What is Addiction?

Addiction is a complex disease, often chronic in nature, which affects the functioning of the brain and body. It also causes serious damage to families, relationships, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.

The most common symptoms of addiction are severe loss of control, continued use despite serious consequences, preoccupation with using, failed attempts to quit, tolerance and withdrawal.

Addiction can be effectively prevented, treated and managed by healthcare professionals in combination with family or peer support.

A drug or alcohol addiction has two basic qualities:

  • You sometimes use more than you would like to use.
  • You continue to use despite negative consequences.

People use drugs or alcohol to escape, relax, or to reward themselves. But over time, drugs and alcohol make you believe that you can’t cope without them, or that you can’t enjoy life without using. The greatest damage is to your self-esteem.

What is the Medical Definition of Addiction?

Addiction involves craving for something intensely, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences. Addiction changes the brain, first by subverting the way it registers pleasure and then by corrupting other normal drives such as learning and motivation. Although breaking an addiction is tough, it can be done.

An addiction must meet at least 3 of the following criteria:

This is based on the criteria of the American Psychiatric Association and World Health Organization.

1. Tolerance:

  • Do you use more alcohol or drugs over time?

2. Withdrawal:

  • Have you experienced physical or emotional withdrawal when you have stopped using?
  • Have you experienced anxiety, irritability, shakes, sweats, nausea, or vomiting?
  • Emotional withdrawal is just as significant as physical withdrawal.

3. Limited control:

  • Do you sometimes drink or use drugs more than you would like?
  • Do you sometimes drink to get drunk? Does one drink lead to more drinks sometimes?
  • Do you ever regret how much you used the day before?

4. Negative consequences:

  • Have you continued to use even though there have been negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, health, job, or family?

5. Neglected or postponed activities:

  • Have you ever put off or reduced social, recreational, work, or household activities because of your use?

6. Significant time or energy spent:

  • Have you spent a significant amount of time obtaining, using, concealing, planning, or recovering from your use?
  • Have you spend a lot of time thinking about using?
  • Have you ever concealed or minimized your use?
  • Have you ever thought of schemes to avoid getting caught?

7. Desire to cut down:

  • Have you sometimes thought about cutting down or controlling your use?
  • Have you ever made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control your use?

How Common is Drug or Alcohol Addiction?

Approximately 10% of any population is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Addiction is more common than diabetes, which occurs in approximately 7% of the population.

Addiction crosses all socio-economic boundaries. 10% of teachers, 10% of plumbers, and 10% of CEOs have an addiction. The terms alcohol addiction, alcoholism, and alcohol dependence are all equivalent. The same is true for the terms drug addiction and drug dependence.

How Does Addiction Feel?

An addictive substance feels good because it stimulates the pleasure center of the brain through neurotransmitters such as dopamine and GABA. If you have a genetic predisposition, addictive substances don’t just feel good. They feel so good that you will want to chase after them.

This is where addiction comes in. If you have a genetic predisposition, addictive substances feel so good that you are willing to suffer negative consequences in order to get more and to continue to feel the high.

Addictive substances feel different inside an addict’s brain than they do to a non-addict. This is why the two sides have difficulty understanding each other.

In someone who is not addicted, drugs and alcohol only produce a mild high. Therefore a non-addict cannot understand why the addict would go to such lengths, when it is clearly destroying their life.

Denial is a big part of addiction. Because addictive substances feel good, an addict will initially deny that they have a problem. In the long-run addiction isolates you from the people and activities and that mean the most to you.

The Cost of Addiction:

The dollars and cents cost of addiction is mind boggling. At least twice as many people die from alcoholism in the US every year as die from motor vehicle accidents.

  • Alcohol intoxication is associated with 40-50% of traffic fatalities, 25-35% of nonfatal motor vehicle injuries, and 64% of fires.
  • Alcohol is present in nearly 50% of homicides, either in the victim or the perpetrator.
  • Alcohol intoxication is involved in 31% of fatal injuries, and 23% of completed suicides.
  • One study found that 86 % of homicide offenders, 37 % of assault offenders, and 57 % of men and 27 % of women involved in marital.
  • violence were drinking at the time of their offense.

The Consequences of Addiction:

  • People only stop using drugs and alcohol when they have suffered enough negative consequences.
  • When you’ve suffered enough pain and enough regret you are ready to stop.
  • You are ready to stop when the two sides of addiction collide.
  • On the one hand, addiction feels so good that you want to use more.
  • On the other hand, addiction leads to negative consequences. After a while, something has got to give.
  • You don’t have to hit rock bottom.
  • The purpose of websites like this is to show you the potential negative consequences of addiction so that you will be ready to quit before you’ve lost everything.
  • You can imagine what it would be like to hit rock bottom. And that can help motivate you.

