manifested by compulsive substance abuse despite harmful consequences. Another way to define addiction is to describe it as a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that seems pleasurable at first, but the continuation becomes compulsive and interferes with health, relationships, works, and other aspects of life. Addiction is a common problem and the chances are high you know someone who’s going through it. Despite wide prevalence, this condition is still poorly understood. Throughout this post, you’re going to learn more about addiction, its causes, types, and so much more.
Addiction Versus Habit
It is not uncommon for people to identify addiction with a habit, which is why this condition is largely misunderstood. Before you get to learn more about addiction and its causes or types, it is crucial to understand how it differs from a habit.
Generally, addiction involves a psychological and physical component and a person isn’t able to control the aspects of his/her condition without help. On the other hand, habit is a matter of choice. The person with a habit can stop anytime successfully if he or she decides to do so. In habits, the psychological and physical component does not play a role.
Addicted individuals believe they can stop with their destructive behavior whenever they want, but the truth is entirely different. Unlike them, people who do something out of habit don’t feel the need to convince themselves or other people that they can stop.
When you have a habit, you just do it. You decide you won’t do something and that is it. Logically, addictions are more complicated. It is not uncommon for an addict to try and stop with addiction on his/her own but without success. This just goes to show that addiction is far more severe than most of us think.
For instance, you can have a habit to drink a glass of wine every Saturday night while drinking excessive amounts of alcohol on a daily basis is an addiction.
Causes of Addiction
Addiction doesn’t just happen; a person doesn’t simply decide to become an addict. This condition has its roots and causes. Scientists explain that there is a link between this type of behavior and the way human brain experiences pleasure. Using substances or engaging in destructive behavior make addicts feel great and relaxed. As a result, they want to keep going with their activities in order to achieve that feeling again.
When it comes to addictive substances such as nicotine, drugs, or alcohol, scientists discovered they do cause physical changes in the brain. For instance, after some time, the user of a potentially addictive substance doesn’t get the same pleasure he/she once did and has to increase* the dosage. With higher dose, their tolerance to that substance enhances* at the same time.
As the time passes by, the affected individual stops feeling pleasure from that substance and takes it primarily to prevent withdrawal symptoms. To others, their drug or alcohol addiction becomes an inseparable factor of their lifestyle. Let’s not forget that some people keep using drugs or alcohol because they feel it is impossible for them to stop.
Besides changes in the manner the brain experiences pleasure, addiction can stem from traumatic experiences, unresolved family/relationship issues, and many other lifestyle or psychological factors that someone does not know how to process in a healthy way.
Types of Addiction
The term “addiction” usually associates us with alcohol or cocaine, but this condition comes in different forms. We can divide addiction to different categories such as addictions to substances, impulse control disorders, and behavioral addictions.
A person can get addicted to just about anything, which is why we have different forms of this condition. You’ll find out more about most common types further in the post, but here’s the basic rundown of every category.
Addiction To Substances
- Prescription drugs
Impulse Control Disorders
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Food (eating)
- Sex and pornography
- Video games
- Spiritual obsession (religious addiction)
- Work addiction
Alcohol Addiction (Alcoholism)
As you already know, alcoholism is defined as excessive drinking and it is one of the most common addictions in the US and on a global level too. A person who is addicted to alcohol can’t control his/her drinking even when it causes problems. You can get a brief insight into this condition below.
For instance, the same report states that 15.1 million adults (18 years and older) or 6.2% of this age group have a drinking problem. Of these, 9.8 million or 8.4% of this age group accounts for men while 5.3 million or 4.2% adult women struggle with alcoholism.
When it comes to adolescents (12-17 years), about 623,000 of them or 2.5% of this age group developed alcoholism in 2015. Of these, 298,000 or 2.3% teenage boys struggled with this condition as well as 325,000 or 2.7% adolescent girls.
The severity of alcoholism is best depicted by the fact that about 88,000 people (62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related death on a yearly basis. In fact, alcohol poses as the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the US. For example, 9967 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities (31% of all driving fatalities) occurred in 2014.
