What is an addiction? – Symptoms, Causes, Types, Treatments And More

An addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive participation in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences, despite the participation of various psychosocial factors, a biological process, induced by repeated exposure to an addictive stimulus, is the central pathology that promotes the development and maintenance of an addiction. The two properties that characterize all addictive stimuli are that they are reinforcing (that is, they increase the likelihood that a person will seek repeated exposure to them) and inherently rewarding (that is, they are perceived as inherently positive, desirable, and pleasurable).

Addiction is a disorder of the brain’s reward system that arises through transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms and occurs over time from chronically high levels of exposure to an addictive stimulus (for example, using cocaine, participating in activities sexual activity, engaging in exciting cultural activities such as gambling, etc.).

When a person is addicted to something, he cannot control how he uses it and depends on him to cope with everyday life.

Why does addiction start? – Causes

Addictive substances and behaviors can create a pleasant “high” that is both physical and psychological. Typically, you will use more of certain substances or engage in behaviors for longer to reach the same level again. Over time, the addiction becomes difficult to stop.

There are many reasons why addictions start, in the case of drugs , alcohol and nicotine, these substances affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally, these feelings can be pleasant and create a powerful urge to use substances again.


Some people may try a substance or behavior and never address it again, while others become addicted, this is due in part to the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal lobe allows a person to delay feelings of reward or gratification. In addiction, frontal lobe malfunction and gratification is immediate.

Additional areas of the brain can 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 turn into addictions.

Early exposure

Experts believe that early and repeated exposure to addictive substances and behaviors plays an important role. Genetics also increases the likelihood of an addiction by about 50 percent, according to the American Society for Addiction Medicine, but just because addiction runs in the family does not necessarily mean that a person will develop it.

Environment and culture also play a role in how a person responds to a substance or behavior, the lack or disruption in a person’s social support system can lead to an addiction to the substance or behavior. Traumatic experiences that affect coping skills can also lead to addictive behaviors.

Poor coping skills for stress

The stress is a major risk factor in addiction, is especially important in the transition from moderate consumption of drug abuse drug dependent.

The stress is a risk factor for several reasons. First, the more stressed you are, the more you want to escape or relax, and that is why people turn to drugs or alcohol. Second, when you are stressed, you tend to do what is familiar and wrong rather than what is new and right, therefore you are more likely to go back to the old ways.

Negative thinking

All the different types of negative thinking make you feel stressed, uncomfortable, irritable, and unhappy. When you think in an all or nothing way, you see that your life is going perfectly or horribly, you see your options as good or terrible, feeling that way makes you want to escape, relax or reward yourself, which can lead to drug or alcohol use.

Underlying anxiety or depression

Approximately 15 to 30 percent of people with addiction also suffer from underlying depression , the combination is sometimes called a dual diagnosis. The anxiety and depression can lead to addiction, people with a dual diagnosis use it to escape feelings of anxiety and depression, have a repeating pattern of staying sober for a while and then fall when feelings become overwhelming and they try to escape from them.

What are the symptoms of an addiction?

Most of the signs of addiction are related to the inability of a person to maintain self-control, this includes changes that are:

  • Social, such as looking for situations that encourage a substance or behavior.
  • Insomnia or memory loss .
  • Changes in personality .

Someone with an addiction will not stop their behavior, even if they acknowledge the problems the addiction is causing. In some cases, they will also show a lack of control, such as using more than intended.

Some associated behavioral and emotional changes include:

  • Unrealistic or poor assessment of the advantages and disadvantages associated with substance use or behaviors.
  • Blaming other factors or people for your problems.
  • Increased levels of anxiety, depression and sadness.
  • Greater sensitivity and more severe reactions to stress.
  • Trouble identifying feelings.
  • Trouble distinguishing the difference between feelings and physical sensations from one’s emotions .

Types of addiction

Addiction is basically a compulsion to use a certain substance or behave in a certain way to feel good (or sometimes to stop feeling really bad). It is divided into two main categories: physical and psychological.

Physical addiction

This is when your body becomes dependent on a particular substance, it also means that it has developed a tolerance for the substance, so you have to take more of it to continue feeling the effects. If you have a physical addiction, you will experience strong withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. Some examples of physical addiction are dependence on drugs and alcohol, including cigarettes and prescription pain relievers.

Psychological addiction

This is when your desire for a substance or behavior stems from an emotional or psychological desire, rather than a physical dependence. Your brain is so powerful that it can produce physical symptoms like withdrawal, including cravings, irritability, and insomnia. Examples of psychological addictions include gambling, exercise, the internet, shopping, sex, and overeating.

What are the stages of an addiction?

The addiction will play out in stages, the reactions of your brain and body in the early stages are different from the reactions during the later stages.

The four stages of addiction are:

  • Experimentation: Use or engage out of curiosity.
  • Social or regular: Uses or gets involved in social situations or for social reasons.
  • Problem or risk: You use or get involved in an extreme way without considering the consequences.
  • Dependency: Uses or engages in a behavior on a daily basis, or multiple times a day, despite possible negative consequences.

