Addiction: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments


Addiction is essentially a person’s uncontrollable attachment to the use or abuse of any substance or activity.

Addicts are people who have lost control of their lives. Addiction to substances or activities usually leads to serious problems in families, at work or school and in social settings. As anyone who has been an addict or been around one knows, these serious problems and the absolute hopelessness that is a part of addiction comes from this aspect of addiction; uncontrollable behavior.


In the past addiction used to refer just to the uncontrollable abuse of mind altering substances that cross the blood-brain barrier, temporarily altering chemicals in the brain. Chemicals that have been historically associated with addiction include but are not limited to alcohol, heroin, methadone, cocaine and its derivatives and methamphetamine.

Now, it is widely accepted that addiction encompasses anything that results in psychological dependency and uncontrollable behavior, such as gambling, sex, internet, work and exercise because they too can produce feelings of guilt, hopelessness, despair, shame, failure, rejection, anxiety and humiliation.

When a person is addicted to something, they become dependent on it to cope with daily life. At first it may be considered a habit; however, habits often quickly become addictions.

The Subtle Difference between Habit and Addiction

Many people can use substances or engage in activities without becoming addicts. Some people, however, when exposed to those same substances or activities rapidly acquire psychological and/or physical effects that often deteriorate into destructive uncontrollable addiction.

A habit is use of a substance or performance of an activity that is done by choice. A person with a habit can quit by deciding to do so.

An addiction is the use of a substance or performance of an activity that cannot be stopped without intervening help. The factor present in addiction that is not present in a habit is the psychological or physical component that prevents the person from being able to voluntarily quit he substance or activity.

Causes of Addiction

The suspected and alleged causes of addiction vary considerably, are not easily defined and are not fully understood. They are generally thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, physical, mental, circumstantial and emotional factors.

One problem is that addiction often leads to tolerance – the addict needs larger and more frequent amounts of whatever they are addicted to in order to receive the same effect. Often, the initial reward diminishes or is no longer felt, and the addiction continues in the hopes of somehow recapturing the reward or because the symptoms of withdrawal are so unpleasant.

Another problem is that substances that are inherently addictive because of their psychoactive affects are often if not usually illegal. So, not only is the person who is addicted to a substance unable to control or stop drug seeking and using behavior, they also must suffer from the ramifications of being addicted to an illegal substance. These ramifications are impure and variable substance potency, the necessity of having to associate with criminals that supply the illegal substance and subjection to a criminal justice system that seeks to protect the public principally through incarceration and other punishments.

Addiction to Prescription Medications

Most people think of illegal substances and drugs when they hear the word “addiction”, however, addiction to legal prescription pain killers is becoming a serious public health problem not only in the U.S. but also in other developed nations. Prescription medication abuse is described as reaching epidemic proportions by researchers from the University Of Nebraska Medical Center College Of Medicine in a study they reported on in November 2012.

Medical and scientific professionals acknowledge that the change in methods of the treatment of pain from one of conservative use to more liberal use as led to this epidemic.

In the 1990s pain became the fifth vital sign doctors screened for in addition to the historical indications of respiratory rate, blood pressure, body temperature and pulse rate. Medical doctors now attempt to objectify the subjective, asking patients to numerate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Now, the modern trend is to prescribe pain medication when pain is present, often with arguably insufficient concern with the likelihood of their patients developing an addiction to pain killers.