The exact cause of alcoholism is still unknown, but various factors play a role such as genetic, social, and environmental. Scientists theorize that for certain people drinking has a different and stronger effect that makes them want to drink more and, thus, develop this condition. Here, the theory about brain and experience of pleasure applies.
Alcoholism does not occur instantly, a person develops it over time. To some people, alcohol may serve as a sort of escape from their problems and difficulties. Each time they have a bad experience, they seek comfort in alcohol. Since all people are different so are the causes behind their alcoholism addiction.
While everyone can develop alcoholism, some individuals have higher chances. These risk factors are associated with dependency to alcohol:
- Age – individuals who start drinking at an early age are more likely to struggle with alcoholism, later on, especially those who engage in binge drinking sessions. While someone can develop alcohol addiction at any age, it usually occurs in the 20s and 30s
- Depression and other mental health conditions – it is not uncommon for people with some mental illness to develop addiction to alcohol or some other substances
- Environment – if you are surrounded by people who binge drink or have a drinking problem of their own, the odds of developing this problem increases* for you as well. Let’s not forget that media, especially movies and TV shows, portray drinking as glamorous and fun, thus sending message that it is perfectly okay to drink too much, regardless of the occasion
- Family history – just like everything else, your risk of developing alcoholism is higher if a family member struggled with the same problem. Not only does it show that alcoholism can stem from environment (person accepts it as a normal behavior) but also indicates that genetic may play a role, too
- Steady drinking over time – when you drink too much alcohol regularly or engaging in binge drinking, the risk of alcohol-related problems increases* significantly
Just like, basically any other disease or condition, alcoholism is manifested by various signs and symptoms. As mentioned above, alcoholism develops gradually. At first, affected individual experiences a few symptoms first, in milder intensity, and as the frequency of alcohol intake enhances* so does their condition. Here are common symptoms associated with alcoholism:
- Continuing to drink alcohol despite the fact an affected person knows it’s causing interpersonal, physical, or social problems
- Developing strong tolerance to alcohol so a person keeps increasing* the alcohol intake in order to achieve pleasure
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
- Failing to fulfill work- or family-related obligations
- Family members and friends express their concerns of someone’s drinking problem
- Feeling a strong urge to drink
- Inability to control drinking i.e. to limit the amount of alcohol
- Increased expressions of anger or other emotions, particularly in inappropriate settings
- Planning to cut down or failing to do so
- Putting life in danger because of alcohol (swimming when drunk, driving etc.)
- Spending a lot of time on drinking or getting alcohol
Alcohol Intoxication And Withdrawal
When discussing alcoholism, it is important to mention alcohol intoxication and withdrawal, two common problems that every person with drinking problem experiences at some point.
Alcohol intoxication occurs when the amount of alcohol in bloodstream rises. Basically, the higher the concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream, the more impaired a person becomes. Symptoms of alcohol intoxication are:
- Blackouts or not remembering events (in some cases)
- Impaired judgment
- Inappropriate behavior
- Mood swings
- Poor coordination
- Slurred speech
- Weakened attention or memory
On the other hand, alcohol withdrawal happens when a person with drinking problem suddenly stops or reduces* alcohol intake. This problem manifests within several hours to a few days and includes the following symptoms:
- Agitation and restlessness
- Hand tremors
- Problems with sleeping
- Rapid heartbeat
- Seizures (occasionally)
It is entirely possible to overcome this problem and beat alcoholism. When it comes to the treatment for this type of addiction, there is no “one size fits all” rule. Instead, the specific treatment depends on a person’s needs. In most cases, it involves an intervention, group or individual counseling, rehab, or outpatient program.
