What Are Addictions?

When we think of addictions, illegal drugs, alcohol, and nicotine likely come to mind. More recently, addictions to other substances and behavioral addictions have become a real and growing problem. People may become addicted to gambling, the internet, work, pornography, exercise, shopping, food, and caffeine to name a few. Addiction is considered a chronic disorder that occurs when a person develops an uncontrollable habit of using substances or participating in behaviors despite negative consequences. Many of these behaviors can become physically addictive, which means that the person’s body begins to crave the substance or behavior. More of the substance or behavior may be needed to achieve the desired effect. Addictions also have a psychological component that is often even more difficult to overcome. Psychological addiction includes the rituals and emotions that often surround using the substance or the addictive behavior and the addiction may start to feel like it is a major part of who they are as a person. People can become addicted to almost any pleasurable activity and their behaviors become addictive when they lose control and “need” the substance or behavior instead of “want” it. When a behavior becomes an addiction, it always has some negative consequences, but sometimes they may be hard to see. Negative consequences could be neglecting family, legal problems, financial strains, or negative impacts on their physical or emotional health. Addictions almost always affect the person’s family and friends and the addicted person is so caught up in their own behaviors that it is difficult for them to see how their behavior impact those around them. With proper treatment the person can overcome the addiction that has become a problem in their life.

How Prevalent Are Addictions?

Because addictions are such a broad and diverse subject it is difficult to identify exactly how many people struggle with addiction. According to research conducted by the Department of Preventive Medicine at University of Southern California, it is estimated that 47 to 61 percent of U.S. adults suffer from a form of addiction.

What Causes Addictions?

Addictions usually begin out of pleasure seeking behaviors. They may take substances to change how they feel, like the rush associated with gambling, enjoy the feeling of being loved through sex, or like the recognition they receive through work. What often starts out as a relatively casual or even helpful behavior (e.g., one drink makes it easier for a man to ask a woman to dance), this behavior can lead to an addiction over time. Everyone likes positive feelings and over time, our bodies can crave these feelings and we may feel emotionally incomplete or empty without them. This can result in repetitively engaging in these behaviors, which increases the need and before you realize it an addiction has formed.

How Do I Know if I Need Help?

It is likely that a person has an addiction problem when they continue to use substances or engage in behaviors despite them causing significant problems in their lives. They simply “know better” but can’t or won’t stop. These problems may include relationship problems, financial difficulties, or problems at work or school. Many times people feel shame or guilt associated with their addictive behaviors and have thought about stopping or tried to stop on multiple occasions without sustained success (e.g. Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it 1000 times!”) Stopping is often not that difficult for the person who is addicted to a substance or a behavior. However, “staying quit” is more difficult with extremely high relapse rates. People with addictions often have family or friends that have expressed concern about their behavior and they may become irritated when these concerns are raised. If you are experiencing any of these things you may have an addiction and should seek help.

What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Addictions?

Specific symptoms vary greatly from one addiction to another. All addictive behavior has some unwanted negative consequence, but the person continues to engage in the behavior. Many addictions also result in tolerance and/or withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance simply stated means that the person needs to increase their behavior or use to get the desired effects (i.e. takes more alcohol to become intoxicated). Withdrawal is cravings that occur when the behavior or substance is dramatically decreased or stopped. These cravings can be physical (i.e. seizures, headaches) and/or emotional (i.e. irritability, obsessive thoughts about the addictive behavior). The primary symptom of addiction is that the behavior or substance has taken over the person’s life and they can no longer control their behavior.

Getting the Help You Need

Treatment for addictions usually includes counseling, support groups and medicine may be helpful as well. Addiction treatment focuses on eliminating both the physical (if present) and psychological dependence on the substance or behavior. Counseling may exam how the addictive behavior progressed, how it was maintained, and how it can be removed. People suffering from addictions have lost control and focus in their lives, but there is help available.


Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us.

― David Richo

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.”

― C.G. Jung

Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.

Swami Sivananda

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