What is Addiction?

While many of us associate the term “addiction” with drug and alcohol abuse, addiction is not limited to biochemical substances. According to Psychology Today , “behavioral” addictions have become quite common and include activities such as gambling, binge eating, Addictive_Behaviorpornography viewing, and video gaming. These activities present the opportunity for immediate reward, making them particularly conducive to addiction.

Substance vs. Behavioral Addictions

While behavioral addictions generally do not involve the use of drugs or alcohol, their core indicators are the same. Behavioral addictions can be passive (e.g. watching television) or active (e.g. computer games), and usually contain inducing and reinforcing features that contribute to the promotion of addictive tendencies. For example, the fast feedback that occurs in a gambling setting can quickly turn a pastime into a compulsive pursuit of reward, where one can’t voluntarily disengage from the activity and harmful consequences occur.

Gambling addictions closely resemble those of alcohol and drug addictions. They trigger the same area of the brain and are generally treated in the same manner as alcohol and drug addictions. Symptoms of food addictions include: eating to ease emotions, binge eating while alone, and feeling guilty after the binge. Sex addictions generally involve loss of control and disregard for the risks or consequences of the behavior.

Other features that contribute to addictive tendencies include:

  • Salience – complete domination of a person’s life by the activity
  • Euphoria – a ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ is derived from the activity
  • Tolerance – the activity has to be undertaken to a progressively greater extent to achieve the same ‘buzz’
  • Withdrawal Symptoms – cessation of the activity leads to the occurrence of unpleasant emotions or physical effects
  • Conflict – the activity leads to conflict with others or self-conflict
  • Relapse and Reinstatement – resumption of the activity with the same vigor subsequent to attempts to abstain, resulting in negative life consequences such as negligence of job, educational or career opportunities.

How to Overcome Addiction

Overcoming addictions takes courage and commitment. Whether you choose to travel the road to recovery on your own or with the help of professional therapists, be aware that the first 3 to 6 months of recovery will be the most difficult. Rather than give in to the urge to return to the former behavior, learn new skills or activities that can help take your mind off the urge or that will keep you away from bad environments. It can be as simple as going for a walk.

Working with a therapist can be extremely beneficial for anyone suffering with debilitating addictions. The therapist can help you determine the nature and severity of your addiction and together you will determine the best avenue for treatment and successful, full recovery.

The Stages of Change

There are several distinct passages involved in overcoming addictions beginning with pre-contemplation through preparation and action all of which lead to freedom or, potentially, relapse and recycle.

Source: Harvard Medical School Special Health Report; Overcoming Addiction – Paths Toward Recovery