What is an Addiction and Treatment

Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that affects more than 23 million Americans, yet only one in 10 will get the help they need. Education about the disease is the first step in opening a dialogue about addiction and getting treatment for yourself or someone close to you.

With substance abuse and addiction such widespread problems in the United States and around the world, one might assume that this question — “What is an addiction?” — would not be a difficult question for most adults to answer.

However, although addiction awareness continues to improve, many Americans find it difficult if not impossible to accurately answer the question, “What is an addiction?”

After reading this article, that hopefully won’t be a problem anymore …

Definitions of Addiction

In its most basic, dictionary-ish description, an addiction is “a dependence (physical or psychological) on a substance or behavior that is beyond voluntary control.”

Though this answer seems relatively simple and straight-forward, there is ample ambiguity (especially in terms such as “dependence” and “voluntary control”) that makes this response a bit lacking in the effort to answer the question, “What is an addiction?”

According to a definition that was adopted April 11, 2011, by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction can be described in the following terms:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.

Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death. (Source: www.asam.org)

Symptoms of Addiction

Though addiction symptoms may vary depending upon the individual and the substance or behavior to which he or she has become addicted, the following are five general symptoms that may indicate a person has become addicted:

  • Tolerance – The person needs increasingly greater amounts of the substance or behavior in order to feel the same rush or “high”
  • Withdrawal Symptoms – The person experiences physical or psychological pain when unable to use the substance or engage in the behavior
  • Preoccupation – Significant amounts of time spent planning, thinking about, or reflecting upon, the substance abuse or behavior, along with a lack of interest in other activities that were previously the source of interest and pleasure.
  • Persistence – Continuing to engage in the substance abuse or behavior, even after having experienced significant negative consequences (such as legal repercussions, relationship problems, financial difficulties, or work-related problems)
  • Loss of Control – An inability to stop or even limit the substance abuse or behavior

Treatment for Addiction

Determining the ideal form of treatment for substance abuse and addiction depends upon on a number of factors — including the substance or behavior to which a person is addicted, the nature and severity of the addiction, the age and gender of the addicted individual, and the presence of any co-occurring disorders.

Addiction treatment options include outpatient therapy, medication assisted addiction treatment, partial hospitalization, residential recovery programs, and a wide range of support services.