Treatment for alcoholism may include the following:
- Spiritual practice – it may be easier for some people to maintain recovery by involving with some type of spiritual practice
- Medical treatment for underlying health condition – alcohol is bad news for internal organs which is why excessive drinking causes significant damage
- Treatment for psychological problems – as mentioned above, alcoholism can also be associated with depression or other mental health issues. Therapy is a great way not only to tackle alcoholism but these mental health problems too
- Continuing support through aftercare programs and support groups
- Medications in oral or injected form
Amphetamine is a stimulant created for medical situations, but unsurprisingly it didn’t take long before people started using it for recreational purposes. This stimulant can be highly addictive and dependence occurs when an individual needs the drug in order to function on a daily basis. Methamphetamine, or simply called meth, is one of the most common amphetamines that millions of people in the US and other parts of the world abuse.
In most cases, amphetamine addiction occurs when a person uses these drugs frequently. Some people use meth because they are curious and want to see how it’s like. The truth is, people, use any drug, including this one, for numerous reasons. That said, meth abuse isn’t the only cause of addiction here.
A person can develop amphetamine addiction when using these drugs without doctor’s prescription or increasing* the dosage on their own. If you are using prescribed amphetamines, it is of huge importance to take the pills according to the instructions provided by your doctor. One should never increase* the dosage on his/her own.
People who are at a higher risk of developing amphetamine dependence are those who:
- Can’t cope with stressful lifestyle
- Deal with emotional issues
- Experience relationship problems
- Have easy access to amphetamines
- Have low self-esteem
- Live in a society where amphetamine use (and abuse) is considered a standard, acceptable behavior
- Struggle with financial problems
- Suffer from a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia
A person who struggles with amphetamine addiction experiences the following symptoms:
- Auditory or visual hallucinations
- Delusions such as sensation that something is crawling under the skin
- Dental health problems
- Finding it difficult to stop taking amphetamines
- Lack of care about physical appearance
- Making a lot of effort to hide amphetamine abuse from others
- Making excuses to others and yourself that would justify amphetamine abuse
- Missing work/school
- Mood swings
- Not eating regularly
- Poor hygiene
- Stealing money to support the addiction
- Violent behavior
- Weight loss*
- Withdrawal symptoms when a person isn’t using amphetamines
Addiction to amphetamines is a serious problem that can lead to various complications such as overdose, brain damage, or worst-case scenario – death. It is highly important to encourage an affected individual to seek help and show support every step of the way.
Typically, treatment for amphetamine dependence includes a combination of:
- Hospitalization – usually recommended to people who experience severe cravings. Hospitalization makes it easier for them to go through withdrawal symptoms or manage negative mood changes including suicidal behavior and aggression
- Medications – to ease the severity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings, anxiety
- Therapy – individual, family, group therapies to help the addict identify why he/she uses drugs as well as to get support from others (family members, friends, people who’re going through the same). Therapy also helps people with this problem discover activities they enjoy to replace drug use, repair relationships with family, learn different ways to avoid amphetamines
Most people can use cannabis or marijuana without getting addicted, but it is not impossible to develop a dependency to this plant. The truth is, there is limited information about cannabis addiction due to the controversy regarding whether it can truly cause dependency or not.
The lack of information about this problem prevents both scientists and average people to get a detailed insight into all aspects of marijuana. While the plant provides a wide array of health benefits, some people can get addicted too.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30% of people who use marijuana develop a cannabis use disorder. In fact, people who start using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.
When Does Marijuana Use Become An Addiction?
As mentioned above, some people can use cannabis for long-term and still avoid getting addicted. The question is: when does marijuana use become an addiction? Not every person who smokes cannabis is automatically addicted to it!
A person develops cannabis use addiction when he/she can’t stop using it even when it starts to interfere with many aspects of someone’s life. Figures show that marijuana addiction is a big problem nowadays. For example, 4 million Americans used or were dependent on marijuana in 2015. Furthermore, 138,000 individuals voluntarily sought treatment for marijuana use the same year.
