A Guide to Addiction
Addiction is a chronic mental disease. It affects the individual’s brain and mental function. Learn more about common signs of addiction and the different types.
There is a common misunderstanding that addiction is a choice. Addicts choose to abuse drugs or to binge drink. The truth is much more complicated than that.
Addiction is a chronic mental health disorder that manifests itself as biological, psychological, social and spiritual issues. This disease affects the brain and influences the affected individual’s neurochemical pathways. This negatively impacts their brain reward circuitry, motivation and memory and cognitive abilities. It rewires the brain and interrupts or enhances neurotransmission and interactions between various structures of the brain, like the amygdala, basal forebrain, anterior cingulate cortex and nucleus accumbens.
“Addiction is characterized by [an] inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”
An individual struggling with addiction will not be able to stop the problematic behaviors despite having full knowledge of the negative consequences to come. The addiction stems from both a chemical and behavioral change. It will lead to diminished control and significant impairment and damage of various organs.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
As addiction is characterized as a mental disease, the American Psychiatric Association has included the symptoms and diagnostic features for recognizing this disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, which is often called the DSM-V or DSM 5.
According to the DSM-5, addiction has 11 distinctive diagnostic elements to it. They include:
- Taking a substance or engaging in an activity for longer periods of time than meant to
- Wanting to cut down on the addictive behavior but being unable to
- Spending a lot of time being immersed in the addictive behavior
- Craving or having a strong desire to use or do an addictive activity
- Neglecting home, school or work responsibilities in lieu of catering to the addiction
- Continuing with the addiction even when it strains relationships
- Giving up other activities in order to engage in the addictive behavior
- Continuing to engage in the addictive behavior despite having to face physical or psychological problems as a result
- Needing to use more or to engage in the activity longer to get the desired effects
- Engaging in the activity again and again even if it is dangerous
- Developing withdrawal symptoms, which can only be relieved by the addiction
Anyone who meets two to three diagnostic criteria above will be diagnosed with a mild addiction. Anyone who meets four to five diagnostic criteria will be diagnosed with a moderate addiction. A serious addiction is characterized as meeting six or more of the diagnostic criteria above.
The Dangers and Side Effects of Having an Addiction
Addiction has strong roots that will cling onto every part of the individual’s life. Those who do not seek help may face many harsh consequences, like the following:
- Brain changes (structural changes or ability to produce certain neurochemicals)
- Impaired cognitive function, like difficulties with learning, memory and decision-making
- An increased risk of communicable diseases
- Organ damage, especially with a substance use disorder (SUD)
- Increased risk of accidents
- Mood changes and mood swings
- Suicide caused by depression and suicidal thoughts
- Strained relationships with family and friends
- Problems at work, like declining performance and loss of employment
- Poor academic performance
- Legal issues
- Financial strife
It’s important to note that those struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction will also have an increased risk of struggling with a co-occurring mental health disorder or behavioral addiction. This suggests that addiction rewires a person’s brain and makes them more vulnerable and susceptible to engaging in addictive behaviors. Addiction experts also speculate that various types of addictions possess similar mechanisms of actions in the brain.
Alcohol or Drug Addiction
Drug and alcohol addiction is perhaps the most common and most well-known type of addiction. This is best characterized as a compulsive need to use drugs or to drink despite having to face negative consequences. Addiction will affect the substance abuser’s mental health and ability to quit.
“40 million Americans over the age of 12 meet the clinical criteria for addiction. An additional 80 million Americans are “risky substance users”. While they may not have developed an addiction just yet, they’re close to having a problem.”
Addiction is mostly attributed to both tolerance and dependence. As an individual abuses a substance, he or she will develop a higher and higher tolerance to it. This means that he or she will need more of the substance to achieve the desired effects. This action speeds up the development of dependence. As brain chemistry level changes due to the addiction, the user will become more and more addicted. His or her brain no longer produces the neurochemicals they need. They rely on artificial stimulation to keep them going.
It’s possible to get addicted to a wide variety of drugs. Each drug will come with its own withdrawal symptoms, short-term effects and long-term effects. Some drugs are more addictive than others. Check out some of the substances that Americans are addicted to below:
- Anabolic Steroids
- Bath salts
- Crack cocaine
- Crystal meth
- Prescription drugs
- Sleeping pills
When it comes to addiction, drug and alcohol addiction takes the stage and the spotlight. Many people forget that it’s equally as easy to develop a behavioral addiction. This happens when a person gets addicted to the pleasurable feelings that they get from doing a certain action.
For example, the thrill of gambling will raise adrenaline levels and change brain chemistry levels in the brain. Someone who gets addicted to the thrill may need to gamble more and more to achieve the same pleasurable feelings. These individuals will lose control over their ability to control their own behaviors.
Behavioral addictions come with just as many negative consequences as drug and alcohol addictions. Those who are addicted may face poor work or academic performance. They may also have strained relationships. The addiction will take over their lives and prevent them from doing anything else. It will also negatively impact various areas and aspects of their lives.
There are many different types of behavioral addictions. It’s possible to get addicted to:
- Cell phone or social media
- Food and eating
- Relationships and love
- Porn and masturbation
- Video games
Don’t Let the Addiction Get Any Worse
If you don’t get any help for your addiction, it will only get worse. Don’t trick yourself into believing that you’re in control because you’re not. Regardless of whether you have a behavioral addiction or a drug and alcohol addiction, you need to get help as soon as you can. Contact us for more information on the various treatment programs and plans that are available. We’ll help guide you towards addiction recovery.
You can regain control over your life at any moment. All you need to do is to take the first step.