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An addiction is a chronic dysfunction of the brain system that involves reward, motivation, and memory. It’s about the way your body craves a substance or behavior, especially if it causes a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of "reward" and lack of concern over consequences.
Someone experiencing an addiction will:
Over time, addictions can seriously interfere with your daily life. People experiencing addiction are also prone to cycles of relapse and remission. This means they may cycle between intense and mild use. Despite these cycles, addictions will typically worsen over time. They can lead to permanent health complications and serious consequences like bankruptcy.
That’s why it’s important for anyone who is experiencing addiction to seek help. Call 800-622-4357 for confidential and free treatment referral information, if you or someone you know has an addiction. This number is for The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). They’ll be able to provide more information, including guidance on prevention and mental and substance use disorders.
According to U.K. charity Action on Addiction, 1 in 3 people in the world have an addiction of some kind. Addiction can come in the form of any substance or behavior.
The most well-known and serious addiction is to drugs and alcohol. Nearly 1 in 10 Americans have an addiction to both. Of the people with a drug addiction, more than two-thirds also abuse alcohol.
The most common drug addictions are:
In 2014, Addiction.com, a website devoted to helping those with addiction, listed the top 10 types of addictions. Besides nicotine, drugs, and alcohol, other common addictions include:
Technology, sex, and work addictions are not recognized as addictions by the American Psychiatric Association in their most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Some habits or social behaviors look like addiction. But in the case of an addiction, a person will typically react negatively when they don’t get their "reward." For example, someone addicted to coffee can experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms such as severe headaches and irritability.
Most signs of addiction relate to a person’s impaired ability to maintain self-control. This includes changes that are:
Someone with an addition won’t stop their behavior, even if they recognize the problems the addiction is causing. In some cases, they’ll also display a lack of control, like using more than intended.
Some behavior and emotional changes associated with addiction include:
Addictive substances and behaviors can create a pleasurable "high" that’s physical and psychological. You’ll typically use more of certain substances or engage in behaviors longer to achieve the same high again. Over time, the addiction becomes difficult to stop.
Some people may try a substance or behavior and never approach it again, while others become addicted. This is partially due to the brain’s frontal lobes. The frontal lobe allows a person to delay feelings of reward or gratification. In addiction, the frontal lobe malfunctions and gratification is immediate.
Additional areas of the brain may also play a role in addiction. The anterior cingulate cortex and the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with pleasurable sensations, can increase a person’s response when exposed to addictive substances and behaviors.
Other possible causes of addiction include chemical imbalances in the brain and mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. These disorders can lead to coping strategies that become addictions.
Experts believe that repeated and early exposure to addictive substances and behaviors play a significant role. Genetics also increase the likelihood of an addiction by about 50 percent, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
But just because addiction runs in the family does not necessarily mean a person will develop one.
Environment and culture also play a role in how a person responds to a substance or behavior. A lack or disruption in a person’s social support system can lead to substance or behavioral addiction. Traumatic experiences that affect coping abilities can also lead to addictive behaviors.
Addiction will often play out in stages. Your brain and body’s reactions at early stages of addiction are different from reactions during the later stages.
The four stages of addiction are:
Addiction that’s left untreated can lead to long-term consequences. These consequences can be:
Different substances and behaviors have different effects on a person’s health. Serious complications can cause health concerns or social situations to result in the end of a life.
All types of addiction are treatable. The best plans are comprehensive, as addiction often affects many areas of life. Treatments will focus on helping you or the person you know stop seeking and engaging in their addiction.
Common therapies include:
You can also visit your primary care doctor for an evaluation. The type of treatment a doctor recommends depends on the severity and stage of the addiction. With early stages of addiction, a doctor may recommend medication and therapy. Later stages may benefit from inpatient addiction treatment in a controlled setting.
Overcoming addiction is a long journey. Support can go a long way in making the recovery process more successful. Many organizations can help, depending on the type of addiction.
These organizations can help connect you with support groups, such as:
A strong social support system is important during recovery. Letting your friends, family, and those closest to you know about your treatment plan can help you keep on track and avoid triggers.
If you or someone you know has an addiction, call 800-622-4357 for confidential and free treatment referral information from SAMHSA. Seek emergency care if necessary, especially if they’ve had suicidal thoughts or actions.
Written by: Mara Tyler
Medically reviewed on: Sep 29, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP
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