In most instances, marijuana addiction occurs when a person uses it in conjunction with other substances like alcohol or drugs, but that’s not always the case of course. The first step towards recovery is to understand symptoms associated with this type of addiction. They are:
- Failing to do activities a person used to enjoy because smoking marijuana is more important
- Inability to control or decrease* marijuana use
- Refusing to give up of marijuana despite the fact it interferes with personal life, career, school
- Smoking more marijuana than intended
- Spending most of one’s time on smoking marijuana
- Tolerance to marijuana i.e. smoking more because the current amount doesn’t provide pleasure
- Using marijuana as the only way to relax
- Withdrawal symptoms when a person doesn’t smoke marijuana
The most common method of addressing marijuana addiction is through outpatient rehab which takes place on daily, weekly, or semi-weekly sessions that feature counseling and therapy. The purpose of this treatment is to assist an affected individual in learning how to recognize and avoid situations that lead to excessive use of marijuana. Inpatient rehabs are usually not required for cannabis addiction unless a person also suffers from a mental illness or an addiction to some other substance.
People who are addicted to marijuana can benefit from behavioral therapy that teaches them to “dig in deep” and identify the root cause of their addiction. Behavioral therapy shows how to overcome this condition by changing negative into positive behaviors.
Cognitive therapy helps the addict to think in a different manner that doesn’t make them smoke marijuana. Additionally, it is possible to join support groups and connect with other people who experience the same problem.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 15% of people in the United States have tried cocaine with 6% having used it by their senior year of high school. The drug is made from the leaves of the cocoa plant native to South America. Cocaine is a stimulant, meaning it enhances* alertness and energy. Unlike some types of addictions which occur gradually, cocaine dependency develops quickly, even after a person tries it a few times only.
Cocaine addiction can be physical and mental. The first form means the body craves the drug while the latter is associated with a heightened urge to experience cocaine’s effects.
Cocaine has an impact on neurological systems in a person’s brain. Using this drug, repetitive use primarily, changes systems that are related to memory, pleasure, and decision-making process. When you develop an addiction to this substance, the ability to resist urges is impaired. That explains why cocaine addicts find it difficult to quit.
Reasons, why someone decides to try cocaine, are numerous. Someone just wants to experiment or he/she is curious about the way cocaine would make them feel. Also, it is not uncommon for people who used some “less damaging” substances to move on to cocaine.
Despite the fact everyone can develop cocaine dependence; some people are at a higher risk. For example:
- Existing addiction to alcohol or other drugs
- Family history of drug addiction
- Mental illness e.g. depression
A person who is addicted to cocaine usually experiences the following signs and symptoms:
- Anxiety and irritability
- Hallucinations or psychosis
- Inability to stop
- Investing a lot of time into finding cocaine
- Spending all money on cocaine
- Strong desire to continue using cocaine even after health complications occur
- Tolerance for the drug i.e. he/she requires bigger amounts to achieve desired effects
- Turbulent relationships with friends and family members who express concerns about cocaine problem
- Weaker quality of life
Effects Of Cocaine Addiction
Cocaine addiction goes beyond spending money on buying cocaine or looking where to buy the drug. This condition is strongly associated with multiple psychological and physical effects.
Psychological effects of cocaine dependency are:
- Abnormal or repetitive behaviors
- Impaired judgment
- Panic Disorder
On the other hand, physical effects include:
Cocaine addiction has multiple aspects (physical, psychological, social) which is why it requires various treatment methods including:
- Medications – It is important to bear in mind that there are no medications designed specifically to treat* cocaine addiction, but it is not uncommon for cocaine addicts to receive antidepressants or other medications helpful for their condition
- Behavior treatment – Usually performed in outpatient basis or as an integral component of a rehab. The treatment includes rewards for meeting goals related to stopping with the addiction, providing emotional support for this important journey
- Treatment facilities or rehab centers – They feature programs that last between several weeks up to a year
Hallucinogens are drugs with a tremendous ability to alter a person’s perception, feelings, and thoughts. These drugs are divided into three different categories:
- Psychedelics – psychoactive, produce an altered state of consciousness and perception
- Dissociatives – used to warp sounds and sights and to induce feelings of detachment and dissociation from the environment or the body e.g. PCP or angel dust
- Deliriants – produce the sense of delirium
The most commonly used substance of this type is LSD which takes a user on an “acid trip”, a drug-induced experience where someone’s sense of reality is altered.
