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

Fool your brain, reduce your pain

You can help relieve chronic pain by distracting your brain. If you have a demanding enough task, you’ll have less attention to give to your pain. Distractions may release natural painkillers that block incoming pain signals as they enter the spinal cord. Distractions can include memory games or any activity so pleasurable or meaningful that it distracts you from your pain. And you don’t have to choose just one activity. Using your brain to do more things that are rewarding tips the balance away from pain. (Locked) More »

Alcohol abstinence vs. moderation

People who seek treatment for alcohol dependence sometimes attempt to drink in moderation rather than abstain altogether. The success of this approach largely depends on whether the patient has already established a high degree of dependence. More »

Treating opiate addiction, Part II: Alternatives to maintenance

NaltrexoneA different kind of drug treatment for opiate addicts is the long-acting opiate antagonist naltrexone, taken three times a week after detoxification. It neutralizes or reverses the effects of opiates, and triggers a withdrawal reaction in anyone who is physically dependent on opiates. An addict who takes naltrexone faithfully will never relapse, but most addicts simply stop using it, or refuse to take it in the first place. But even if most addicts will not continue to take the drug, some may — especially patients who are highly motivated to get free of the opiate because they have so much to lose from a persistent addiction. An injectable, slow-release version of naltrexone is under development, but this product is not yet available and has not received FDA approval. Behavioral treatmentBehavioral therapists regard opiate addiction as the effect of learned associations and patterns of reward and punishment. Patients learn to identify and remember moods, thoughts, and situations that tempt them to use opiates. The therapist helps them avoid these temptations, consider the consequences of relapse, and find other ways to achieve a feeling of pleasure or accomplishment. Training in stress management, relaxation, and general problem-solving may also help. Cognitive therapists try to help addicts recognize and dismiss self-defeating attitudes that make life seem unbearable without the drug. PsychotherapyIndividual psychotherapy is never recommended as the main treatment for opiate addiction; it rarely succeeds because addicts are reluctant participants at best. Addiction must be addressed directly. But opiate addicts often have psychiatric symptoms and psychiatric disorders, and some of these dually diagnosed patients can make good use of psychotherapy — psychodynamic, interpersonal, or supportive — as long as the addiction is treated at the same time. More »