What is Addiction – Exploring Signs, Causes and Strategies for Effective Management

Last Updated: July 3, 2024

David Levin Reviewed by David Levin
0 sources cited

For most, addiction seems distant or unlikely, a situation that won’t happen to you or your loved ones.

Yet, the current statistics show another reality—one where addiction can affect anyone, regardless of background or status. In 2022, 48.7 million people (12 or older) dealt with substance use disorders (SUD). Out of these, 29.5 million had alcohol use disorder (AUD), 27.2 million had drug use disorder (DUD) and 8.0 million dealt with both.

Addiction is a multifactor framework of biological, psychological and environmental elements and dispelling misconceptions and social stigma is vital to managing addiction effectively. Keep reading to help yourself, a friend or a family member overcome this challenging moment.

What is Addiction?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is careful to use the term “addiction”. Au contraire, it considers “substance abuse” and “dependence” as impaired control over substance/activity use is the feature that sets apart the dependence state.

Sometimes it is difficult to outline what constitutes an addiction. This term encompasses a group of cognitive, behavioral and physiological symptoms that show when an individual persists in substance/activity use despite the significant associated problems. The DSM categorizes individuals into three groups:

  1. No substance use disorder
  2. Abuse only
  3. Dependence (diagnosed when impaired control persists despite significant issues)

The medical field considers addiction as a brain disorder due to alterations in brain circuits associated with reward, stress, and self-control, which can persist even after drug cessation. Also, as it can disrupt normal organ function, it poses severe outcomes to overall health if left untreated. As you can understand, if someone asks you to define addiction, its meaning involves a lot of details than one would have initially thought.

Furthermore, withdrawal and tolerance are key aspects of addiction. Withdrawal in addiction refers to the physical and psychological symptoms that occur when someone dependent on a substance suddenly reduces or stops using it. These symptoms range from anxiety and irritability to more severe manifestations like seizures or hallucinations. On the other hand, Tolerance refers to the body’s reduced response to a substance after repeated use, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects. Over time, increased tolerance can lead to escalated substance use, potentially contributing to the development of addiction.

What are the Types of Addiction

Addiction groups physical and behavioral elements. Physical addictions involve substances that lead to physiological dependence, while behavioral addictions revolve around compulsive engagement in specific activities. Below you can find a more detailed explanation of the different types of addictions:

Physical or Substance Addiction

Physical addictions are rooted in the consumption of substances that cause physiological dependence.

Individuals dealing with physical addictions experience withdrawal symptoms when the substance is no longer in the system, stressing the body’s reliance on the substance for normal functioning. Common examples of substance addiction include:

  • Opioid Addiction, i.e. prescription painkillers, illicit substances like heroin and other opioids.
  • Alcoholism,i.e. binge drinking and chronic alcohol consumption.
  • Nicotine Addiction, i.e. tobacco and cigarettes.
  • Marijuana Addiction
  • Sedative Addiction
  • Stimulant Addiction, i.e. LSD, psilocybin.
  • Hallucinogen Addiction

Behavioral Addiction

Behavioral addictions involve a recurring inability to resist harmful impulses, drives or temptations. Each behavioral addiction exhibits a repetitive pattern within a specific activity, hindering functionality in other areas.

Common examples of behavioral addiction include:

  • Gambling, i.e. casino and sports betting.
  • Technology, i.e. smartphones, internet
  • Food, i.e. binge eating, emotional eating.
  • Shopping, i.e. online and in store shopping.
  • Social Media, i.e. Instagram, TikTok.in-store
  • Sex/Masturbation Addiction

Causes of Addiction

The causes of addiction are multifaceted, encompassing various factors that contribute to the development and persistence of addictive behaviors. Causes include:

Biological Factors

Genetics, developmental stage and factors like gender or ethnicity are considered biological factors influencing addiction risk. The influence of environmental factors on genes through epigenetics contributes 40-60% to addiction.

Here are key aspects of the biological factors contributing to addiction:

  • Some gene variations exacerbate the likelihood of addictive behaviors.
  • Family history can signal genetic influence.
  • Disruptions in neurotransmitters like dopamine.
  • Imbalances change the brain’s reward system, increasing sensitivity to pleasure stimuli.
  • Variations in brain structure affect responses to addictive substances.

Social and Environmental Factors

Environmental factors encompass aspects associated with the family, school and community. Risk-increasing factors explored by studies include:

  • Influence from friends or social circles to engage in drug/activity use.
  • Individuals may use drug/activity due to cultural influences.

Media can normalize drug use, influencing people to experiment.

  • Easy access to drugs or harmful habits.
  • As a coping mechanism to numb emotional pain due to trauma, abuse or financial struggles.

Signs of Addiction

It’s safe to note that not everyone will experience all of these signs and their severity can vary depending on factors such as type of substance and duration of use. Here are some common signs of addiction:

  • Incapacity to control substance/activity use despite negative consequences.
  • Needing a higher substance dose to achieve the same effect.
  • Experiencing physical or emotional distress when the substance/activity is no longer available.
  • Strained work, school and social relationships.
  • Hiding substance/activity use or avoiding the problem.
  • Spending significant amounts of money to obtain the substance.
  • Increased irritability, anxiety or depression.