It is important to bear in mind that hallucinogens aren’t physically addictive drugs and unlike many other substances they don’t appear to cause long-term brain damage. The primary aspect of hallucinogen dependency is that one quickly builds a tolerance to the substance.
What causes the addiction then? In most cases, a person becomes dependent on the effect of these drugs e.g. spiritual journeys that are taken under the influence. Others are addicted to the sounds they hear or sights they see when they take LSD, for example.
When it comes to hallucinogens, people usually consume them because they want to “have fun”.
As seen above, people usually develop an addiction to the effect of hallucinogens which is why symptoms of dependency vary. In most cases repeated consumption of these drugs, and lack of desire to stop doing so, are indicated by these symptoms:
- Dilated pupils
- Feelings of being vulnerable
- Increased heart rate
- Lack of appetite
- Personality changes
- Speech difficulty
- Weight loss*
At this point, there are no government-approved medications to treat* addiction to hallucinogens. Despite the fact that behavioral programs or rehab centers can be helpful for patients with a variety of addictions, more research is necessary to determine whether they can be effective for hallucinogen dependence.
One thing is for sure; since an individual with this type of addiction has a distorted sense of reality, consulting a therapist is always a good way to go. Just like people with other addictions, a person who is dependent on hallucinogens needs support and understanding.
An inhalant is defined as any substance taken by inhaling e.g. solvents, aerosol sprays, gases, and nitrites (prescription medications for chest pain). These products are easily accessible and are found at home or at workplace e.g. markers, spray paints, glues, cleaning fluids, among many others.
These items contain harmful substances with psychoactive properties when inhaled. Since inhalants aren’t produced with the purpose to help someone get “high”, people don’t consider them as drugs. Young kids and teens use inhalants more frequently than other age groups.
A vast majority of inhalants affect central nervous system and slow down brain’s activity. Short-term effects that indicate the existence of a problem include:
- Distorted/slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
Other signs of dependency to inhalants are:
- Cognitive impairment
- Hearing loss
- Injuries to mouth, throat, and lungs
- Limb spasms
- Loss of consciousness
- Vision damage
- Withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using the inhalants
In most cases, adults and adolescents with addiction to inhalants find behavioral therapies extremely helpful. For instance, cognitive-behavioral therapy helps affected persons recognize, avoid, and cope with situations that trigger their urge to use inhalants.
Prescription Drugs Addiction
Prescription drug abuse is one of the most common types of addiction and it refers to the use of prescription medications in a way that they aren’t intended. According to some estimates, more than 15 million people in the US abuse prescription drugs. Additionally, 52 million Americans over the age of 12 have been used these medications in a non-medical manner at some point in their lives. In a period between 2007 and 2011, heroin use increased by 75% which is a staggering number in such a short timeframe.
People abuse prescription medications for numerous reasons, including these:
- Experimenting with mental effects of the substance
- Getting high
- Improving* concentration and academic or work performance
- Increasing* alertness or reducing* appetite
- Maintaining an addiction and preventing withdrawal
- Peer pressure among teens
- Relaxation, tension relief
Risk factors associated with prescription drugs dependency include:
- Age, teens and young adults are more likely to develop this type of addiction
- Current or past addiction to some substance
- Easy access to prescription drugs
- Exposure to environment where recreational use of prescription drugs is considered okay
- Family history of substance abuse
- Lack of knowledge about prescription medications and the potential danger
- Peer pressure among teenagers, an adolescent girl or boy feels obligated to try it in order to fit in and be “cool”
- Pre-existing psychiatric conditions
Signs and symptoms of prescription drug dependency depend on the type of medication someone uses. For instance, opioids which are used to treat* pain are linked with symptoms like euphoria, constipation, nausea, slowed breathing, drowsiness, poor coordination, confusion, and higher pain with increased doses.
