March 5, 2024

What Is Addiction?

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Addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition that’s marked by an uncontrollable urge to use drugs or alcohol despite negative effects. It’s classified as a neurological disorder due to the alterations it causes in the brain circuitry responsible for reward, stress, and self-regulation. These modifications can persist well beyond discontinuation.

Much like heart disease, addiction disrupts the normal functioning of a critical body organ – in this case, the brain – triggering severe adverse outcomes. Like all chronic health conditions, addiction can often be prevented and managed with appropriate treatment. Without intervention, though, substance abuse may endure throughout a person’s life, potentially resulting in fatal outcomes.

What Is Considered an Addiction?

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Addiction is a chronic brain disorder that’s characterized by an irresistible urge to engage in substance use or certain behaviors, regardless of the negative consequences these actions may bring. This disorder can profoundly affect health, relationships, and overall life quality, meaning that people should seek intervention upon recognizing the early signs of addiction – it’s a progressive condition that typically worsens unless treated.

According to ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine), addiction is a chronic but treatable disease. It arises not from a lack of willpower or poor decision-making but from significant changes in brain chemistry associated with addiction.

Addiction is clinically described as substance use disorder. There are ten recognized sub-types of substance use disorder classified in DSM-5-TR (the latest revised edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  Addictions listed in DSM are as follows:

  1. Opioid use disorder
  2. Alcohol use disorder
  3. Marijuana use disorder
  4. Sedative use disorder
  5. Stimulant use disorder
  6. Hypnotic and anxiolytic use disorder
  7. Hallucinogen use disorder
  8. Inhalant use disorder
  9. Tobacco use disorder
  10. Other/unknown substance use disorder

All of these substances significantly stimulate the reward system of the brain, potentially triggering the development of substance use disorders of varying severity.

Behavioral addictions also involve compulsive engagement in activities that trigger the brain’s reward system, but without the consumption of addictive substances. Currently, DSM only recognizes gambling disorder as a behavioral addiction due to limited research in other areas of behavioral addiction.

What Are the Stages of Addiction?

Although every addiction is unique, reflecting personal experiences and circumstances, most follow a set of common patterns from initial use to dependence and addiction. A person’s progression through the phases can vary in speed and intensity. Common stages of addiction include:

1) Experimentation

The first encounter with an addictive substance or behavior often arises from curiosity, peer pressure, or the desire to manage stress or emotional pain. At this stage, use is occasional, with no significant consequences on daily life.

2) Regular use

The person begins using the substance or engaging in the behavior more regularly. While not yet dependent on the addictive substance, patterns of use are established, and the activity may start to become a coping mechanism for stress or emotional issues.

3) Risky use and abuse

Usage increases in frequency and amount, leading to risky behaviors. Consequences start to become more apparent, affecting health, relationships, and responsibilities. Despite these negative consequences, the person continues the behavior.

4) Physical dependence

At this stage, the individual becomes physically or psychologically dependent on the substance or behavior. They may experience withdrawal symptoms in its absence and will use more of the substance to avoid discomfort, further entrenching the cycle.

image of woman representing what is an addiction

5) Addiction

Addiction is characterized by a loss of control over the use of the substance or engagement in the behavior. It dominates the person’s life, impacting health, relationships, and functioning. Attempts to stop are often met with failure, reinforcing the cycle of addiction.

6) Treatment

Often, a crisis point or recognition of the inability to quit alone prompts a person to seek treatment. This stage involves professional intervention, detoxification, therapy, and long-term strategies for managing the addiction – read on and find out how you can engage with compassionate and evidence-based addiction treatment for any type of addiction.

What Is Physical Addiction vs. Psychological Addiction?

While both physical and psychological addiction require intervention, they impact the individual in different ways and may call for different approaches to treatment.

  • Physical addiction: Physical addiction occurs when an individual’s body becomes dependent on a substance to function normally. This dependence is characterized by the presence of withdrawal symptoms upon reduction or discontinuation. These symptoms can be painful, uncomfortable, and, in some cases, life-threatening. Physical addiction is often associated with substances like alcohol, opioids, and some prescription medications. The body’s adaptation to the presence of the substance includes alterations in its biochemical processes, leading to a physical reliance that provokes continued use to avoid withdrawal.
  • Psychological addiction: Psychological addiction, on the other hand, refers to emotional or mental dependence on a substance or behavior. This form of addiction is driven by a perceived need to use the substance or engage in the behavior to feel good, cope with stress, or escape reality. It’s characterized by cravings, obsessions with the substance or activity, and using it to deal with emotional pain or psychological distress. Psychological addiction may involve both addictive substances like drugs and alcohol or addictive behaviors like gambling, eating, or internet use.

Physical and psychological addictions are often intertwined. For example, someone with a physical dependence on opioids may also rely on the medication psychologically to deal with stress or emotional pain, and vice versa. Effective and comprehensive treatment approaches address both the physical and psychological components of addiction to deliver the most favorable outcomes.

Treatment for physical addiction often begins with detoxification to manage withdrawal symptoms under medical supervision, followed by therapy and support to promote long-term recovery. Psychological addiction treatment focuses on identifying the underlying emotional and mental health issues driving the addiction, employing strategies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), counseling, and support groups. Every addiction is unique, though, and the best treatment will be targeted and personalized.

What Is the Cycle of Addiction?

The cycle of addiction describes a repetitive and destructive pattern of behavior that starts with initial substance use. This initial choice may be driven by various factors, including curiosity, an attempt to alleviate stress, or peer pressure. 

As the person continues to use the substance, tolerance develops, meaning that higher doses are required to achieve the initial effects. This escalation often leads to dependence, where the person experiences physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms in the absence of the substance, compelling them to continue use to avoid discomfort.

Addiction is the stage at which all control is lost, and the substance or behavior dominates the person’s life, causing significant impairment and distress. Attempts to quit may trigger a relapse, drawing the person back into the cycle with renewed intensity, often feeling overwhelmed by guilt, failure, or the overwhelming nature of withdrawal symptoms.

Breaking free from the cycle of addiction usually involves comprehensive treatment approaches that address both the physical and psychological components of addiction. This may involve a combination of detoxification to manage withdrawal symptoms, therapy to explore and resolve underlying emotional and mental health issues, support groups for ongoing encouragement, and lifestyle modifications to foster healthier coping strategies. 

FAQs

What is an addiction?

Addiction is a chronic condition characterized by compulsive substance use despite adverse outcomes that often triggers lasting changes in the brain. Addiction includes both physical dependence and psychological aspects that affect emotional and behavioral patterns.

What is psychological addiction?

Psychological addiction refers to the behavioral and emotional aspects of substance use disorder, where an individual has a mental or emotional reliance on a substance or behavior, often linked to triggers such as stress, environments, or social contexts.

What is the process of addiction?

The process of addiction usually begins with the voluntary act of using substances or engaging in certain behaviors. However, as time goes on, it gets harder for the person to stop. This is due to changes in brain function that challenge a person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs or engage in the addictive behavior.

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Call Addiction Hotline Today for 24/7 Help

Now you know what is addiction, here’s how you can get help and effective substance abuse treatment in California. Reach out to Addiction Hotline and speak with trained and compassionate professionals ready to answer all your queries about addiction and recovery.

If you feel ready to engage with evidence-based treatment, our staff can refer you to a variety of suitable resources, from support groups and medical detox centers through to inpatient and outpatient rehabs. This enables you to access addiction treatment at an appropriate level of intensity, even if you have a busy personal and professional life.

Call 855-701-0479 today and begin your recovery tomorrow.

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Compassionate Care for Substance Abuse Treatment

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