What is Addiction, Anyway?

Posted on January 14, 2019

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Addiction is a global problem that can affect anyone regardless of gender, race, religion or financial status. Based on worldwide statistics, millions of individuals suffer different forms of addictions that vary from substance abuse like alcohol, nicotine and tobacco, and drugs, to behaviors like gambling, sex and internet gaming. Despite being a widespread problem, there is still little understanding about addiction is leading to much stigma, myths and controversy about it. Thus, creating awareness about what addiction entails could help reduce the stigma, dispel myths and clarify some of the controversy.

Many individuals have the misconception that addiction is a lack of willpower where it can be stopped if a person just wills it to happen. The converse is true; addicts have very strong willpower as they will go to any lengths to get their fix. They will scheme and manipulate doctors to write the prescription for the drugs they desire or steal money to gamble or purchase alcohol and cigarettes. On top of that, having to keep it a secret requires additional willpower as well. People who suffer from addiction are not inherently bad either, their addiction is not an indication of a failure in their morality.

What addiction is however, is a brain disease. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is a primary, chronic disease of the brain’s reward, motivation, memory and other related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits can affect one physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It then manifests itself as a pathological pursuit of reward and/or relief through substance use or other behaviors despite of detrimental consequences to the individual himself.

A renowned expert on addiction, pain and trauma, Dr. Gabor Mate describes addiction as “attempts to sooth pain”, almost like pain killers. What Dr. Mate found too was that majority of the individuals suffering from addiction also experienced some form of adverse event as a child or as an adult. Emotional and physical pain activates the same brain pathways and thus, the emotional pain cannot be neglected or downplayed in its role in the onset of the addiction. In general, adverse childhood experiences (ACE) have been agreed upon by many addiction and traumatic stress authorities to contribute to the development and maintenance of addiction. This is because ACEs results in brain changes themselves that leads to one becoming more vulnerable to addiction. Therefore, for addiction to have a long-term recover, these ACEs would have to be dealt with too.

In addiction, an individual loses control of their behavior, their impulses and the choices they make. They become driven by the desire to satisfy their cravings and urges to the point where they lose sight of their role in relationships, work and in other domains of their lives. Ultimately, with a better understanding on what addiction entails, the hope is to encourage individuals who might be dealing with this issue to seek treatment soon as this brain disease, manifested behaviorally, is progressive and could lead to disability or even death.

Category(s):Addictions, Drug Addiction, Gambling Addiction

Source material from Psychology Today