What is Addiction?
Physical dependence and addiction are often used interchangeably and confused with one another in popular culture. Physical dependence to a substance in and of itself does not mean that a person is addicted to the substance. There are many medications that people take every day that they may be physically dependent upon but that they are definitely not addicted to.
Physical dependence is reflected by tolerance and withdrawal which demonstrates that the body has adapted to the substance. Tolerance is measured by the amount of a substance a person has to take to achieve a certain effect. Withdrawal is the mental or physical symptoms experienced when a substance is stopped immediately.
Addiction often involves physical dependence as a component of a much broader picture. That picture includes continued use of a substance despite negative consequences occurring as a result of the substance use. Those negative consequences and the chaos that results in the person’s life functioning around work, school, relationships, legal involvement, and health is the information considered when diagnosing an addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease involving neurobiology of the brain centered around the reward pathway.
If an individual is physically dependent upon a prescribed medication that is providing a positive outcome for their health and wellbeing, that individual would not be characterized as being addicted. However, if an individual is physically dependent upon a prescribed medication that is providing some positive outcomes but also leading to a number of negative outcomes in their life functioning, that would be cause for concern and further assessment for addictive symptoms.
According to the Surgeon General’s report in 2017, addiction is a chronic brain disease that has the potential for recurrence and recovery. According to a recent study, approximately 1 in 5 Americans ages 18 and over experienced some form of mental disorder. People suffering from addiction possess certain traits. Addictive traits often include an intense focus on using certain substances to the point that it negatively impacts their life.
People suffering from addiction continue using alcohol or other drugs even though they are aware that using these substances may lead to to health issues, family/interpersonal issues, and may also be illegal.
There are many similarities between addiction. Substances commonly associated with addiction include:
- Cannabis (marijuana)
- Opioids (Oxycontin, heroin and more)
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- Sedatives, Hypnotics and Anxiolytics (prescription drugs for sleep or anxiety and more)
- Stimulants (meth, cocaine, Ritalin and more)
Common reasons people use to justify their addiction or the reason they began using a substance include:
- doing better – improve performance
- fitting in – peer pressure
- feeling good – the feeling of pleasure of the “high”
- controlling emotions – relieve stress, feel numb
People with addiction disorders may know they have a problem, but not have the ability to stop using on their own. CKF Addiction Treatment has a variety of treatment options depending on the type of treatment needed.
The misuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs is the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death.
Symptoms of addiction/substance abuse disorder are grouped into four categories:
- Social Problems: the substance use interferes with work, school or home. Social, work or leisure activities are given up or decreased because of substance use.
- Tolerance and Withdrawal Symptoms: larger amounts of the substance are used; absence of the substance leads to physical and/or psychological withdrawal symptoms.
- Risk-taking Behavior: substance is used in dangerous situations despite knowledge of potential harm/danger.
- Control: a physical and/or psychological craving for a substance. May include inability to control amount of substance used.
Addiction affects everyone differently. But there is healing and hope for those who reach out. People suffering from substance use disorder have distorted thought processes, emotions and physical changes over time. Addiction causes changes in the user’s brain and can make it dangerous for someone to quit using without proper support.