The most important consequences of addiction are social, emotional, and psychological. People usually think of the physical and economic consequences of addiction.

“I don’t have a serious addiction because my health is fine, and I haven’t lost my job.” But those are very late stage consequences.

  • As far as work is concerned that’s usually the last thing to suffer.
  • You need your work in order to pay your bills, so that you can continue your addiction.
  • When your work begins to suffer, you’ve slipped from being a functioning addict to a non-functioning addict.
  • The damage addiction does to your relationships and self-esteem is far deeper and takes longer to repair.
  • You’ve hurt friends and family. You’ve disappointed yourself. You’ve traded important things in your life so that you could make more time to use. You’ve lived a double life.
  • You’ve seen the hurt in your family’s eyes, and the disappointment in your children’s faces.
  • Those are the consequences that can motivate you to begin recovery.

The Genetics of Addiction:

The Role of Family History:

Addiction is due 50 percent to genetic predisposition and 50 percent to poor coping skills. This has been confirmed by numerous studies.

What Is Your Family History?

Most people don’t know their family history of addiction very well:

Addiction is not the sort of thing that most families talk about. Not too long ago you could have a raging alcoholic in your family and nobody would talk about it.

But now that you can do something about addiction, a family history is worth talking about. Once you stop using and tell your family that you’re in recovery, that’s often when they will tell you about the family secrets. That’s when family members will sometimes come out of the closet and tell you their stories.


Let your coping skills be the legacy you pass on to your children:

Don’t let your genes be the only legacy you pass on to your children. Your children are more likely to have an addiction because of your addiction. But their genes don’t have to be their destiny. You can help your children lead happy lives by teaching them healthy coping skills – by being an example with your recovery.

Is Addiction a Disease?

Addiction is like most major diseases:

Consider heart disease, the leading cause of death in the developed world. It’s partly due to genes and partly due to poor life style choices such as bad diet, lack of exercise, and smoking. The same is true for other common diseases like adult-onset diabetes.

Many forms of cancers are due to a combination of genes and life style. But if your doctor said that you had diabetes or heart disease, you wouldn’t think you were bad person. You would think, “What can I do to overcome this disease?” That is how you should approach addiction.

Addiction is not a weakness:

The fact that addiction crosses all socio-economic boundaries confirms that addiction is a disease. People who don’t know about addiction will tell you that you just need to be stronger to control your use.

But if that was true then only unsuccessful people or unmotivated people would have an addiction, and yet 10% of high-functioning executives have an addiction.

If you think of addiction as a weakness, you’ll paint yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of. You’ll focus on being stronger and trying to control your use, instead of treating addiction like a disease and focusing on stopping your use.

Cross Addiction:

You can become addicted to any drug, if you have a family history of addiction:

If at least one of your family members is addicted to alcohol, you have a greater chance of developing an addiction to any other drug. Cross addiction occurs because all addictions work in the same part of the brain. If your brain is wired so that you’re predisposed to one addiction, then you’re predisposed to all addictions.

This is especially important for women who may come from alcoholic families, but who often develop addictions that go undetected, like addictions to tranquilizers, pain relievers, or eating disorders.

One addiction can lead to other addictions, and one drug can make you relapse on another drug:

  • That’s one of the consequences of a brain that’s wired for addiction.
  • Suppose you’re addicted to cocaine.
  • If you want to stop using cocaine then you have to stop using all addictive drugs including alcohol and marijuana.
  • You may never have had a problem with either of them, but if you continue to use alcohol or marijuana, even casually, they’ll eventually lead you back to your drug of choice.
  • Recovery requires total abstinence.

How does cross addiction cause relapse:

All addictions work in the same part of the brain. Addiction is addiction is addiction. Therefore one drug can lead you back to any other drug. Even moderate drinking or smoking marijuana lowers your inhibitions, which makes it harder for you to make the right choices.

  • If you stop using your drug of choice but continue to use alcohol or marijuana, you’re saying that you don’t want to learn new coping skills and that you don’t want to change your life.
  • You’re saying that you want to continue to rely on drugs or alcohol to escape, relax, and reward yourself.
  • But if you don’t learn those new skills, then you won’t have changed, and your addiction will catch up with you all over again.