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Overview of Addiction

Addiction is defined as the habitual compulsion to engage in a certain activity or utilize a substance, despite the potentially devastating consequences on the individual’s physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and financial well-being. Instead of addressing life’s obstacles, tackling daily stress and/or confronting past or present trauma, the addict responds to pain by resorting to a pseudo-coping mechanism. Addiction offers an illusory refuge and leads people down a self-destructive path that takes a heavy toll on both themselves and those around them. Addiction alters the emotions of the addict, who turns to the substance in search of a psychological high or a fast chemical fix. The addict uses the substance or engages in the activity to achieve stress relief, attain a sense of control, change his or her mood, and/or banish real-life issues.

Typically, addiction manifests both psychological and physical characteristics. Physical dependence occurs when an individual’s body develops a dependence on a certain substance and experiences withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuing the consumption. Abuse of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, barbiturates, marijuana, opiates, amphetamines, cocaine, and/or benzodiazepines trigger physical dependence. While initially an addictive substance induces pleasure to the user, his or her continued consumption is driven more by a need to eliminate the anxiety brought about by its absence, thus leading the individual to compulsive behavior. In addiction, the addict’s physical dependence on the substance often becomes a determinative factor in his ongoing use of the drug. Psychological dependency becomes evident when the addict experiences withdrawal symptoms such as depression, cravings, insomnia, and irritability. Both behavioral addiction and substance addiction usually give rise to psychological dependence.


The speed with which an addict becomes dependent varies with his or her psychological susceptibility, genetic makeup, social factors, the substance itself, the degree of euphoria or pleasure, the form of ingestion, and the frequency and volume of consumption. Addiction is a progressive disease, with the user needing a larger quantity of the substance to achieve tolerance, or the dopamine intoxication effect. The addict often progresses to more powerful substances trying to re-experience their initial ‘high.’ Addiction produces a state of chaos and wreaks havoc on every facet of an individual’s life- from family and personal relationships, spiritual existence, and social life, to health, business relationships, and finances. It leads to legal problems, low self-esteem, self-loathing, broken values, broken promises, difficulties in the workplace, and failed marriages and/or disintegration of close relationships. Substance abuse and behavioral addiction cause an addict’s life to become unmanageable and his or her lifestyle to spiral out of control.

Some Statistics Related to Addiction Include:

  • One out of eight Americans (27 million) is a heavy drinker or abuses illegal drugs (Source: SAMHSA)
  • Nearly 12% of all youth consume illegal drugs by age eighteen (Source: U.S. Substance and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • 18 million Americans have an alcohol addiction problem (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
  • More than 19 million individuals over the age 12 abuse illicit drugs in the U.S. (Mayo Clinic)
  • Between two and four percent of adults in the U.S. are classified as compulsive gamblers (University of California).

Consequences of Addiction

The consequences of addiction on the individual and society as a whole are numerous and often devastating.

Some of the Consequences of Addiction Include:

  • Serious or fatal accidents
  • Driving under the influence
  • Crime
  • Violence
  • Overdose
  • Child abuse
  • Homelessness
  • Wrecked families
  • Mental Illness
  • Elevated health costs
  • Absenteeism

Alcohol and drug abuse is responsible for the admission of almost 1,500,000 addicted individuals to emergency rooms nationwide. According to government figures, drug addiction results in half a trillion dollars’ worth of losses annually or $1,650 per American.

Common Addiction Types

The leading drug problem in the U.S. is alcohol, which affects all ages and ethnic groups, professions, religions, and I.Q. levels. Another major problem is prescription addiction, which typically involves stimulants (i.e., Ritalin) and opioids (i.e., Vicodin, OxyContin). Stimulants are generally prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder, while opioids are usually prescribed to relieve pain.

Some of the Most Common Forms of Substance Addiction Include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Nicotine addiction
  • Cocaine addiction
  • Opiate addiction (i.e., heroin addiction)
  • Meth addiction
  • Marijuana addiction
  • Caffeine addiction
  • Steroid addiction
  • Prescription addiction (i.e., Vicodin addiction)

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addiction involves activities, and this type of dependency displays the same central components found in substance abuse, namely withdrawal and relapse, tolerance, and mood changes.

Behavioral Addictions Include the Following:


  • Gambling addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Pornography addiction
  • Work addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Love addiction
  • Exercise addiction
  • Video game addiction
  • Shopping addiction

Sexual addiction is a form of behavioral addiction that has been the source of much discussion and controversy in recent years. Some experts in the area of addiction and mental illness even question the validity of sexual addiction. Sex addiction is most common in men, especially gay men, though few studies have been done in this area and statistics are hard to come by.

Compulsions Related to Sex Addiction Include:

  • Voyeurism
  • Exhibitionism
  • Indulgence in pornography
  • Multiple affairs
  • Acting out of self-destructive behavior
  • Prostitution
  • Anonymous sexual relations
  • Reckless sexual practices

The Negative Repercussions of Sex Addiction Include:

  • Unwanted pregnancies
  • Exposure to sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS
  • Degradation of personal relationships
  • Loss of employment opportunities

Symptoms of Addiction

A distinction can be drawn between symptoms of addiction that are physical in nature (including changes in physical appearance, impact on daily functioning, and withdrawal) and those that are psychological (the dependence developed by an addict’s brain on a particular substance, activity, or behavior).

The Most Common Psychological Addiction Symptoms Include:

  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Secretiveness
  • Lying
  • Defensiveness
  • Bizarre behavioral patterns
  • Failure to assume responsibilities
  • Attitude change
  • Truancy
  • Stealing
  • Selling personal items
  • Changes in acquaintances and friendships
  • Declining scholastic or professional performance
  • Change in personal appearance
  • Absenteeism
  • Change of or loss of interest in leisure activities.

Physical Symptoms of Addiction Include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Weight gain or loss

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