Addictions and habits

With a habit you are in control of your choices, with an addiction you are not in control of your choices.

Addiction – There is a psychological / physical component; The person cannot control aspects of the addiction without help due to the mental or physical conditions involved.

Habit – It is done by choice. The person with the habit can choose to stop, and will later stop successfully if they so desire, the psychological / physical component is not a problem as it is with an addiction.

Substance or activity addiction can sometimes lead to serious problems at home, work, school, and socially.

How is addiction treated?

All types of addictions are treatable, the best plans are comprehensive, as it often affects many areas of life. Treatments will focus on helping you or the person you know stop seeking and participating in your addiction.

According to one review, “to be effective, all pharmacological or biological treatments must be integrated into other established forms of addiction rehabilitation, such as cognitive behavioral therapy , individual and group psychotherapy , behavior modification strategies, and residential treatment facilities’.

Behavior therapy

A meta-analytic review on the efficacy of various behavioral therapies for drug addiction and behavior treatment found that cognitive behavioral therapy (e.g., relapse prevention and contingency management), motivational interviewing, and a community reinforcement approach they were effective interventions with moderate effect sizes.

Clinical and preclinical tests indicate that consistent aerobic exercise, especially resistance exercise, actually prevents the development of certain drug addictions, is an effective add-on treatment, and in particular for addiction to psychostimulants.

The dependent magnitude of consistent aerobic exercise (ie, by duration and intensity) reduces the risk of drug addiction, which appears to occur through reversal of neuroplasticity.


Medications are used to control drug cravings and relieve severe withdrawal symptoms, which can include:

Alcohol addiction

Drug treatments for alcohol addiction include medications such as naltrexone (opioid antagonist), disulfiram, acamprosate, and topiramate.

Rather than substitute for alcohol, these drugs are intended to affect the desire to drink, either by directly reducing cravings as with acamprosate and topiramate, or by producing unpleasant effects when alcohol is consumed, as with disulfiram. These medications can be effective if treatment is maintained, but adherence can be a problem as alcoholic patients forget to take their medications or stop using them due to excessive side effects.

Behavioral addictions

Behavioral addiction is a treatable condition, treatment options include psychotherapy and psychopharmacotherapy (i.e. medications) or a combination of both.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common form of psychotherapy used to treat behavioral addictions; focuses on identifying patterns that trigger compulsive behaviors and making lifestyle changes to promote healthier behaviors.

Currently, there are no approved medications for the treatment of behavioral addictions in general, but some medications used may be beneficial with specific behavioral addictions. Any unrelated psychiatric disorder must be kept under control and differentiated from the factors that contribute to addiction.

Nicotine addiction

Another area in which drug treatment has been widely used is the treatment of nicotine addiction, which generally involves the use of nicotine replacement therapy, nicotinic receptor antagonists, or nicotinic receptor partial agonists. Examples of drugs that target nicotinic receptors that have been used to treat addiction include antagonists such as bupropion and varenicline, a partial agonist.

What are the complications of an addiction?

Addiction left untreated can lead to long-term consequences. These consequences can be:

  • Physical, such as heart disease, HIV / AIDS, and neurological damage.
  • Psychological and emotional, such as anxiety, stress, and depression.
  • Social, like jail and damaged relationships.
  • Economic, such as bankruptcy and debt.

Different substances and behaviors have different effects on a person’s health. Serious complications can cause health problems or social situations that can result in the end of a life.

How to help a friend or family member?

Some suggestions to get started:

  • Learn all you can about drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.
  • Speak up and offer your support: Talk to the person about your concerns and offer your help and support, including your willingness to come along and get help. Like other chronic diseases, the earlier addiction is treated, the better.
  • Express love and concern: Don’t wait for your loved one to “hit rock bottom,” you may run into excuses, denial, or anger. Be prepared to respond with specific examples of behavior that concern you.
  • Don’t expect the person to stop without help: Treatment, support, and new coping skills are needed to overcome alcohol and drug addiction.
  • Support recovery as an ongoing process: Once your friend or family member is receiving treatment or attending meetings, stay involved. Please continue to show that you care about your successful long-term recovery.

Some things you should not do:

  • Do not preach: Do not preach sermons, threats, bribes, sermons or morals.
  • Don’t be a martyr: Avoid emotional appeals that can increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to drink or use other drugs.
  • Don’t cover up, lie, or make excuses for their behavior.
  • Do not assume your responsibilities: Taking your responsibilities protects them from the consequences of their behavior.
  • Do not argue when using it: Avoid arguing with the person when they are using alcohol or drugs; at that time he / she cannot have a rational conversation.
  • Do not feel guilty or responsible for their behavior, it is not your fault.
  • Don’t join them: Don’t try to follow in their footsteps.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.