What is Addiction?

Addiction involves the persistent use of harmful substances like drugs and alcohol. Continued substance abuse changes the biology and psychology of a person’s brain. Those who suffer from addiction experience uncontrollable urges to continue using the substance. Fortunately, addiction is treatable.

Understanding Addiction

Addiction is a disorder that harms the body and brain. It is a chronic condition, meaning that it persists for months or years. It involves the consistent use and misuse of harmful substances such as illicit drugs, prescription drugs and/or alcohol.

Addiction does not mean you lack willpower or morality.

Addiction changes the chemical makeup of a person’s brain. In time, addicts believe that they need the harmful substance to function normally. These feelings are not made up—they are a response to the changes in the brain and body.

Addiction is more than just the persistent use of harmful substances. It is the use of harmful substances despite the consequences to the user physically, mentally and emotionally.

What Addicts Experience

  1. People struggling with addiction develop a dysfunction in the reward system of their brains.
  2. They experience uncontrollable motivation to use harmful substances.
  3. Continued use causes the brain to need the drug to feel satisfied.
  4. People struggling with addiction will constantly seek relief and/or reward from the harmful substance rather than from healthy activities.

Addiction affects a person’s behavior and the biology of their brain. It also leads to a decline in healthy social activities, negative health issues and poor mental well-being.

Defining Features of Addiction

Addiction looks different for each person. Those struggling with addiction experience unique thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Still, there are multiple tell-tale signs that indicate you or someone you love is facing addiction.

Common features that define addiction include:

  • The inability to abstain from using a substance
  • Cravings for the abused drug or other harmful substances
  • Difficulty controlling behaviors when using substances
  • Denial of the problems associated with addiction behaviors
  • Suffering relationships with family, partners, friends and peers
  • Problems with emotional responsiveness to normal life activities
  • Continued use of the harmful substance despite psychological or physical issues

Consequences of Addiction

Addiction is a chronic disease. This means it often involves numerous cycles of relapse and remission. Effective treatment can help reduce the risk of relapse.

Stages of Effective Treatment

  1. Treatment typically starts with medical detox.
  2. Medication is then prescribed to reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.
  3. Lasting recovery is made possible through participation in activities such as drug tests, therapy and support groups.

Addiction can result in significant disability or premature death if left unaddressed. These consequences occur due to overdoses or from other complications of the addiction. If you or someone you love is battling addiction, it’s not too late to seek help.

Author:Kent Hoffman
Kent Hoffman

Kent Hoffman, D.O. has been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years. He is board-certified to practice addiction medicine and family medicine. Dr. Hoffman gets to know his patients on a first-name basis to provide compassionate and professional health care.

Last modified: 01/11/2019