What is Addiction?

Addiction is a compulsive or obsessive relationship with one or more substances or processes such as alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, internet, exercise, relationships, work, or money.

Although the word addiction is becoming ever more common in our culture today, it is still a daunting concept. Just hearing the word often conjures up visuals of junkies in abandoned warehouses shooting up heroin, drop-out meth-heads breaking into your car for whatever can be sold for ready cash, or wild-eyed coke fiends destroying the lives of anyone who dares to care about them.

Actually, addicts come from all walks of life and have a potentially terminal disease. Addicts have the same level of moral development, the same level of intelligence, the same amount of will power, and the same love of family as any other segment of the population.

So what is different about someone with an addiction? An addict has a potentially fatal disease which can be described as a dysfunction of the part of the brain called the mid-brain. Addicts cannot be smart enough, moral enough, loving enough or have enough will power to rid themselves of the disease. The predisposition for addiction is inherited but environment also plays a role.

The addict may look just like anyone else at work, at church or in your neighborhood. He or she may be your lawyer, your physician, your clergy, an elected official, an officer of the law, a grandparent or your babysitter. Although there are signs to look out for, often these signs are well hidden.

Some of the more common signs that addiction is present include:

  1. Diminished quality of work at school or on the job
  2. Lack of energy or motivation
  3. Change in self-care habits
  4. Strange or unexplained behavior changes
  5. Money problems
  6. Neglect of friendships
  7. Irritability or other mood changes
  8. Implausible explanations concerning where they are/who they are with
  9. Changes in eating or sleeping patterns

Chemical vs. Process Addiction

People can become emotionally, psychologically and physically addicted to both substances and behaviors. Even thought processes such as fantasy can take on an addictive quality when it becomes so obsessive that it interferes with responsibilities and relationships.

Chemical addictions include:

  1. Cannabis compounds (marijuana and hashish)
  2. Depressants (barbiturates and benzodiazepines)
  3. Stimulants (amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, Ritalin)
  4. Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP, Ketamine, psilocybin, and synthetic compounds such as Ecstasy)
  5. Inhalants (glue, paint solvents, amyl nitrate)
  6. Opioids (narcotics such as heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone, oxycodone)
  7. Nicotine and Alcohol (both stimulant and depressant)

Process addictions include:

  1. Sexual addiction (cybersex, affairs, prostitutes, escorts, fantasy, compulsive masturbation, strip clubs, pornography)
  2. Sexual anorexia (compulsive avoidance of sexual experiences)
  3. Relationship compulsivity (avoidant or dependent)
  4. Codependence (addiction to another person)
  5. Eating disorders (binge/purge, anorexia, overeating)
  6. Gambling (casinos, financial risk taking, race tracks)
  7. Work (long hours at the office, busyness)
  8. Money (spending, debting, hording)
  9. Exercise (to the exclusion of relationships or to the point of injury)
  10. Internet use (gaming, chat rooms)

Compulsive chemical use and behaviors as well as obsessive thought processes cause chemical changes in the brain that eventually lead to physical changes in the brain that can now be detected. Behaviors and thought processes, when they become addictive, are just as difficult to interrupt as chemical addictions and withdrawal symptoms are similar.