What is addiction?

“I’m so addicted to shopping!” 

“I love this chocolate so much, I’m like, addicted!”

“Dude, he’s a complete meth-head. Total addict. He will die from his addiction.”

“He’s an addict. Total workaholic.”

“My partner is so addicted to sex. Wants it all the time. I’m so freaking tired of it.” 

“They are addicted to working out.”

The terms addicted and addict have become a normal part of modern vernacular. We are inundated with opportunities to become addicted to the world of things and people. There are even modern-day positive flavors of addiction such as working out or being a work-a-holic. Society has normalized being addicted.

So how do you know if you, or someone you love, has an addiction?

Healthline defines an addiction as: 

A chronic dysfunction of the brain system that involves reward, motivation, and memory. It’s about the way your body craves a substance or behavior, especially if it causes a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of “reward” and lack of concern over consequences.[1]

The American Psychiatric Association refers to a Substance use disorder (SUD) and states that an SUD is: 

a condition in which there is uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequences. People with SUD have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s) such as alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs, to the point where the person’s ability to function in day to day life becomes impaired. People keep using the substance even when they know it is causing or will cause problems. The most severe SUDs are sometimes called addictions.[2]

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as follows. 

Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.  Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases.[3]

The National Institutes of Health define addiction as, 

A compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance. It is accepted as a mental illness in the diagnostic nomenclature and results in substantial health, social and economic problems.[4]

The bottom line…

If someone is an addict, they lose control of their ability to use and stop using the substance. It controls them, versus the individual having a say over whether or not they use it. Despite negative consequences, someone who is an addict, or on the path to becoming one organizes their life around how to maintain their use of the substance. Individuals with SUD’s obsess about where their next drink, hit, drug, or fix will be. Though friends and family members may not see the obsession with substances happening in the mind of an addict, the addict becomes fixated on how to secure whatever substance it is that will get them drunk, high, or in an altered mental state. 

So, what causes addiction? 

The root cause of addiction has been studied and debated for decades. Scientists argue about what the “gateway” drug is, whether a person is neurobiologically pre-wired for addictive tendencies, and if propensity to addiction is coded into our DNA. As we move through this series, we will discuss more details on these studies. 

We know that “repeated and early exposure to addictive substances and behaviors play a significant role”[5] in whether or not someone will become an addict. It is a combination of nature + nurture, environment + caregiving, trauma + resilience factors, the home + society, genetics + life experiences. Two people raised in the same family may or may not end up with a substance use disorder. The level of resilience one individual in a family system shows may vary considerably from another, and we know that resilience, social support systems, and seeking to maintain a balanced and healthy life can mitigate risk factors for addiction. 

There is no single path that results in a substance use disorder, but if you or a loved one is suffering with addiction, there is help. 

If you are not sure whether you or a loved one is an addict, The American Addiction Centers have a helpful 11-question quiz.

We encourage you to review and respond to each of the questions in this quiz to determine if you or a loved one is either addicted, or on the path to addiction. 

If you need help answering questions, our counselors are standing by. 

(760) 459-5575


[1] https://www.healthline.com/health/addiction

[2] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

[3] https://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3190444

[5] https://www.healthline.com/health/addiction