Addiction

People sometimes jokingly use the term "addiction" in everyday conversation, referring to themselves as "chocolate addicts" or "workaholics." But addiction isn't something to be taken lightly. Addiction to alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications, gambling, and other substances or activities can cause serious health issues and problems with family members, friends, coworkers, work, money, and the law. Yet, despite these problems, a person continues to use the substance or engage in the activity.

People with an addiction tend to show the three Cs:

  • craving for the object of the addiction, which can be mild to intense
  • loss of control over use of the object of the addiction
  • continued engagement with the object of the addiction in spite of harmful consequences.

In its most basic definition, addiction is a physical dependence on a substance or activity. The dependence leads to unpleasant symptoms, called withdrawal symptoms, that appear when a person stops using the substance or doing the activity.

Nobody starts out wanting to develop an addiction. But some people do get attracted to certain substances or behaviors for specific reasons. Most of these objects of addiction offer people some psychological, social, or physical rewards. Those rewards are often compelling, so the substance or behavior remains appealing even if it also comes at a cost.

One key element in overcoming addiction involves recognizing the value it holds. Once you understand the value you derive from your addiction, you can seek alternate  and less destructive  methods for filling that need.

Addiction Articles

When are opioids safe to take?

Opioids can be safe for relieving severe, acute pain following surgery or injury. Tolerance, dependence, or addiction can arise when they are used for longer periods, for example, in treating pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia, or other chronic conditions. (Locked) More »

Compulsive gambling

Some people become addicted to certain behaviors, rather than to chemical substances. The behaviors stimulate the release of natural substances in the brain that are like opiate painkillers. The person becomes mildly addicted to these natural painkillers in the same way people become addicted to painkilling pills. One usually healthy example of such addiction (which can occasionally be carried to un-healthy extremes) is compulsive high-level physical-fitness training. One unhealthy example is compulsive gambling. Compulsive gamblers, like most people with an addiction, are preoccupied with gambling to the exclusion of other activities in their lives. In the United States, the number of compulsive gamblers has risen threefold over the past 20 years. More »

Substance addiction

Abuse of substances such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription medications, and others can cause health issues and serious problems with family, friends, coworkers, job, money, and the law. Yet despite these problems, use of the substance continues. Why? Addiction is a physical dependence on a chemical substance. The dependence leads to unpleasant symptoms, called withdrawal, when a person stops using the substance. People often begin using an addicting substance because it initially gives them pleasure. By the time addiction has developed, the pleasure is often gone. The driving force behind continued use is a need to avoid the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal. Addiction has a strong hereditary component. Children raised apart from their alcoholic biological parents, for example, have four times the risk of becoming alcoholics than the general population. More »

Alcohol abuse

Alcohol abuse is the second most common form of substance abuse in the United States, after tobacco addiction. Some people are more severely affected than others. When an individual's drinking causes distress or harm, that's called an alcohol use disorder. An estimated 10% of adult men and 5% of adult women have an alcohol use disorder.  Their use of alcohol leads to health problems or troubles at home, at work, at school, or with the law. Many of them have lost control of their drinking; they are unable to stop or cut down despite serious negative health consequences and the loss of valued activities or relationships. Why some people abuse alcohol and others don't is not fully understood, but a family history of addiction to alcohol places a person at higher risk. Children of parents who have trouble with alcohol have a fourfold increased risk of the disorder. More »

Alcohol's effects on the body

Alcohol depresses the central nervous system. It acts like a sedative or tranquilizer, slowing your motor coordination and reaction time. It also harms judgment, memory, reasoning, and self control. Even though alcohol is a sedative, it disturbs sleep as its effects wear off, and is a major cause of insomnia. Processing alcohol. The size of your body, whether or not you have eaten recently, and the rate at which you drink all affect how your body processes alcohol. A large person has more blood circulating in his or her body than a smaller person, so alcohol concentration in larger people rises more slowly than in a smaller person, even if they drink identical amounts of alcohol. Food slows the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream. It is ideal to have food in your stomach when you drink, or to drink only during meals. Drinking slowly is another way to reduce the rate at which alcohol is absorbed by your body. Having several nonalcoholic drinks between drinks of alcohol can also slow the effects of alcohol on your system. More »

Addiction to prescription drugs

Many people associate drug abuse with illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin. But addiction is far more common with prescription medications such as sleeping pills and tranquilizers. Drug dependence, which can be psychological or physical, is an uncontrollable desire to experience the pleasurable effects of a drug or to prevent the unpleasant effects of withdrawal. Your body can build up a tolerance to a drug so that the dose must be increased to achieve the same results. This effect is called drug tolerance. It is characteristic of most commonly abused drugs, including alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. Commonly abused prescription and over-the-counter medicines include opioids such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), sleep medicines such as zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta), and stimulants such as methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin). When a person becomes physically dependent on a prescription medicine, the body has adapted to the drug's effects so much that stopping it causes withdrawal symptoms. The only way to get free of it is to slowly use less and less, under a doctor's supervision, to prevent severe symptoms of withdrawal. More »

Caution: These are the most addictive pain meds

Most users of opioids for pain don't have a problem with them. However, using opioids longer than 30 days brings the risk of dependence. People at risk of becoming addicted to opioids are those who are likely to become addicted to another substance. More »