What is an addiction? Addiction is not a ‘moral’ or ‘character’ issue: it’s a disease.
What is an Addiction?
There are many social stigmas associated with addiction, referring to it as a ‘moral’ or ‘character’ issue. However, there is scientific evidence that shows addiction to stem from biological, neurological, and genetic origins.
What is an addiction? Addiction is not simply an issue of will power. The member nations of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime unanimously recognize addiction as a disease.
The laws of the United States recognize addiction and alcoholism as diseases:
In 1970 the United States Congress passed the Hughes’ Act, one of the first important pieces of legislation formally acknowledging Alcoholism as a disease.
In 2008, the United States Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (“MHPAEA”), which requires employer sponsored health insurance plans to provide coverage for addiction and mental illness consistently with other health problems for which there is no history of social stigma (like heart disease, injuries, etc.).
Today, most major healthcare organizations agree that the ‘disease model’ is the correct approach for addiction treatment.
Doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists use a standard reference manual to diagnose patients with mental disorders, like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). This manual, the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the, “DSM-IV”), includes diagnoses for substance abuse and substance dependence.
The criteria for substance dependence according to the DSM-IV is as follows:
“Substance dependence” is defined as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three (or more) of the following, occurring any time in the same 12-month period:
Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: (a) a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or the desired effect; or, (b) markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: (a) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance; or, (b) the same (or closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended by the user.
There is a persistent desire (or unsuccessful efforts) to cut down or control substance use.
A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects.
Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.
The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance (for example, current cocaine use despite recognition of cocaine-induced depression or continued drinking despite recognition that an ulcer was made worse by alcohol consumption).
If you’re asking yourself, “What is an addiction?”, these common behavioral and physical signs can help you identify a problem:
What is an Addiction: Behavioral Signs
DETACHMENT/ISOLATION. Addicts might lose interest and no longer participate in hobbies and activities they used to love. Addicts may seem emotionally withdrawn and stay away from family and friends so that they can use without being confronted. Sometimes five-minute trips to pick up some like groceries will turn into multi-hour disappearances.
MOOD SWINGS. Addiction – and the lifestyle that comes along with the disease – will often leave addicts feeling depressed, anxious, irritable, or fatigued. A sign of drug use is when this state of depression or irritability suddenly changes to an upbeat, happy, or manic mood.
DENIAL. When confronted about an addiction, even with direct evidence of the addiction (e.g., empty bottles, drug paraphernalia, bank records), addicts will still deny their addiction and make excuses.
SECRECY/LYING. Keeping addiction secret from family and friends almost always requires a complex web of lies will attempt to cover up their behavior. Ignoring their lies (or going along with them to “keep the peace”) may be enabling them to continue their behavior.
GETTING INTO TROUBLE. Someone affected by addiction may get into trouble at school, work, or even with the law.
MONEY PROBLEMS. An addiction will quickly become a drain on finances. Those with an addiction are often looking for ways to quickly earn money to pay for their habit. They may ask for money from family and friends or use funds allocated for rent or other bills to pay for their addiction.
What is an Addiction? Physical Signs
TOLERANCE. Some drugs are more physically addictive than others. Heroin, methamphetamine and crack, for example, are among the most addictive drugs in the world. Repeat users will find themselves needing larger quantities to experience the same high.
WITHDRAWAL. When someone is physically addicted, they need to continually feed their habit or they will experience withdrawal. Physical withdrawal symptoms vary from substance to substance and can include: seizures, sleeplessness, nausea, achiness, headaches, sweating, tremors, difficulty breathing, racing heart, and muscle tension. Psychological symptoms can include anxiety, restlessness, depression, anger, and poor concentration.
WEIGHT CHANGES. Someone may be showing signs of an addiction if they experience an extreme weight loss (more common) or weight gain in a short period of time. Addiction can be all consuming, leaving even basic needs – like eating and hygiene – as secondary priorities.
SLEEP PATTERN CHANGES. Someone who is addicted may go through phases of excessive sleeping – or may barely sleep at all – depending upon the drug used. Addicts may completely reverse their sleeping pattern, sleeping during the day and staying up all night.
Although there is no single cause of addiction, there are often many contributing factors:
Abuse during childhood,
A divorce or death in the family, or
A lack of strong family structure.
The strongest factor among young people is peer pressure. When experimenting with substances, adolescents may want to conform with – and gain acceptance by – their peers.
NATURE OF SUBSTANCE
Some substances are much more physically addictive than others. The chemical composition of the drug and the manner in which it is metabolized impacts its addictive properties.
High levels of stress can lead a person to look for an outlet, in which case they may turn to drugs for relief.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON ADDICTIONS?
When determining what is an addiction, it’s important to know the most common substances. Common addictive substances include:
What is an Addiction Treatment Center?
What is an addiction treatment center? The best ones offer quality therapeutic programs designed to help patients experience a lasting recovery.
If you’re wondering what is an addiction or you’re looking for qualified help, please call us today to find out what therapy programs may be available for you or your loved one. Call us, 24-hours a day at 866-441-3700, or contact us here.
One call may be all it takes to make a brighter tomorrow.
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