Addiction to sedatives and anti-anxiety medications is manifested through drowsiness, confusion, unsteady walking, slurred speech, poor concentration, dizziness, weak memory, and slowed breathing.
Finally, dependency to stimulants is indicated by paranoia, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, insomnia, reduced* appetite, and agitation.
Treatment for this condition usually revolves around non-addictive medications that can help people counteract the symptoms of prescription drug addiction and regain control. Of course, the crucial part of treatment and one of the most effective ways of overcoming this problem is counseling.
Not only can the therapist help a patient identify reasons behind the addiction, but he/she provides useful insight into the problem and teaches patients how to avoid turning to this behavior in order to deal with their emotions.
Tobacco belongs to the group of most widely abused substances in the world. Nicotine, the main addictive chemical in tobacco, causes a rush of adrenaline when absorbed into the bloodstream. Of course, smoking is the most common way to introduce nicotine to the body, but it is also possible to inhale or chew tobacco.
According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US. Shockingly, 480,000 deaths a year (1 in 5 deaths) are caused by or associated with smoking.
The same report shows that in 2015, about 15 in 100 American adults aged 18 and older or 15% of this age group smoked cigarettes. It is estimated that 36,5 millions people in the US are smokers while more than 16 million adults live with a smoking-related illness. What’s more, for every person who dies due to smoking, at least 30 people live with the smoking-related disease.
Statistics also show that men are more likely to smoke than women. While 17 out of 100 adult men are smokers, 13 in 100 women smoke.
Just like with other types of substance addictions, people get dependent on smoking because nicotine has a huge impact on the way their brain perceives pleasure.
Basically, any person who smokes or uses tobacco in some other forms is it a tremendous risk of becoming addicted. Factors that play a role in who will use cigarettes include:
- Age – most smokers start with this behavior during childhood or in adolescent years
- Depression or mental illness
- Genetics – genetic factors may influence how receptors on the surface of the brain’s nerve cells respond to high doses of nicotine
- Peer pressure
- Substance use – people who abuse illegal drugs or alcohol are more likely to be smokers as well
Addiction to tobacco or nicotine is more difficult to hide because smoking is socially acceptable, cigarettes and other tobacco products are legal and easy to buy. In fact, most people don’t even try to hide their problem. Also, it is not uncommon for people to assume that smoking isn’t a “true addiction” because it is legal.
Symptoms associated with this dependency include:
- Giving up social or recreational activities in order to smoke
- Inability to stop smoking even after several attempts
- Maintaining smoking addiction despite health problems it causes
- Withdrawal symptoms when a person tries to stop smoking
Smokers tend to get discouraged after their first few attempts to quit proved to be ineffective. However, rare are the instances when a person successfully quits smoking after the first try. One reason behind these failed missions is the fact that people usually want to do it on their own. The chances of successful treatment for this condition are higher when a smoker has support from loved ones and tries out different approaches.
In most cases, it is the combination of different treatment options that proves to be effective. For example:
- Counseling – Helps you develop healthier habits and behaviors. Counselor also teaches you how to develop skills necessary to avoid tobacco in the long run
- Hypnotherapy – Although results vary, it is not uncommon for people to undergo physical therapy in order to stop smoking
- Medications – Nicotine replacement therapy and non-nicotine medications. The first option gives smokers nicotine without tobacco and harmful chemicals in the smoke. It includes nicotine patches, gums, and lozenge. Prescription forms of nicotine replacement include nicotine nasal spray and inhaler. On the other hand, non-nicotine medications help smokers boost* levels of brain chemicals that nicotine boosts* as well, just without the addictive chemical and tobacco
Addiction is a common problem nowadays and despite the wide prevalence, it is still poorly understood. While substance abuse has become a synonym for addiction, certain behavioral patterns can also fall into the group of dependency. This post focused on different addictions under the substance abuse umbrella and provided examples to behavioral addictions as well. It is important to bear in mind that addiction is a condition just like any other and it is influenced by numerous factors. Luckily, there is a way to overcome dependency to just about anything; a person just needs a strong support system and a proper treatment.