Addiction Treatment and Strategies

Addiction is not a death sentence; rather is a treatable condition. Several strategies are available to support you or a loved one on the journey to recovery. Some of these treatment options include:

Detoxification (Detox)

Detox is the systematic removal of substances from the body during the initial stages of recovery. Medically supervised detox helps with withdrawal symptoms, providing a safe transition to a drug-free body.

Behavioral Therapies, Counseling and Psychotherapy

These options provide safe outlines to identify and adjust unhealthy habits that may have led the addiction, delivering practical tools to navigate challenges without needing substances/activities.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medications used in MAT regularize brain chemistry, allowing individuals to regain stability and focus on their recovery journey.

Inpatient Treatment

This option provides a 24/7 facility where patients receive intensive care to manage severe addiction. Inpatient treatment provides an immersive, supportive system where individuals can focus on their recovery without distractions or temptations.

Support Groups

Assistance groups like AA or NA offer peer support and a sense of community due to shared experiences of addiction, thus fostering connections with community groups in the same situation.

Aftercare and Relapse Prevention

The recovery journey is like trail hiking, full of ups and downs.

The ongoing counseling, support groups, and relapse relapse prevention planning assist individuals in maintaining their sobriety in the long run.

What is an Addiction? Prognosis and Key Takeaways

Addiction is not a one-size-fits-all condition and prognosis varies depending on the substance, individual and access to treatment. While overcoming addiction requires significant effort, asking for help it’s not a sign of weakness, but one of strength.

Our key takeaways include self-care, setting healthy coping mechanisms and building a strong support network. Prevention is always recommended, and education, promoting healthy habits and addressing underlying mental health issues are fundamental pillars. People can recover and live a fulfilling life with proper intervention and support.

People Also Ask

What is the simple definition of addiction?

Addiction is a brain disorder where a person engages compulsively in a behavior or substance use, despite adverse consequences, leading to a loss of control and a persistent desire to persist the behavior.

Is addiction a mental disorder?

Yes, addiction is considered a mental disorder as it involves compulsive behavior or substance use despite negative consequences, impacting physical and mental health. Diagnostic manuals like the DSM-5 recognize it as such.

What causes addiction?

Several factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, environmental influences and psychological elements can lead to addiction. Combined, these factors can contribute to compulsive behaviors and a loss of control over substance use or specific activities.

Page Sources

  1. HHS, SAMHSA release 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health data. (2023, November 13). SAMHSA. https://www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/press-announcements/20231113/hhs-samhsa-release-2022-nsduh-data
  2. Kranzler, H. R., & Li, K. (2008). What Is Addiction? Alcohol Research & Health, 31(2), 93-95. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860451/
  3. Drug Misuse and Addiction | National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2024, January 5). National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction
  4. Goldstein, R. Z., & Volkow, N. D. (2011). Dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex in addiction: Neuroimaging findings and clinical implications. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 12(11), 652. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3119
  5. Alavi, S. S., Ferdosi, M., Jannatifard, F., Eslami, M., Alaghemandan, H., & Setare, M. (2012). Behavioral Addiction versus Substance Addiction: Correspondence of Psychiatric and Psychological Views. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 3(4), 290-294. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3354400/
  6. Roberts, A. J., & Koob, G. F. (1997). The Neurobiology of Addiction: An Overview. Alcohol Health and Research World, 21(2), 101-106. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826825/
  7. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). (2016, June 1). Substance use disorders. Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519702/
  8. Grant, J. E., Potenza, M. N., Weinstein, A., & Gorelick, D. A. (2010). Introduction to Behavioral Addictions. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36(5), 233. https://doi.org/10.3109/00952990.2010.491884
  9. Drug Misuse and Addiction | National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2024b, January 5). National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction
  10. Xavier, D. (2014). Causes of addiction and its consequences for the user and the family. https://www.academia.edu/74258507/Causes_of_addiction_and_its_consequences_for_the_user_and_the_family
Retrieved on March 14, 2024.

Published on: September 28th, 2015

Updated on: July 3rd, 2024


A treatment center will attempt to verify your health insurance benefits and/or necessary authorizations on your behalf. Please note, this is only a quote of benefits and/or authorization. We cannot guarantee payment or verification eligibility as conveyed by your health insurance provider will be accurate and complete. Payment of benefits are subject to all terms, conditions, limitations, and exclusions of the member’s contract at time of service. Your health insurance company will only pay for services that it determines to be “reasonable and necessary.” The treatment center will make every effort to have all services preauthorized by your health insurance company. If your health insurance company determines that a particular service is not reasonable and necessary, or that a particular service is not covered under your plan, your insurer will deny payment for that service and it will become your responsibility.

This will close in 0 seconds

Your addiction does not have to define who you are.

You deserve excellent care and a rewarding life in recovery.