The progressive disease of addiction affects millions of Americans, and its’ devastating impacts go beyond the life of the addict.
Addiction affects the family and loved ones of the addict as well as the community and can lead to strained relationships, dysfunction, unemployment and incarceration–just to name a few of the consequences. According to various estimates, about 3.6 million people in the United States are addicted to or dependent on a wide range of drugs. Many are addicted to more than one. In addition, there are about 18.7 million alcoholics. However, there are millions more who may be addicted to things and activities that are outside the scope of drugs and alcohol. While it is true that people can technically be addicted to anything, the term addiction can be used liberally and can lose its’ true meaning. It is important to understand what addiction really is, what it does and some common things and activities that people can engage in an addictive fashion.
The Definition of Addiction
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the definition of addiction is the following:
“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.“
To break it down in the simplest terms possible, addiction centers on the behaviors of those who are affected by this disease. While the degrees of separation that exist between addiction and dependence can be can vague, those who display true addictive behaviors focus their energies on obtaining the substance or performing an activity to such an absolute degree they fail to meet their personal, social, familial, educational and professional responsibilities. Additionally, those who are in the grips of addiction act impulsively and even recklessly and will continue to engage in this pattern of behavior despite the consequences of their actions.
Addiction: It Can Happen to Anyone
Oftentimes when people think about addicts, they may associate the term with those who are derelict or exist on the margins of society. In reality, addiction can develop in anyone and at anytime, regardless of age, socioeconomic status or cultural background. The line between things that are habitual and those which are addictive is the fact that habits are those actions done out of choice and a person could successfully stop those behaviors at any time. On the other hand, addictive behavior can develop in anyone and is a repetitive process that is used to distract us from feeling deeper discomfort, pain and trauma. Whether it is through a substance, thoughts or activities, addictive behaviors is to distract someone from actual pain they may experience.
Those actions–whether negative (such as substance abuse) or positive (such as exercise)–release powerful chemicals called endorphins in the brain which allows people to feel pleasure. The release of these chemicals reinforces the behavior and the addict will constantly engage in those behaviors that will help them feel good and becomes reinforced by repeating those actions; however, the real source of their stress and anxiety is not being addressed. People will continue to engage in those behaviors that are pleasing while the real source of their problems will continue to grow worse over time. As a result, those who are addicted are not aware of the damage their behavior is creating in their environment.
What Are The Common Addictions That Affect People?
While the primary focus of addiction is on drugs and alcohol, people can develop addictions to other things and activities and the effects of their lives and the lives of the family and loved ones can be equally devastating. Some common examples of these addictions can be the following:
People who are addicted to food tend to overeat or eat in binges, and they’re unable to control their eating. People who engage in these behaviors may do so because they are trying to cope with past trauma or fast failed relationships as example People who are addicted to food are often overweight or obese, but those of normal weight can also suffer from food addiction.
Shopping is an addiction in which people who are affected compulsively spend money regardless of need or if they can realistically can afford those purchases. It is estimated that six percent of the American population is affected by shopping addiction, and it can cause enormous financial difficulties for people. People who are addicted to shopping find it to be a stress reliever, and ironically, it helps them forget about their problems, especially money problems.
People enjoy the thrill they get from gambling and the risk that comes with it. Like shopping, gambling is a type of impulse control disorder. Those who are addicted to gambling often become obsessed with the thought of winning back the money they have lost, and so they continue to gamble despite the financial consequences.
Some people are addicted to emotional intimacy, which is a love addiction. People with this form of addiction engage in compulsive patterns in romance, sexuality and relationships that have harmful consequences for the addict and their partners. They seek the high that comes from being in love, and while it may be viewed as less damaging as other forms of addiction the end result can be broken relationships, lost marriages and custody issues.
People who are addicted to exercise are seeking out the rush of endorphins and adrenaline they feel from working out. Too much exercise can even lead to physical problems.
The Many Facets of Addiction
In addition to the ones listed above, people can also develop addictions towards the internet, pornography, anger and rage, body image, and video games to name a few. When people experience these types of addictions, they may feel guilt, shame or embarrassment they allowed themselves to fall into these traps. If you or a loved one are experiencing an addiction of any kind, there is help available to you that can allow you to break the cycle of addiction and reclaim your life. You can consult with your doctor, physician or an addiction specialist in regards to possible treatment options. Additionally, there are countless 12-Step programs that are available for many forms of addictions. While addiction can be very painful, there is help and resources available to help you find peace, serenity and recovery.