What is Addiction and What Causes It?

types of addictions

Addiction is an often misunderstood condition that continues to wreak significant havoc on individuals, families, and communities across the United States and throughout the world.

Addiction is a complex brain disease involving the altered function of reward and motivation systems.

  1. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease affecting the brain’s reward, motivation, and related systems.
  2. It includes substance abuse as well as behavioral problems such as abuse of gambling and video games, and excessive work, food, and sex.
  3. People struggling with addiction are unable to control their actions or make rational decisions about their behavior, even in the face of negative consequences.
  4. Compounds and experiences with addictive potential activate the brain’s reward circuitry.
  5. Addiction is often referred to as a dependency and often leads to tolerance – the addicted person needs larger and more regular amounts of whatever they are addicted to in order to receive the same effect. The initial reward is no longer felt, and the addiction continues because withdrawal from the addiction is so unpleasant.
  6. Initially an addictive substance induces pleasure to the user, and the continued consumption is driven more by a need to eliminate the anxiety brought about by the absence of addictive substance and therefore this leads the individual to compulsive behavior.
  7. 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 a psychological dependence.
  8. Addictions do not only include physical things we consume, such as drugs or alcohol, but may include virtually anything, such as gambling to chocolate – in other words, addiction may refer to a substance dependence (e.g. drug addiction) or behavioral addiction (e.g. gambling addiction).
  9. There is a difference between addiction and a habit: With addiction there is a psychological/physical component; the person is unable to control the addiction without outside help because of the mental or physical conditions involved. Where as Habit is the individuals choice. A person with a habit can choose to stop, and will subsequently stop if they want to. The psychological/physical component is not the negative issue as it is with an addiction.

Substance and alcohol Dependency


  • Triggers are also called reinforcers because the pleasurable feeling we get from them makes us more likely to engage in them again.
  • Both alcohol and illicit drugs are powerful reinforcers, and cause the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain’s reward system.
  • Repeated activation by these compounds changes the brain’s reward system structurally and chemically, and produces behaviors like binging,escalating use, and symptoms of withdrawal when the drugs are taken away.

Addiction is a process based in altered functioning of the reward and motivation systems of the brain. It can manifest in many ways, but historically addictions fall under two categories.

Substance-Related Addictions

This includes dependence on any of the following:

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Street drugs
  • Prescription drugs

Behavioral or Process Addictions

Many behaviors appear to have reinforcing properties, and may involve excesses related to:

  • Gambling
  • Food
  • Sex
  • The Internet
  • Video Games
  • Work

Some Basic Facts About Addiction

Due to misconceptions about addiction and recovery, it is important to understand the basic facts about addiction:

  1. Addiction IS a chronic, progressive disease.
  2. Addiction is NOT a failure of willpower or evidence of a character flaw in the individual who suffers from addiction.
  3. Addiction is NOT a disease that affects a focused group of people. It can affect adolescents, teens, and adults of all races, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic strata.
  4. Addiction is NOT a disease that only impacts “bad people” or “weak people.”
  5. Addiction is NOT a simple “Let’s take a pill and call it a day illness”. It is a complex disorder that, if left untreated, can cause significant damage — including death
  6. Addiction is NOT a choice, an excuse, or an attempt to dodge responsibility.
  7. Addiction IS a disease that can be treated. With effective professional intervention, individuals who are struggling with addiction can and will achieve a happier and healthier life while in recovery.

Addiction is “a consistent escalating pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three (or more) of the following, occurring any time in the same 12-month period”:

1. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

(a) A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or the desired effect or

(b) Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.

2. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:

(a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance or

(b) The same (or closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

3. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.

4. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.

5. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects.

6. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.

7. The substance use is continued despite the individuals knowledge of having a persistent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or negatively compounded by the substance. (Example, an individual continues to drink despite their recognition that an ulcer was made worse by their alcohol consumption).

Consequences of Addiction Include:addiction

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

  • Forms of Substance Addiction Include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Nicotine Addiction
  • Cocaine Addiction
  • Opiate Addiction
  • Meth Addiction
  • Marijuana Addiction
  • Caffeine Addiction
  • Steroid Addiction
  • Prescription Addiction

  • Forms of Behavioral Addictions Include:

  • Gambling Addiction
  • Food Addiction
  • Pornography Addiction
  • Work Addiction
  • Sex Addiction
  • Love Addiction
  • Exercise Addiction
  • Video Game Addiction
  • Shopping Addiction
  • Social Media Addiction